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  • Jharna Jagtiani

Access to Justice through the Years: The Three Waves of Change and the Advancement of ADR

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Access to justice evolved through waves: legal aid, diffuse interest protection, and ADR. A comprehensive path to justice for all.

The notion of "access to justice" holds significant importance as it encompasses a person's ability to seek justice and protect their rights in society. It advocates that everyone should have the means to secure their rights under the law and seek remedies if their rights are violated. Over the years, access to justice has evolved from the traditional court system to include alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms.

This article explores the three waves of change in access to justice and the growing role of ADR in resolving disputes.

The Three Waves of Change

First Wave: Legal Aid

The first wave of access to justice focused on providing legal aid to economically disadvantaged individuals. Many people couldn't afford the costs of lawyers and court proceedings, preventing them from seeking justice. To address this issue, legal aid programs were introduced, offering free or subsidized legal assistance to the underprivileged. The Constitution of India also guarantees the right to free legal aid for the poor and weaker sections of society. Legal aid ensures representation in court and facilitates access to justice for those who cannot afford it on their own.

Second Wave: Protecting Diffuse Interests

The second wave expanded the scope of access to justice by protecting the rights of various groups, including women, children, and disabled individuals. These rights were explicitly laid down in the Constitution and other laws to ensure their protection. The judiciary and legislative bodies developed specific laws to safeguard these diverse interests, making access to justice more inclusive. Protecting diffuse interests is crucial to ensuring that all individuals can access justice when their rights are violated.

Third Wave: Advancement of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

The third wave of access to justice focuses on developing alternative means of dispute resolution. ADR aims to complement the existing court system by providing new avenues for resolving disputes. Unlike the adversarial court process, ADR methods like mediation, arbitration, and negotiation emphasize collaboration and restoration. ADR helps expedite the resolution process, customizing it to the parties' needs and reducing the burden on the courts. It fosters win-win outcomes, preserving relationships between parties, and offering a cost-effective and confidential alternative. ADR has emerged as a preferred method due to its quality, control, and efficiency in achieving access to justice.

The Interrelation and Continuing Development

The three waves of change in access to justice are interconnected and continue to evolve simultaneously. Each new development builds upon the previous ones to create an effective and comprehensive system. Legal aid, protection of diffuse interests, and ADR mechanisms work together to ensure access to justice for all.

The Importance of Legal Awareness

Access to justice is not limited to the availability of courts; it also includes citizens' awareness of their rights and remedies. Legal awareness is equally vital as legal aid and protection. A lack of knowledge about rights or fear of the complex court process can hinder access to justice. Comprehensive access to justice involves a blend of legal aid, protection of diverse interests, ADR, and promoting legal awareness among citizens.


Access to justice has come a long way, evolving through three waves of change and embracing the advancements in ADR. The inclusion of legal aid, protection of diffuse interests, and ADR mechanisms have made justice more accessible and efficient. A comprehensive approach that integrates these developments and promotes legal awareness is the key to ensuring access to justice for all individuals. As we continue to progress, ADR will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the justice system, making it more inclusive, expeditious, and effective.


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