Adv Soniya Gajbhiye
Legal Aid is one of the most desirable services desperately needed by those who are unable to afford legal representation, engaging lawyers and to access the court system. It is necessary to provide access to justice by ensuring equality before the law. The right to have a counsel/lawyer and the right to a fair trial is an unavoidable requirement to do real justice. Free legal aid is the provision of free legal sevices in civil and criminal matters for those poor and marginalized people who can not afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any Court.
Free Legal Services also includes Provision of aid and advice to access benefits under the welfare statutes and schemes framed by the Central Government or the State Government and to ensure access to justice in any other manner.
Free legal aid is one of the rights guaranteed to all citizens of the country. Article 21 of the Constitution of India states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Hence ensuring legal aid to everyone is necessary for ensuring substantive equality.
If we go through Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, it obligates the State to Provide Free Legal Aid by Suitable Legislation or Scheme. The purpose behind it is to ensure justice is not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities.
The Legal Services Authority Act 1987 was enacted by the Parliament, and came into force on 9 November, 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society.
The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted to implement this and the Chief Justice of India is its patron-in-chief; and the second senior most judge in the Supreme Court is the executive chairperson of the authority. Presently, NALSA is housed at 12/11, Jam Nagar House, New Delhi-110011.
Legal Services includes providing Free Legal Aid to those weaker sections of society who fall within the purview of Section 12 of the Legal Services Authority Act 1987. It contains comprehensive provision to provide free legal aid and disposal of litigation. It also entails creating legal awareness by spreading legal literacy through legal awareness camps, print media, digital media and organizing Lok Adalats, for the amicable settlement of disputes which are pending or yet to be filed, by way of compromise. According to section 2 (c) Legal Services Act 1987, “legal services” includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other Authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter. Legal Aid is provided to the needy in all courts, from the lowest Court to the Supreme Court of India. Legal aid Counsel represent such needy persons before the lower Courts, High Courts and also before the Supreme Court of India. Any needy person can avail the services of his/her choice under free legal services. According to regulation 7(6) of the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulation 2010, the application for legal services will be scrutinized by the Member-Secretary and if the applicant has mentioned his/her choice of a lawyer on the panel, such Member-Secretary or Secretary can consider and allow the same.
Free Legal Services are provided by the National Legal Services Authority or State Authority or District Authority. The sections of the society who are getting free legal services as enlisted under section 12 of the Legal Services Authority Act are entitled for free legal services which are:
(a) Member of SC/ST;
(b) A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
(c) A woman or a child;
(d) A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person ;
(e) A person under circumstances such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster;
(f) An industrial workman ;
(g) In custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956; or in Juvenile Justice Act,1986 (53 of 1986); or in a psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987 (14 of 1987) ;
(h) a person in receipt of annual income less than the amount mentioned in the schedule (or any other higher amount as may be prescribed by the state Government), if the cases is before a Court other than the Supreme Court and less than Rs 5 lakh, if the case is before Supreme Court. The income ceiling limit prescribed u/s 12(h) of the Act for availing free legal services in different states has been stated differentle like the State of Maharashtra has income ceiling limit (per annum) of Rs 3,00,000/- and Madhya Pradesh State has income ceiling limit of Rs 1,00,000/-.
Any needy or poor individual can avail free legal services from
(i) Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, 109, Lawyers Chambers, Supreme Court of India, New Delhi for Supreme Court Cases
(ii) State Legal Services Authority
(iii) High Court legal Services Committee situated at High Court Complex in every High Court for High Court Cases.
(iv) District Legal Services Authority situated in the District Courts Complex in every district.
Even under order 33 CPC, citizens who are unable to afford the payment of court fees and do not have any means to pay are permitted to institute the civil suits without paying the court fees. Rule 9-A of order 33 CPC also empowers the court to assign a pleader/lawyer at state expenses to represent the pauper/poor litigant in the court of law.
Though, the legislature & judiciary has taken every care to ensure safety and security to the citizen in India, but the need of the time is that, citizens must know their rights and laws made for their protection. Remember knowledge is power. As a citizen of India these are the legal rights set in place to protect you and it is important that you are aware about these. It is necessary to know these and other laws in place to protect the interest of the public. Only if people are aware of their rights, they can fight against any injustice meted out to them at home, at the workplace or in the society. However, effective implementation through central/state Government and Law Machinery requires more timely and effective action for redressal of the grievances of the citizens of India.
Soniya Gajbhiye is an advocate at Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench. She is also a social activist running an organization named Bhimraj Ki Beti Buddhist Mahila Sangh in Nagpur.