Human Rights Law Network

Centre for Constitutional Rights India (CCRI)

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The Centre for Constitutional Rights


This is in respect of a dream that we have had for many years to set up a Centre for Constitutional Rights in India (CCRI) to deepen the practice of using public interest litigation to augment the quest for human rights, and to create a research and practice driven knowledge base to further the cause of global human rights litigation. The CCRI would fulfil four purposes, two domestic and two international:

(i) To document cases done in public interest litigation jurisdiction in India;

(ii) To train lawyers, social activists, academics, media persons and judges in the use of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India;

(iii) To encourage and quip human rights lawyers in Africa, South America and Asia to build similar movements;

(iv) To contribute to the emergence of a collaborative culture among human rights litigating sections of global civil society.

Many of the superior courts in countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have begun to increasingly look to India for the decisions of our Supreme Court. However though the Constitutions of these countries are similar to the Indian Constitution, especially in common law countries, PIL litigation there has not expanded.

PIL litigation is revolutionary in its approach and can raise access to justice to new heights. Summarised simply PIL jurisdiction makes five major departures from traditional western jurisprudence. First, western courts have a tendency towards the recognition of litigation between private parties which is adversarial in nature. As a consequence non-adversarial class action litigation on behalf of the poor by an NGO seeking the protection and expansion of human rights is relatively underdeveloped. Collective rights, the hallmark of PILs is a relatively new concept in many western jurisdictions and yet to fully emerge in developing countriues’ jurisprudence. Secondly, locus standi or the right to sue, is often defined very narrowly in terms of individuals, and the notion of an NGO representing large sections of the population (350 million people as in the right to food case) is unheard of. Thirdly, in the Indian model, because people are too poor to access justice, the courts often take the responsibility for collecting evidence on behalf of the petitioner; something frowned upon in an adversarial system where the petitioner is burdened with the need to produce extensive documentation. Fourthly, courts in the west are loath to make any order that may have financial consequences for the state; while in public interest litigation it is clearly understood that without enhanced state budgets the protection of human rights is impossible. Hence financial impacts on state budgets are a necessary result of PIL litigation and looked upon positively. Finally, the division between international and national law is broken down in PIL jurisdiction and it is open, in Indian courts, to rely on international judgments.

Some examples of successful PILs (choosing out of hundreds of path breaking decisions) are the Right to Food Case which brought, through court orders, subsidised grains to millions of poor Indians; the death penalty case where 16 convicts on death row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment on account of the delay in the President dealing with mercy petitions; the health rights case where the Supreme Court directed price control of essential medicines; the reproductive rights case where abortion rights were expanded to include foetal abnormality as a ground for abortions; the acid attack cases where the Supreme Court directed that all medical treatment including reconstructive surgery be provided free by the state along with substantial compensation; the HIV treatment case where due to court orders anti-retrovirals was started and expanded for the whole country; the disability cases covering discrimination; the tribal cases where the Supreme Court directed the state sponsored vigilante group to be disbanded and hundreds of other cases that were path breaking.

Though large parts of the developing world can follow the same path since their Constitutions and legal systems are similar, it would need significant interaction and mutual training to have Public Interest Litigation recognised and become successful as one of the main tools for enhanced access to justice. It would also be useful for practitioners to gain qualifications, be it a diploma [Postgraduate Diploma (Global Human Rights Practice] or practice or continuing professional development points towards their practice.

The proposed Centre would be low-budget-high-outreach in that it is not infrastructure heavy and proposes to use judges, law professors, activists and others largely pro bono in the teaching of top-of-the-line courses rarely found in universities in India and abroad. In doing so it will tie up with law universities abroad who would agree to issue certificates, diplomas and eventually degrees in collaboration with the Centre. Former Justices of the Supreme Court of India as well as the judges of the superior courts are expected to agree to lecture and join the Advisory Board. Judges and prominent lawyers and academics from abroad are similarly expected to agree to collaborate. This Centre is expected to be a unique combination of an activist oriented institution with serious academic and intellectual content. Over time by charging participants who can afford to pay while at the same time serving half the participants free, the Centre is expected to be largely self sufficient in all its activities including publications.

Many years of preparations have already been completed. With KIOS a 3-year training programme was completed for South Asian countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The courses are ready, the publications are available, the professors and other lecturers are available and so the activities can start in a phased manner from 2018. 

We now dream of taking this movement forward to other jurisdictions in the South with a view to enhancing human rights practice and building coherence and collaboration into a fragmented human rights movement that is responding to urgent questions in a largely isolated way. The similarities in our constitutions and legal systems make learning from each other a crucial skill that if taken seriously can take access to justice to new heights, while achieving practical results with significant societal impact. All this is hoped to be done within the structure of a Centre for Constitutional Rights.

The budget for the Centre is divided into 2 phases:

Phase I:

Running the Centre out of rented premises in which case the total running cost per year for staff, travel and accommodation for the teachers and the students, course material, rent and routine running costs will come to a maximum of US $ 250,000 per year for the training of 500 participants (2-10 days in the first instance) per year in India.

The courses will be advertised and it is hoped that half the participants will pay reasonable sums for the course and the remaining participants mainly consisting of activists and poor students from marginalised community will be trained free.

The second component during this phase will be the international component which will entail 2 trainings each in Africa, South America and Asia, for 2-5 days involving 100 participants each. For each training 4 trainers will be required one each from India, the ECCHR in Berlin, South America and Africa. The trainings in Public Interest Litigation (by whatever name called) will focus on obtaining practical results in terms of petitions filed in the Constitutional Courts, orders obtained and orders implemented. The budget for this is expected to be modest and partners operating in these continents will be requested to take charge of particular trainings, decide the countries in which the trainings will take place, the participants, the social issues and the budget of each training. All trainers will operate pro bono and will only require air fare and modest lodging.

Phase II:

Purchasing modest premises to ensure stability and long term functioning of the head office and training centre at Delhi where it is proposed to purchase 2 floors of the building from which HRLN currently operates for US $ 900,000. Any benefactor or partner may support the purchase of either one or both the floors. Functional stability is important because rent agreements are generally for 3 years, the premises are required to be modified to suit an educational format, and if after 3 years the Centre is required to shift this will lead to disruption.  If, however, this is not possible, the Centre can definitely continue for a prolonged period of time out of rented premises.  

This phase will also involve linking up with human rights training institutes in Europe and elsewhere to build extended partnerships, do joint preparation of curricula, build a human rights library, publish books on best practices in constitutional and human rights law and issue diplomas and degrees. The degree is expected to be labelled Post-Graduate Diploma (Global Human Rights Practice).

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Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.

HRLN is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.