Legal aid is defined as giving free legal services to the poor and needy who cannot afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court, tribunal or front of any authority.
In 1980, a Committee known as Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS) was constituted under the Chairmanship of Honourable Justice P.N. Bhagwati to oversee and regulate legal aid programs all through the country. The formulation of Lok Adalats added another domain to the judicial system of India which remained as a supplementary forum to the litigants. In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities (Amendments) Act 2002 was established to give a statutory acknowledgement to legal aid programs all through the nation. It was implemented on 9 November 1995. ‘The Act provides the criteria for delivering lawful administrations to the eligible persons.
Services offered by the Legal Services Authority
- Payment of court and other process fees
- Charges for preparing, drafting and filing of any legal proceedings
- Expenses of a Legal Advisor or Legal Practitioner
- Costs of obtaining decrees, orders, judgments, or any other documents in a legal proceeding
- Costs of paperwork, including printing and translation etc
Duties of the Police and the Courts
The police must inform the nearest Legal Aid Committee about the arrest a person immediately after such arrest. It was held in the case of Sheela Barse V. State of Maharashtra.
- The Magistrates and sessions judges must inform every accused who appears before them and who is not represented by a lawyer on account of his poverty or indigence that he is entitled to free legal services at the cost of the State.
- Failure to provide legal aid to an indigent accused, unless it was refused, would vitiate the trial. It might even result in setting aside a conviction and sentence. It was held in the case of Suk Das Vs. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh (1986).
When can Legal Services be Rejected?
- If the applicant has adequate means to access justice
- If the applicant does not fulfil the eligibility criteria to get legal aid
- If the applicant has no merits in his application requiring legal action.
Cases in Which Legal Aid is not Available
- Claims in respect of defamation, contempt of court, malicious prosecution, perjury etc.
- Proceedings related to elections.
- Cases, where fine imposed, is not more than Rs.50.
- Economic offences and offences against social laws.
- Cases where the person seeking legal aid is not directly concerned with the proceedings and whose interest will not be affected.
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When can the Legal Services be Withdrawn?
The Legal Services Committee can withdraw the services in following matters when-
- The aid is obtained through fraud or misrepresentation.
- Any material change occurred in the circumstances of the aided person.
- There is misbehaviour, misconduct or negligence on the part of the aided person.
- The aided person does not corporate with the allotted advocate.
- The aided person appoints another Legal Practitioner.
- The aided person dies except in civil cases
- The proceedings amount to misusing the process of law or legal service.
Who is Entitled to Free Legal Aid?
- Any person who is a member of Scheduled Caste or tribe
- Any person suffering from natural calamity, industrial worker, Children, Insane person, Handicapped, a person in custody, and those persons having annual income less than Rs.1 Lakh were entitled to get free legal aid
- A person who is a victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar
- Any disabled person, including a mentally disabled person.
- A women or child
- Any person who is a victim of a mass disaster, Ethnic Violence, caste atrocity, flood, Drought, Earthquake, Industrial Disaster and other cases of undeserved want.
- A person who is an industrial workman
- A person who is in custody including protective custody
- A person who is facing a charge which might result in imprisonment.
- A person who is unable to appoint a lawyer and secure legal services on account of poverty, incommunicado situation and indigence In cases of great public importance
- Exceptional Cases which considered deserving of Legal Services.
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Procedure for applying for Free Legal Aid
For Applying Offline-
- Fill up the application form that is available at nearest Legal Service Authority.
- Submit the application form either physically or post it to the authority.
- Application can also be in the form of small piece of paper with necessary details on it like name, residential address, gender, employment status, nationality, whether SC/ST (with proof), income per month (with Affidavit ), case for which legal aid is required, reason for seeking legal aid. Submission of the application form can be done either physically or by way of post.
For Applying Online-
- A person can also request for getting legal aid to any Legal Service Institution in the country by filling online application form accessible only at NALSA’s website.
- After opening the website, click on the ‘online application’ option and also submit the required documents with it.
The Concept of Lok Adalats
Lok Adalats is an informal system of justice dispensation which has mostly succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to litigants for determination and settlement of disputes. Lok stands for ‘people’ and Adalat stands for ‘court ‘, so Lok Adalats stands for people’s court.
Based on Gandhian principles, Lok Adalats has become major helping hands to courts. Lok Adalats provide two-fold benefits involving speedy resolution of disputes coupled with avoiding further appeals, thereby making them the best instrument for reducing the burden on courts.
The advent of the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 gave statutory status to Lok Adalats along with constitutional mandate in Article 39A of the Constitution.
Right to Free Legal Aid and Article 39 A –
The state shall secure that the operation of Legal System promotes justice based on Equality and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid by suitable Legislation or Schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities in securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities.
- If an accused is not able to afford legal services, then he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state.( Case- Hussainara Khatoon V. State of Bihar)
- The state must see that the legal system promotes justice based on equal opportunity for all its citizens. It must, therefore, arrange to provide free legal aid to those who cannot access justice due to economic and other disabilities. (Art.39 A of the Constitution of India)
- If the accused does not have sufficient means to engage a lawyer, the court must provide one for the defence of the accused at the expense of the state.(Sec. 304, Criminal Procedure Code)
- In the case of Khatri II Vs. The state of Bihar, (1981) Court held that the Constitutional duty to provide legal aid arises from the time the accused is produced before the Magistrate for the first time and continues whenever he is presented for remand.
- In the case of Madav Hayavadanrao Hoskot Vs. State of Maharashtra (1978), the court held that a person entitled to appeal against his/her sentence has the right to ask for a counsel, to prepare and argue the appeal
- Aid is provided to afford the cost of poor people and lower-income groups of the society, the support to look after themselves in admiration of the activity and implementation of their legal right. Legal aid is thought to be an instrument to accomplish Right to Equality in the witness of law as given in our Constitution.
- In mind the end goal to keep that the underprivileged, poor, oppressed and weaker areas of the general public are not denied of the advantages, there ought to be appropriate consciousness of law and lawful procedures.