India is a populous country with a large proportion of illiterate people. The majority of people are unaware of the country’s legal processes and constitutional rights. While individuals are aware of it, they are unable to purchase it due to their economic and social disadvantages. They are incapable of employing the services of legal counsel, which has become an expensive endeavour. To ensure that deserving parts of society get free legal assistance, the Indian Parliament put a particular Directive Principle, namely Article 39-A, into the Constitution in 1976 via the 42nd Amendment. Legal assistance is a fundamental right guaranteed by Articles 21 and 39-A of the Indian Constitution. “Access to Justice” is a fundamental human right bestowed by common law that persists until it is revoked by the government in a legal exercise of statutory or constitutional authority. The term “access” alone denotes a Right to Remedy. This is not a novel notion; rather, it is a reflection of the ancient Roman law principle “Ubi jus ibi remedium,” which means “where there is a right, there is a remedy”. The state’s primary role is to offer free legal help to the poor, impoverished, and disadvantaged, and it is their constitutional right to seek and get such assistance. Thus, in a democratic society, an impartial, independent court serves as the safeguard of individual rights. Citizens must have access to the courts when required in order to have trust in their justice system.
Concept of Legal Aid
Legal aid to the poor is vital to maintain the rule of law, which is required for the maintenance of an ordered society. It entails providing free legal services to the poor and needy who cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in a lawsuit or legal procedure before a court, tribunal, or other body. Until and unless the impoverished illiterate guy has legal assistance, he is denied equal access to justice. Until and unless the impoverished illiterate guy has legal assistance, he is denied equal access to justice. As such, this is a step toward making the legal system more accessible to the poor and disadvantaged; in recent years, the court has taken an active role in providing legal assistance to the needy.
Right to legal aid is based on the well-established concept known as “Fair trial“. A fair hearing is guaranteed by the constitutions of all countries, as well as by human rights treaties at the regional and international levels. In order to ensure the preservation of individual freedoms, it serves as the cornerstone. Right to legal aid shows that the state’s authority should be equal to the suspect’s. The right to state-funded legal counsel and legal aid is an essential part of the right to a fair trial. With the help of legal assistance, everyone who needs it may learn more about their rights and be reassured that help is available to them, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Everyone who comes into touch with the legal system in any nation on the continent is guaranteed a fair and expeditious trial by law. In addition, governments throughout the continent have made significant measures to improve the responsiveness, efficiency, and effectiveness of their judiciaries. Subsumed within wider criminal justice changes, legal aid service innovations are often forgotten or narrowly framed. Governing bodies should be made aware of the need of ensuring that justice system legal aid services are properly delivered.
Challenges to this concept
In India, the legal assistance system has been shown to be completely inefficient. To date, the National Legal Services Authority has been unable to provide true legal assistance because of four key reasons:
- The legal services authority does not have enough lawyers on staff.
- Because of the high cost of legal services, most attorneys have little motivation to provide quality representation.
Furthermore, too many public-funded lawyers designated to offer legal assistance fail to represent their clients truthfully, putting the integrity of the legal aid program for the poor in jeopardy. Delay tactics are often used by lawyers hired by legal aid committees to keep their clients’ cases hostage. Although they are meant to be paid by the legal aid committee, these lawyers force their clients, many of whom are unjustly imprisoned, to pay them extra fees. It’s possible that the low salary provided to lawyers by the legal aid committee is a contributing cause to this. Additionally, the Indian legal aid movement is hindered by an ineffective delivery mechanism for legal aid. A public awareness campaign regarding the availability of free legal aid should be established to encourage more attorneys to provide it. For the legal aid movement to succeed, individuals must be educated about their fundamental rights. Without knowledge of their legal rights, the poor are vulnerable to abuse and robbed of the protections afforded to them by law. Increasing public awareness and streamlining the delivery of legal assistance are the keys to a successful system.
For India’s legal aid system to be effective, the government must launch a public awareness campaign on the country’s entitlement to free legal assistance. More efficient government systems, including but not limited to improved remuneration for legal aid practitioners, are needed to enhance legal aid delivery. Freedom of legal counsel is meaningless without it. Providing legal assistance is not a kind of charitable giving, but rather a responsibility of the state and a fundamental right of the people to do so. Legal assistance focuses on distributing justice, ensuring that welfare payments are implemented correctly, and eradicating structural and social discrimination against the poor. Free justice is provided in accordance with the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, which serves as a guideline. “Equal justice for everyone” should be the primary goal of the state. As a result, legal assistance works to guarantee that the constitution’s promise of equal justice for all citizens is carried out in text and spirit. Legal assistance hasn’t fulfilled its purpose despite the fact that it has been seen as a vital adjunct to a rule of law.
In conclusion, Goals are made, yet they aren’t met. The dearth of legal understanding in India is a key impediment to the legal assistance movement. The legal aid movement hasn’t yet reached its aim since people aren’t aware of their fundamental rights. The impoverished are exploited and denied their rights and benefits because of a lack of legal understanding. Article 39a, in my opinion, will be of great assistance to the impoverished and downtrodden members of society if properly applied. For example, making people aware of their basic rights so that they are not alone in their suffering, providing free or low-cost legal services to the general public. This section discusses these two topics, as well as the difficulties people have in making use of the services since they are unaware of the government’s policies and programmes, and because they have little or no education, they are unable to benefit from them. As a result, if the government takes steps to educate people about their rights and remedies, many silent victims will benefit. It can educate people by conducting campaigns, providing free legal advice, broadcasting information about their basic rights on radio or television, and many other methods. It is past time to assist the needy and contribute to the improvement of our country.
Author(s) Name: Khushi Bhavsar (Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur)