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Key Takeaways

  • The majority of people are unaware about the legal system in place in the country, as well as their constitutional rights.
  • The right to be provided counsel at the government's expense was emphasised in the 14th Law Commission Report.
  • According to Section 2 of the Legal Services Act, a person can receive legal help for a 'case,' which includes a suit or other action before a court.
  • The National Legal Services Authority was created to cope with rare circumstances where a person's life or liberty is in jeopardy by retaining senior and skilled lawyers on a regular basis.
  • The goal of legal aid is to reduce social and institutional prejudice against the poor.
  • The article discusses elaborately the application procedure to get legal aid and the stand taken by the Courts.

Introduction

India is a populous country with a large number of illiterates. The majority of individuals are unaware about the country's legal processes, as well as their constitutional rights. Some people are aware of it, but because of their economic and social disadvantages, they are unable to purchase it. They are powerless to retain the services of legal counsel, which has become an expensive business. By the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1976, Parliament of India established a specific Directive Principle, namely Article 39-A, with the goal of providing free legal aid to deserving parts of society.

The Encyclopaedia, Britannica defines legal assistance as a specific meaning of delivering to persons of limited means grants or for nominal fees, advice or counsel to represent them in court in civil and criminal issues, as defined by usage and judicial rulings. Being unable to consult or be represented by a lawyer may be equated to being deprived of the protection of the law. The first principle of justice, according to Rawls, is that everyone has an equal right to the most comprehensive total system of equal basic liberties consistent with a corresponding system of rights for everyone.

Legal Aid is a technique of ensuring that no one is denied competent counsel and assistance due to a lack of funding. As a result, the provisions of legal aid to the poor are founded on humanitarian considerations, with the primary goal of assisting the poor who are socially and economically behind.

Legal History

The 14th Law Commission Report underlined the right to be assigned counsel at the expense of the government. Following that, the Law Commission strongly recommended in 1969 that the right of the accused to be represented at the expense of the government be made a statutory right in trials for serious crimes, and as a first step in that direction, the Commission proposed that such a right be available in all trials before the Court of Session.

To realise the goal expressed in Article 39-A of the Constitution, the government established a Committee for implementing Legal Aid Scheme to oversee and administer Legal Aid Programs on a uniform basis in all States and Union Territories, with the goal of providing free legal aid. The aforementioned Committee developed a model programme, which the government afterwards enacted. However, after a review, certain flaws were discovered, and it was decided that statutory legal authorities should be established at the national, state, and district levels to enable efficient oversight of Legal Aid Programs.

Lok Adalats were established to expedite and reduce the expense of resolving a huge number of complaints, and they have been operating as a voluntary and conciliatory body without any formal support for their decisions. The Legal Services Authority Bill, 1987, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 24, 1987, to provide for the composition of statutory legal authorities and to provide statutory backing to Lok Adalats and their awards.

Article 39-A of the Constitution states that the state shall ensure that the legal system operates in a manner that promotes justice on an equal footing, and that the state shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, through appropriate legislation or schemes, or in any other manner, to ensure that no citizen's right to justice is denied due to economic or other disabilities.With the goal of providing free legal assistance, the government established the “Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes” (CILAS) under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati (as he was at the time) to monitor and implement Legal Aid Programs uniformly across all states and union territories. CILAS developed a model scheme for Legal Aid Program that may be applied across the country, and various Legal Aid and Advice Boards have been established in states and union territories. CILAS is entirely funded by grants from the central government.

Legal Services Authority Act

Legal assistance can be awarded to a person for a 'case,' which includes a suit or any proceeding before a court, according to Section 2(1) (a) of the Act. Section 2(1) (a) defines a court as a civil, criminal, or revenue court, as well as any tribunal or other institution established to perform judicial or quasi-judicial responsibilities under any law currently in force. Section 2(1)(c) defines legal service as any service rendered in the conduct of any case or other legal procedure before any court, other authority, or tribunal, as well as the provision of legal advice on any legal topic.

Following an examination of an applicant's eligibility conditions and the existence of a prima facie case in his favour, the Legal Services Authorities supply him with counsel at no cost to him, pay the required Court Fee in the matter, and bear all incidental expenditures in connection with the case. Until legal assistance is granted, the person receiving it is not required to spend any money on the case once it has been approved by the Legal Services Authority.

Every citizen whose monthly income does not exceed Rs 9,000 is eligible for free legal aid in disputes before subordinate and high courts under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The limit is Rs 12,000 in matters before the Supreme Court. The state governments have the authority to raise this restriction. Income limitations do not apply to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women, children, handicapped, and others.

NALSA Authority

  • The National Legal Services Authority was established to deal with unusual circumstances in which a person's life or liberty is jeopardised by retaining senior and capable lawyers for regular fees.
  • Every state has established a State Legal Services Authority to carry out the Central Authority's mandates, namely, to provide legal help to the general public and to organise Lok Adalats in the state.
  • The Taluk Legal Services Authority and the District Legal Services Authority have been established to carry out and implement legal services in the district and Taluk, respectively.
  • The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee was also constituted by the SC to ensure that the indigent and the poor get free legal assistance.

Procedure for Application

Jurisdiction:

The first step that an individual should take is, approach the following appropriate authority, depending on the territorial and subject matter jurisdiction of the case:

  • Taluk Legal Services Committee in the premises of the Taluk Court; or
  • District Legal Services Authority in the premises of the District Court in the District Headquarters; or
  • The concerned State Legal Services Authority (for specific cases whose panels are maintained at the State Level); or
  • The High Court Legal Services Committee in the premises of the High Court: or
  • The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee in cases before the Apex Court.

