The term “pro bono” is extracted from the Latin term pro bono Publico, which means “for the public good”. It refers to services that are proffered by a professional for free or at a lower cost. Pro bono lawyers serve the public interest by giving free legal services to individuals who are in need. Instead of working for profit, the provider is regarded to be imparting a benefit for the larger good. Hence from an ethical point of view, the concept of Pro Bono shouldn’t be perceived as a form of charity, but rather as a part of moral responsibility for legal practitioners. Supporting Article 22 and Article 39 of the Indian Constitution which states the right of the accused to be represented by any legal practitioner of his choice, Pro bono allows and helps the indigent people to be represented by lawyers in the court of law. It also functions in consonance with Section 304 of CrPC whereby legal aid is provided to the accused and representation is ensured.
Purpose of Pro Bono
Prejudices do not exist in pro bono services. Pro bono work is undertaken by lawyers who are eager to help and have a noble motive to do so. Lawyers and their clients have the window to examine their affinity. The client is also cognizant of the fact that his/her lawyer is providing the services either at no cost or at reduced cost and with the view to help the client in resolving the dispute. As a result, mutual respect, trust, and a strong working relationship between the practitioner and client development. Another important factor in favour of the pro bono system is that both the client and the lawyer have the flexibility to terminate the engagement at any point in time.
Given such positive and marvellous implications of Pro Bono Legal work, a very crucial question arises:
- What if Pro Bono work is made compulsory in the Indian legal system? Would it turn out as productive or counter-productive?
Looking deeply into the working of Pro bono, one could foresee the counter-productive atmosphere created once the Pro bono Work is undertaken with a sense of compulsion, thereby relegating it to a kind of tokenism. Moreover, Lawyers wouldn’t put their heart and soul together in order to aid and represent the indigent.
Since British law holds colossal influence on our legal system, the concept of Pro Bono is not profoundly entrenched as one of its norms but in spite of that, Pro bono work is not martian to the legal system presently prevailing in India. As per Rule 48 of the “Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette” under the Bar Council of India Rules, it states the fact that each and every advocate shall acknowledge the situation whereby anyone badly needs a lawyer for legal assistance but is financially deprived to do so. Hence, it confers an obligation to provide free legal assistance to the indigent and oppressed on the part of advocates within their limits.
Advantages of Pro Bono
There are several reasons and factors due to which lawyers are inclined to undertake Pro bono work. Oftentimes, lawyers indulge in such work so as to cultivate the habit of empathizing with the suffering of others. Also, in order to connect themselves with lower strata of society thereby knowing the hardcore realities of the grassroots level in the society, lawyers take up Pro bono matters. Another prominent factor might be the sense of immense satisfaction achieved while imparting their services in pro bono matters.
There are numerous examples of Pro Bono work imparted by top lawyers in India. One instance can be that of Raju Ramchandran, who provided a helping hand to Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case. The Supreme Court before adjudicating the case had appointed Raju Ramachandran as its amicus curiae to work with it in the inquisition of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack convict Amir Ajmal Kasab’s plea which challenged his capital punishment. Raju Ramchandran insisted on taking up the matter pro bono. Another renowned personality, Prashant Bhushan is also known for his pro bono work, thereby serving the society and ensuring the representation of the accused. The advancement of Indian society has resulted in a better knowledge of its citizens’ rights and the expansion of their legal demands. As a concept and a technique of making a long-term contribution to access to justice, unfortunately, pro bono service has not acquired much traction in India. Despite the fact that some practitioners, law firms, and even senior advocates are already providing commendable pro bono services, this system has not gained the prominence it deserves and continues to be ad hoc.
In an effort to promote the undertaking of pro bono work by legal practitioners, The Department of Justice has taken various measures to build a database consisting of lawyers who impart and are prepared to give pro bono legal services, so as to give some weightage to the same while considering the appointment of advocates to relevant posts. After the judgment of the Supreme Court in Indira Jaisingh v. Supreme Court of India, pro bono work has been considered to be one of the qualifying factors for nomination as a Senior Advocate, thereby encouraging the advocates to take up pro bono matters from time to time.
Instead of imposing the required pro bono services structure, which in turn defeats one of its most crucial purpose itself, there is a growing need to incentivize pro bono legal services even more for providing persistent aid and relief to the society as a whole. It has gigantic potential to promote and widen the scope of pro bono work from a long-term perspective. A balanced mix of legal aid and pro bono services will go a long way toward ensuring that our nation achieves the long-sought goal of equal access to justice.
As stated, Pro bono fortifies the representation of underprivileged people in the court of law. It leaves a positive impact on society. With the passage of time, pro bono work has been introduced in various fields of law and is still in a continuous process of augmentation. Hence, there is a lot of scope for Lawyers undertaking pro bono matters in future and its aggressive promotion may help in enlarging the sphere of Pro bono work in India.
Author(s) Name: Chaitanya Vohra (Chanakya National Law University, Patna)
 (2018) 1 SCC 638.