Our Indian Judiciary always aims for justice for all. It never considers one’s monetary, political, or social situation. It is their duty that justice prevails. But all this can happen only if one seeks justice in court. There are some people like women, schedule tribes, etc. who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. They are unable to enforce their legal rights. Legal Aid is the method to ensure that no one is deprived of it.
WHAT IS LEGAL AID
According to Section 2(C) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, “legal services” includes any service in the conduct of a case or other legal proceedings before any court or other authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter. Legal Services includes providing Free Aid to those weaker sections of the society who fall within the purview of section 12 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. It is provided to those people who can’t afford the fees of lawyers, expenses of witnesses, processing fees, etc. due to their financial crisis. But justice is everyone’s right irrespective of their caste, sex, religion, or in this case even economy.
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) is a government organization that provides legal aid and advice to the marginalized group in our society who can’t afford it. It is governed by Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Provision of free legal aid may include
- “Representation by an Advocate in legal proceedings.
- Payment of process fees, expenses of witnesses, and all other charges payable or incurred in connection with any legal proceedings in appropriate cases.
- Preparation of pleadings, memo of appeal, paper book including printing and translation of documents in legal proceedings.
- Drafting of legal documents, special leave petitions, etc.
- Supply of certified copies of judgment, orders, notes of evidence, and other documents in legal proceedings.”
LEGAL AID – A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT
Legal aid is just not a legal right but a Constitutional right which is explained in Article 21 and Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution. In case S. Mazhaimeni Pandian, Advocate …vs The State of Tamil Nadu, Rep .by …on 6 September 2002 it was well settled that a right to have a free legal aid and speedy trial is also guaranteed fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Equal justice and free legal aid are provided under Article 39-A of the Constitution. Article 21 states the Protection of life and personal liberty.—No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.It explains that every person has the right to live a dignified life. For instance, if a person is falsely imprisoned, he has a right to sue the other person but for an economically backward person, it is not easy. Is he living a dignified life? No.
Article 39-A states “Equal justice and free legal aid.—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 because of economic or other disabilities”.
Justice P.N. Bhagwati has stated that “Equal justice is an important concept, but poverty is an obstacle in the way of protection of rights of the poor people, legal aid is a medium to protect poor people through law”. The primary aim of legal aid is to provide equal justice for all members of society irrespective of their financial status. Legal aid is provided for securing justice for all without considering the reason of poverty, illiteracy, etc. A wrong can be done both by poor or rich and wrong could be done to a poor or a rich. Therefore, even the poor have a right to justice. If one person is socially or economically weak that does not means he has no right to a fair trial and henceforth justice.
LEGAL SERVICE ACT 1987
Legal aid and advice are governed by the Legal Service Act 1987. But it came into force in the year 1995. A law defining legal services authorities to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the functioning of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equality, and to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen due to economic or other. Section 2 (c) explains the meaning of “legal service”. Section 3 gives authority to “NALSA” which is a central government authorized body to regulate legal services in India. Similarly, section 6 gives the Legal Service Authority of the State to perform similar functions. Section 12 is one of the important sections of the Act. It states the people who are eligible to avail of these legal services. Sections 15,16 &17 talk about funds of the district, state, and national levels respectively for legal aid. Section 22 states the powers of Lok Adalat or Permanent Lok Adalat. Section 24 lists various authorities who are exceptions, against whom we can’t file a case using Legal Aid.
Legal Aid and advice are a perfect way to help the needy who can’t afford the whole legal process and to ensure that justice prevails. There should be no barrier for one to seek the court for fair and just treatment. It is a method adopted to ensure that no one is deprived of legal advice because of a lack of funds. It strengthens people’s trust in the Indian judiciary. It assists in not only in civil matters but also in criminal matters of the poor and needy. The government does not provide adequate funds to the legal staff which results in a reduction in the quality of legal procedures. The majority of the Indian population is not aware of their legal rights due to a lack of legal education because of which they are unaware of legal aid. However, it is one of the steps taken by the legislature to help the poor and needy.
Author(s) Name: Bhumi Khandelwal (Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi)
 Constitution of India, 1950,art 39A
 Pushpak, “Legal Aid In India” (Legal Aid In India) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3574-legal-aid-in-india.html#:~:text=Legal%20Aid%20is%20the%20method,and%20weaker%20section%20of%20society> accessed June 24, 2022.