KARACHI: In need of legal support or legal advice? Unable to afford a lawyer for a trial in court? All you need to do is call the Legal Aid Society's new Legal Advisory Call Centre.
The 24-hour call centre has 20 expert criminal lawyers manning their phones, backed up by senior legal consultants as well as retired Supreme Court judges, such as Justice (retd) Arif Khilji and Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid. The team will listen to and record callers' requests, providing solutions either at once or within a day, depending on how much research is needed.
Sponsored by the Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement (EDACE), the call centre was launched at an event held at the Marriott Hotel on Saturday. The event was attended by retired judges and members of the civil society and the legal fraternity.
Zahid, chairperson of the Legal Aid Society, said that his team has established offices for legal aid in six districts of the province, along with a referral system in collaboration with other organisations to provide legal aid to the community. He added that they had also raised awareness of the pro bono and advocacy culture among the younger, more proactive generation.
"Pakistan has call centres, but they are mostly aimed for specific segments of society, such as women, and not all legal problems are addressed by such initiatives," said Zahid. "However, their experience has helped us in establishing our own call centre."
He went on to shed light on the problems faced by the marginalised segments of society, such as the massacre of Quetta's Hazara Shias and the killings of Ahmedis in Karachi in 2013. "Minorities must live with not only the fear of death, but also the fear of false acquisitions and imprisonment," he said, citing the example of a Christian who suffered for eight years to prove himself innocent of false charges of blasphemy and was persecuted even afterwards. "Minorities as well as women and children or subjected to heinous atrocities on a daily basis in this country; 10 women are reported kidnapped in Karachi everyday, imagine how many must go unreported!"
Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) managing director Zahid Elahi highlighted the objectives of EDACE, a project funded by the British High Commission that aims to reduce the gap between the state and its citizens. "There are various factors contributing to the conflicts we are seeing occurring more and more frequently in Pakistan," he said. "There is conflict among communities, tribal conflict and religious conflict."
Elahi said that EDACE was currently focusing on Sindh and parts of Punjab, and would be supporting the current phase of the call centre till March 2015, after which they would extend their sponsorship for another three years, aiming to have had some impact on society by 2018.
"The government has some excellent policies, but they go unimplemented because people are not aware of them," said Elahi. "With the call centre, we want to get the message out to the public that there are solutions for them."
The Supreme Court's Justice Mushir Alam, who was the chief guest, appreciated the efforts of the Legal Aid Society in establishing the call centre, calling a ground-breaking day for the legal fraternity. He also lauded it for creating a bridge between the executive judiciary and the needy.
The call centre can be reached at 021 3580 9349. Callers can obtain advice in English, Urdu and Sindhi.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2014.
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