Legal Aid

Without adequate access to legal aid, those living in poverty, those facing mental or other difficulties or those who are persecuted can face the threat of exclusion from the rights guaranteed by law and by Pakistan’s Constitution. Facilitating access to essential legal services for these individuals would reduce the likelihood that they become, or remain, trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence and dependence. More importantly, legal aid benefits society as a whole through positive changes in the law and by initiating debate and raising awareness about our rights. Legal changes are brought about by judicial precedents or through critical cases that pave the way for legislation. An example is the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 1992 that was enacted after Asma’s case of Darshin Masih. Large-scale reforms in family laws came about as a result of judicial precedents established by Asma’s legal team and legislative changes drafted and recommended by them. These reforms have helped hundreds of thousands of women and children feeling family violence or emotional and financial crises. Without legal assistance, vulnerable family members, particularly children, are at risk of physical harm, emotional trauma and economic insecurity. This impacts society as a whole. The provision of quality legal aid also ensures that people who perpetrate violence are brought to justice and that victims are able to come forward and pursue their cases till conclusion.

Recipients of Legal Aid

A majority of women in Pakistan have legal needs that are not being met by the current system. Women in Pakistan face multiple and systemic barriers to attaining justice. Women are under represented in the criminal and civil justice system including the law enforcement agencies, they often lack resources to approach the justice system and have to survive in a patriarchal society. Adequate access to legal services is an essential step toward addressing the injustices women in Pakistan continue to face when they come into contact with policing, the courts and the prison system.

Another vulnerable group is children. Children who are victims of violence need quality and accessible legal representation so more people are encouraged to report crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. Children also require protection from the law. Despite more child friendly legislation, many children continue to languish in prison as under-trial prisoners or because they do not have the funds to pay their bail bonds. In some cases children are made to confess to crimes that they did not commit to protect an adult in the family. Ensuring these children the right to properly defend themselves is an important component of a just society.

Bonded labourers and landless farmers continue to be exploited despite more positive legislation in recent years to protect their rights. Often they are poor, uneducated and have no access to the legal system. With land prices in Pakistan shooting upwards, many cases have cropped up where landless farmers are being evicted by a cadre of powerful people. In such cases, it is almost impossible for them to find free legal representation let alone quality legal representation. Asma and her legal team are known to represent bonded labourers and landless farmers regardless of who is the opponent and have filed many petitions against the State in these cases.

Religious minorities in Pakistan continue to face persecution and are often from the poorest sections of society. They are under represented at every level of society including the justice system and the law enforcement agencies. Asma has acted for religious minorities in many sensitive cases at the risk of her own life. Through these cases, Asma and her legal team have initiated debate and raised awareness about the inequality of the law as it applies to religious minorities in Pakistan. Asma’s legal team continues to provide quality legal aid to religious minorities and to engage in strategic litigation impacting their rights. Better access to justice has very real consequences for religious minorities in Pakistan if they are to enjoy their constitutional rights to some degree.

Pakistani women fight to choose husbands

A once-veiled woman from an orthodox Muslim family is challenging Pakinstan’s traditional social system: she married the man she loves rather than the man her father chose for her.

Accused under the Blasphemy Law

Pakistan’s Penal Code Section dates back to pre-partition India when it was introduced in 1860. Section 295, better known as the Blasphemy Law, deals with religious offences and was meant to prevent

Asma Jahangir move SC in Tayyaba torture case

A day after Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of Tayyaba torture case, human rights activists filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking action against the accused judge.

SC frees jailed farmer leader

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Punjab prisons department to remove chains of farmer leader Mehr Abdul Sattar imprisoned in a Sahiwal jail, and allow his family members and lawyers to meet him there.