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Need for Legal Aid in India

“The concept of seeking justice cannot be equated with the value of dollars. Money plays no role  in seeking justice.” – Justice Blackmun 

The road to justice has never been a cheap one. The Preamble of the Constitution of India assures  the citizens of India about Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The word Legal Aid defines legal assistance to every class of people in any judicial proceedings before the court of law. It  makes the people in every corner of the country aware to enforce the right given to them by the  constitution and the law. Illiteracy and economic condition should not be the reason for  depriving any human being of a way of obtaining justice. The constitution of India gives  importance to rule of law and also of Natural Justice.  

Article 38 says that the State shall promote the welfare of the people by protecting the social  order including justice and Article 39A 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.

Obstacles to legal assistance-

  • At present, our legal system in India is unorganized, diffused, and scattered. There is a huge gap between the written words in the preamble goal set and met. The idea of access and availability of the legal system is almost hypothetical.
  • Lawyers and the judiciary system negligently do pro bono work.
  • Illiteracy is one of the major obstacles to legal aid in rural areas approx. 70% of the population in the rural area is illiterate and more than illiterate they are unaware of the rights conferred upon them by law. This leads to exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits to them.
  • The biggest drawback of the legal system can be analyzed from the number of undertrials prisoners in jails, around 64% of the inmates in all the jails are undertrial, the reason is the powerful inmates enjoy all kinds of legal support and priority in getting bail whereas the poor and contactless people are unable to arrange bails.

In the case of Khatri vs. the State of Bihar, the court answered the question of free legal aid to the poor and weaker section; the court said that the state is constitutionally bound to provide free legal aid to the needy at every stage of a trial. The judiciary must educate the accused about his right to free legal aid.

Even literate people are unaware of their rights under the law, so only the right to education will not fulfill the real object if the legal rights and entitlement are not made accessible to the people.

Court expressed its feeling that no state has yet, framed rules to give effect to the benignant provision of legal aid to the poor, although several years have passed since the enactment. Parliament is stultified and the people are frustrated. Even after a law has been enacted for the benefit of the poor, the state does not bring it into force by willful default.

In Sheela Barse vs. the 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 a constitutional imperative mandated not only by Article 39-A but also by Articles 21 and 14 of the constitution.

In the case of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar that if an accused is not able to afford legal services then he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state.

Article 14 talks about equality before the law. Section 304 of CrPC imposes an obligation on the courts to provide legal aid at the expense of the state to an accused, who has no sufficient means and finances to engage an advocate. There cannot be any real equality in criminal cases unless the accused gets a fair trial of defending himself against the charge and professional assistance.

Measures for effective legal aids-

  • Judiciary through its intervention guided legislatures to bring justice to the doorsteps of the weakest section of society. Public Interest Litigations are brightening examples of how the Indian Judiciary has played important role in protecting the rights of Indian Citizens, especially for the poor section of the society.
  • Apart from Public Interest Litigations Judicial activism is the reforms in the judicial process, where it aims to make justice available by introducing Lok Adalat as one of the free and speedy legal aid at the doorstep of the poor.
  • Need to go to the grass root level and help to discover, identify and solve the problems and difficulties of the poor.
  • Activities like spreading legal awareness and educating people on their basic rights with the help of NGOs.
  • Promote more informal paralegal services in places where basic access to justice opportunities and infrastructures are absent.
  • Promote a pro bono service culture and tradition within the legal profession.
  • Lok Adalats should be promoted in the right direction as they settle the disputes quickly by counseling and discussions, etc. Its basis is to provide quick justice with the mutual consent of the parties.
  • Reduce the burden on the Courts so that the problem of law delay may be solved and people may get justice within due

Hon’ble Supreme court has set up different committees and programs for free legal aid

Supreme Court legal services committee (SCLC)

Supreme Court Middle Income Group Legal Aid Society (MIG)

Every person who desires to avail of the services of an Advocate impaneled under the Scheme will have to approach the Secretary of the Scheme by applying the prescribed form along with the relevant documents.

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 society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.

In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State.

Legal aid should not be looked up to as a charity, but it is an obligation of the state and the right of the citizens. The prime object of the state should be ―equal justice for all.

 sci.gov.in, The information about the different legal aid programmes introduced by SCI

Vandana Mistry
– Students

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