During the year 2009, National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) brought out a scheme called the Para-Legal Volunteers Scheme which aimed at imparting legal training to volunteers selected from different walks of life so as to ensure legal aid reaching all sections of people through the process of Para-Legal Volunteers Scheme; ultimately removing the barriers into access to justice. The Para-Legal Volunteers (PLVs) are expected to act as intermediaries bridging the gap between the common people and the Legal Services Institutions to remove impediments in access to justice. Ultimately, the process aims at Legal Services Institutions reaching out to the people at their doorsteps rather than people approaching such Legal Services Institutions.
With the basic knowledge in the laws and other available welfare measures and legislation, Para-Legal Volunteers (PLVs) would be able to assist their immediate neighbourhood, those who are in need of such assistance, so that a person, who is not aware of such right is not only made to understand his rights, but also will be able to have access to measures involving implementation of such rights.
PLVs are not only expected to impart awareness on laws and the legal system, but they must also be trained to counsel and amicably settle simple disputes between the parties at the source itself, which could save the trouble of the affected travelling all the way to the Legal Services Authority/ADR Centres. If the dispute is of such a nature, which cannot be resolved at the source with the assistance of PLVs, they could bring such parties to the ADR Centres, where, with the assistance of the Secretary in charge either it could be referred to Lok Adalat or Mediation Centre or Legal assistance could be provided for adjudication in a court of law, depending upon the nature of problem.
Though initially the NALSA Scheme of training of the PLVs included the legal fraternity of Advocates, Advocate community, later on experience revealed, the same to be unfeasible on account of conflict with the professional status of Advocates. The reality that marginalized people living in distant places will not have the benefit of lawyer PLVs also contributed to the practice being discontinued, and NALSA deciding that Advocates shall not be enlisted or engaged as PLVs.
The past experience gained from the working of the system after 2009 and also ground realities ascertained from the paralegals in the respective jurisdiction showed us that there has to be a re-look into the entire matter and who best could fit the role of a Para-Legal Volunteer. Initially, the training programme of PLVs was only for two-three days. Since the obligations of PLVs were vast in nature, it was felt, there has to be longer duration of training provided to the PLVs. At the same time, the training curriculum for PLVs adopted by NALSA cannot be such as to be training PLVs to become full-fledged lawyers. PLVs are not expected to conduct themselves as legal professionals. The aim of the training should concentrate on basic human qualities like compassion, empathy and a genuine concern and willingness to extend voluntary service without expectation of monetary gain from it. Then the line separating PLVs from professional lawyers should be zealously guarded.