National Law University Delhi
The National Law University, Delhi was established in 2008 under the National Law University Act, 2007 with the objective of imparting comprehensive and interdisciplinary legal education. The University has signed several Memoranda of Understanding with national and international universities with a view to encourage collaborative academic activity. The University is committed to disseminating legal knowledge and developing the pedagogical acumen necessary to engage with contemporary legal issues of public importance.
Project 39A is inspired by Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution, a provision that furthers the intertwined values of equal justice and equal opportunity by removing economic and social barriers. These are constitutional values of immense importance given the manner in which multiple disparities intersect to exclude vast sections of our society from effectively accessing justice. Using empirical research to re-examine practices and policies in the criminal justice system, Project 39A aims to trigger new conversations on legal aid, torture, DNA forensics, mental health in prisons, and the death penalty.
We are committed to ensuring that our engagement with the criminal justice system is based on rigorous empirical work. There is much to be gained from diligent documentation and analysis of the workings of the criminal justice system before heading down a prescriptive path. It is an oft-repeated truth that much of law-making in India lacks any real empirical basis and this is equally true for law and policy making in the criminal justice system. The dismal state and sometimes the absence of record-keeping in the police, prisons and courts along with multiple barriers to accessing records/ data complicates criminal justice research in India. Nonetheless, it is important that as a university we utilise the resources, expertise and access to networks available to us to overcome these barriers and take these difficult conversations forward.
As important as rigorous research is our commitment to effective communication of our work. Issues involving the criminal justice system need to be effectively communicated to audiences far beyond lawyers, judges and the bureaucracy. It is critical that we clearly convey that everyone has a stake in the health of the criminal justice system and that its fault lines must concern us all.
Researching the criminal justice system often forces us to confront harsh individual and systemic realities and issues of legal representation and intervention also lie at the core of Project 39A’s mandate. Being acutely aware that credible research rides on its independence, robust ethical frameworks guide the separation of our research and representation efforts.
As a law school, we do believe that it is part of our core mandate to contribute to the realisation of the values of equal and fair access to justice. Our work has benefited greatly from the many individuals, organisations and agencies, who have supported and encouraged our work. The work we do has also benefited in equal measure from specialised knowledge in forensic psychiatry, social work, medical and forensic sciences, anthropology, literature and economics. We intend to continue along this path of meaningful and intense interdisciplinary engagement to ensure that the law reflects learnings from multiple perspectives.
Currently there are 18 programme staff, across litigation, research and public affairs, and 4 administrative staff working at Project 39A. In addition to lawyers and in keeping with our belief in an interdisciplinary approach to the law, the programme staff includes people specialising in social work, forensic science, clinical psychology, anthropology and economics. The Project also works with student volunteers from NLUD, a tradition which began with the Death Penalty Research Project.
Prof. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh