Who needs Free Legal Aid & Why?

On the National Legal Services Day, Justice Madan Lokur, Supreme Court judge and Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) cited an interesting quote advocating whether legal aid should be freely given and if it is not then why cannot it be enforced. We dig a little deeper in it.

free legal aid

By Apeksha Pandita in General Legal

Nov. 12, 2018, 11:39 a.m.

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 Do you know what Legal Aid means?
Any idea how it helps you?
Or do you want to know as to who can get a Legal Aid?

Well, whatever your reason and need for legal aid be, we have the answers!

Let’s begin with understanding the meaning of legal aid.

Well, Legal Aid is the assistance provided to people, who are otherwise not able to afford legal representation and access to the court system. In order to provide you with access to justice, legal aid actually ensures that you have a good and appropriate counsel, as you exercise the right to a fair trial. Legal aid is essential in guaranteeing a person with an equal access to justice to all.

The main aim of legal aid is to create more equity in the sphere of legal practices, aid offered is often limited in its quality or its social impact by economic constraints that dictate who can access these services and where the aforementioned services are geographically located.

A number of delivery models for legal aid have emerged, including duty lawyers, community legal clinics and the payment of lawyers to deal with cases for individuals who are entitled to legal aid.

As per Article 14 of the Indian Constitution - “The State shall not deny to any person, equality before the law, or the equal protection of the laws, within the territory of India.” In essence of the phrase, “Equal Protection of the Laws”, the Indian Legislation kept in mind, the apprehension of massive inequality due to financial differences of the parties. 

For that, to protect their fundamental rights, Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for equal justice and free legal aid to the person, who cannot afford a lawyer and other procedural costs. It says:

“The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.”

Ensuring a robust publicly funded legal aid system to meet these needs is an important component of a just society. Society needs to ensure that those who cannot otherwise afford legal advice or representation have a system of legal aid to assist them with their legal issues when the need arises.

This Article emphasises that free legal service is an inalienable element of 'reasonable, fair and just' procedure, for without it a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing justice.

In the civil side, Order XXXIII. R.18 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 provided, “the state and central governments may make supplementary provisions as it thinks fit for providing free legal services to those who have been permitted to sue as an indigent person. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 made drastic changes in the field of legal services. It is an Act to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.”

On the occasion of National Legal Services Day, “Free Legal Aid And Advice Is Your Right And NALSA Wants You To Have It”: Justice Madan Lokur, Supreme Court judge and Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)

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Who is Entitled to Free Legal Services?

The sections of the society as enlisted under Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act are entitled to free legal services, they are:

  1. A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;

  2. A victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;

  3. A woman or a child;

  4. A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;

  5. A person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster; or

  6. An industrial workman; or

  7. In custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956(104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause(j) of Section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986); or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987(14 of 1987);or

  8. In receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Government, if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central Government, if the case is before the Supreme Court and High Court.

Nature of Free Legal Services

Free legal services entail the provision of free legal aid in civil and criminal matters for those poor and marginalized people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court, tribunal or before an authority.

Provision of free legal aid may include:

  • Representation by an Advocate in legal proceedings., 

  • Preparation of pleadings, memo of appeal, a paper book including printing and translation of documents in legal proceedings;

  • Drafting of legal documents, special leave petition etc.

  • Rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or another legal proceeding before any court or other Authority or tribunal and;

  • Giving of advice on any legal matter.

Free Legal Services also include the provision of aid and advice to the beneficiaries to access the benefits under the welfare statutes and schemes framed by the Central Government or the State Government and to ensure access to justice in any other manner.

Every year, thousands of lawyers are joining the judicial family and obviously, the effort and hard work must not go unpaid. It’s human psychology unless there is a certain compensation, none will give their best. 

Even to give a proper legal advice, one needs to study the situation to give a proper idea of the laws regulating that certain case, which requires skills and knowledge. If the total cost of it is burdened on the Government without any financial discrimination, the total sum shall reach to thousands of crores. 

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Picture Courtesy: The Times of India

When we talk about the inability of the poor class, they already have the benefits, but even if the ones who can afford a lawyer, is also exempted and the legal advice are made free. It will be an injustice towards the lawyers. 

Moreover, in India, we have a right to work and gain profit from it, which is a fundamental right.

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