A front office can be found in each District Legal Services Authority, High Court Legal Services Committee, and State Legal Services Authority.

Application:

1. One can apply through NALSA's online portal (https://nalsa.gov.in/) or the State Legal Services Authorities' websites.

2. You can apply for free legal assistance both in person and online. You can fill out a ready-made form/application form accessible at your local Legal Services Authority and submit it to the Authority either in person or by mail.

3. An application in writing can be made then, on a simple piece of paper with the necessary details such as name, gender, residential address, employment status, nationality, whether you are SC/ST (with proof in support), monthly income (with affidavit), the case for which legal aid is required, reason for seeking legal aid, and so on, and submit it in person or by mail.

4. Another method is to submit the application online, either via email to NALSA (at nalsa-dla@nic.in) or via the online application form found on NALSA's website by clicking on the 'Online Application' link on the Home Page, and uploading the required papers.

5. One can also make the application orally; in such circumstances, a paralegal volunteer or an officer from the relevant Legal Services Authority would assist.

6. To be eligible for free legal services, a person must submit a completed application form to the authority along with all required evidence, including identity proofs and mandatory certificates/affidavits as proof of membership to a specific category.

7. The website contains information on all of the necessary paperwork for applying through the online procedure.

8. When an illiterate person approaches a legal services organisation, SLSAs/DLSAs/TLSCs or panel Advocates can help them. The paralegal volunteers (PLVs) stationed in the villages can also obtain the essential information and fill out the paperwork for such applicants. On the same, the applicant must add his or her signature initials or thumb impression.

9. The online application can be submitted at any time of day or night because the website is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The NALSA can be contacted anytime in the office hours from Monday to Friday, i.e. 9:30 am to 6 pm. The State Legal Services Authorities can also be contacted during their regular business hours, which can be found on their websites.

Judicial Stand

In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, the Court stated that having legal services available to a prisoner seeking release through the courts process is an essential component of a reasonable, fair, and just procedure. Any acceptable, fair, and just method must include free legal services for the poor and needy. The Court cited Article 39-A, which provides for free legal assistance, and read Article 21 in light of that provision. The right to free legal assistance for poor accused persons was supported by the court, not in the permissive sense of Article 22(1) and its broader scope, but in the peremptory sense of Article 21 confined to jail conditions.

According to the Court in Rhem v. Malcolm,377 F. Supp. 995 (S.D.N.Y. 1974) the State cannot deny the accused the constitutional right to a fast trial on the grounds that the State has the financial resources to spend on modernising the administrative and judicial apparatus in order to ensure a speedy trial. The government may have budgetary limits and expenditure priorities, but the law prohibits any government from depriving its citizens of fundamental rights on the basis of poverty.

The Delhi High Court observed in Abdul Hassan v. Delhi Vidyut Board, AIR 1999 Delhi 88 that Article 39A emphasises that the legal system should be able to deliver justice expeditiously on the basis of equal opportunity and provide free legal aid to ensure that no citizen's right to justice is denied due to economic or other disabilities. The Legal Services Authority Act of 1987 was enacted in response to this situation. One of the Act's goals is to organise Lok Adalat in order to ensure that the legal system's operation promotes justice on an equal footing. The Act's provisions, which are founded on indigenous principles, are intended to supplement the legal system. They will go a long way toward resolving the issue for the litigants at a low cost and with minimal delay. The Act is an attempt by the legislature to relieve the courts of matters with a high burden of proof.

Although several years had passed since the enactment, the Supreme Court found and observed in the case of State of Haryana v. Smt. Darshana Devi, 1979 SCR (3) 184 that no State had framed rules to give effect to the benign provision of legal aid to the poor in Order XXXIII Rule 9-A, Civil Procedure Code, that no State had framed rules to give effect to the benign provision of legal aid to the poor in Order XXXIII Rule 9-A, Civil Procedure Code. Parliament is stifled, and the public is dissatisfied. Even after a law for the benefit of the poor has been established, the State does not put it into effect by wilfully failing to meet the criterion sine qua non. Each great branch of government has a public duty to follow the rule of law and protect the Constitution by enacting rules to carry out legislation that benefits the poor.

The Kerala High Court declared in Moni Mathai v. Federal Bank Ltd., AIR 2003 Ker 164 that Lok Adalats must also obey natural justice, equity, fair play, and other legal norms. All of these tragic disagreements could have been avoided if the Committee had taken the time to notify the petitioners, get a written statement conveying their version, and present it to the Lok Adalat. The Lok Adalats must also remember that it is their responsibility to settle issues amicably rather than to dispose of them in some way.

Conclusion

Legal aid is not a gift or a charity; it is a public obligation and a citizen's right. Legal assistance focuses on distributive justice, effective welfare benefit implementation, and the elimination of social and institutional discrimination against the poor. It operates under the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987, which serves as a framework for the administration of free justice. The state's primary goal should be "fair justice for all." As a result, legal assistance works to ensure that the constitution's promise is kept in letter and spirit, and that equal justice is provided to society's impoverished and weaker members.

Despite the fact that free legal aid has long been considered a fundamental component of the rule of law, the legal aid movement has yet to achieve its goal. There is a significant difference between the goals established and the goals achieved. The lack of legal awareness is the most significant impediment to the legal aid movement in India. Because people are still unaware of their basic rights, the legal aid movement has failed to achieve its purpose. The lack of legal information leads to exploitation and deprivation of poor people's rights and privileges.


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