Legal Aid in India
The preamble of the Indian constitution aims to secure to the people of India justice – socio economic and political. Article 38 and 39A of the Indian constitution are notable. Article 38(1) states- the State shall promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting the social order including justice and Article 39-A of the constitution states that the state shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen.
In Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra, it was held that legal assistance to a poor accused who is arrested and put in jeopardy of his life or personal liberty is constitutional imperative mandated not only by article 39-A but also by article 21 and 14 of the constitution.
Article 21 clearly says that every person has an equal right to life and liberty except according to the procedure established by the law. It was said in the case of Hussainara khatoon vs. State of Bihar, that if any accused is not able to afford legal services then he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state.
National Legal Services Authority
The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free Legal Services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
NALSA is located at New Delhi. In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and to give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. The State Legal Services Authority is headed by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of the respective High Court who is the Patron-in-Chief of the State Legal Services Authority.
In every District, District Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement Legal Services Programmes in the District. The District Legal Services Authority is situated in the District Courts Complex in every District and chaired by the District Judge of the respective district.
Measures For Effective Legal Aid
1. The legal aid movement has to go to the grass root level and help to discover, identify and solve the problems and difficulties of the poor.
2. The participation not only of the practicing lawyers but also of the courts, the law, teachers, senior law students, trained social workers, public at large is also needed.
3. It should also include activities like spreading legal awareness and educating people on their basic rights with the help of NGO's.
4. Promote more informal paralegal services in places where basic access to justice opportunities and infrastructures are absent.
5. Promote a pro bono service culture and tradition within the legal profession.
6. Offer comparative models of legal aid to government in reforming the movement
Free Legal Services offered by NALSA/State Authority/District Authority
Free legal services entail the provision of free legal aid in civil and criminal matters for those poor and marginalized people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court, tribunal or before an authority.
Provision of free legal aid may include:
Payment of court fee, process fees and all other charges payable or incurred in connection with any legal proceedings;
Providing Advocate in a legal proceedings;
Obtaining and supply of certified copies of orders and other documents in legal proceedings.
Preparation of appeal, paper book including printing and translation of documents in legal proceedings.
Rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other Authority or tribunal.
Giving of advice on any legal matter.
How to apply
A person in need of free legal services can approach the concerned authority or committee through an application which could either be made by sending in written form,or by filling up the forms prepared by the said authorities stating in brief the reason for seeking legal aid or can be made orally in which case an officer of the concerned legal services authority or a paralegal volunteer can assist the person.
A person can also apply online for getting Legal Aid to any Legal Services Institution in the country by filling up the Legal Aid Application form available online at NALSA’s website. To access the online application. Various SLSAs/DLSAs/SCLSC/HCLSCs/TLSCs also have application forms available on their websites.