FREE LEGAL AID: MOST PLANNED TOOL IN PROMOTING JUSTICE
Justice Harry Blackmun very rightly asserted that one cannot equate justice with the worth of dollars. When it comes to justice, money should never be an impediment to it. Every person in the country is not so well off to incur the money involved in the process of seeking justice and it is not at all fair to them if this incapability stands in between their path to justice. Free legal aid is definitely a step towards resolving this problem and will certainly help those in need of justice. Free legal aid is the part of the basic fundamental rights which are guaranteed by the constitution of India to its citizens. Article 21 of the Indian constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. This very audibly implies that legal aid must be ensured to every individual in the country to attain substantive equality in the nation. Article 39A in the Indian constitution promises free legal aid to the most weaker and vulnerable sects of community with the purpose of promoting justice to give them equal opportunity. Justice P.N. Bhagwati through weaving article 21 with article 39A came to a conclusion that any trial without legal representatives for both the parties just because one cannot afford it is not at all reasonable and fair.
With an aim to give this thought and scheme a firmer framework, in the year 1987 legal services authority act was contrived which was then after facing several rounds of amendments, enacted on November 9, 1995.
BODIES UNDER THE LEGAL SERVICES AUTHORITY ACT
- National legal services authority (NALSA)
- State legal services authority (SLSA)
- District legal services authority (DLSA)
- Supreme court legal services committee
- High court legal services committee
- Taluk legal services committee
National legal services committee: The position of patron in chief is held by the chief justice of India and the position of executive chairperson of the authority is held by the second most senior judge of the supreme court.
Going by the NALSA’s authoritative website, free legal aid includes aid in all the matters concerning civil or criminal. This aid is provided for the hearing in court or tribunal or before an authority.
BENEFITS OF FREE LEGAL AID INCLUDE
- Portrayal by an attorney in any of the legal proceedings as promised by the NALSA
- Constructing all sorts paper work eg: paper book, memo of appeal etc. for the parties
- Drafting is also an integral part of this
- Giving any service required to be done during the trial
- Rendering of any advice relating legal matters
Anyone who requires the services of free legal aid can appeal to the concerned authority or tribunal or committee through a written application or by submitting form prepared for the same purpose by the concerned authority.
PROMINENT CASES CONCERNING FREE LEGAL AID
HUSSSAINARA KHATOON VS. STATE OF BIHAR: The authorities in this case held that the state is responsible to provide free legal aid to someone who is not himself capable of incurring the cost involved in proceedings. The onus lies on the state to ensure that the justice is promoted keeping in mind the equal opportunity for all.
KHATRI II VS. STATE OF BIHAR, 1981: It was held here that the duty of the state to provide free legal aid starts right after the culprit is brought in before the authority for its first hearing and it continues for every time he is produced before the authority.
SUK DAS VS. UNION TERRITORY OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH: In this case justice P.N. Bhagwati expressed his concern regarding the reach of the legal rights to the poor, especially that of free legal aid. He added that the maximum population of the country reside in the rural areas and are not literate. This creates the need to make those people aware of their rights and promote legal literacy.
STATE OF MAHARASHTRA vs. MANUBHAI PRAGAJI VASHI: The supreme court in this case held that unless the accused itself voluntarily refused to the legal services of the state, it’s the governments duty to make sure that the culprit avails the legal services otherwise lack of this would render the trial vitiated. Also in the case of M.H. hoskot vs. State of Maharashtra, justice Krishna iyer expressed that free legal aid should not in any condition be considered as a charity programme but a duty.
REASONS FOR WHICH CLAIM OF FREE LEGAL AID CAN BE REJECTED
- If the criteria set for the eligibility of the benefits of this scheme doesn’t meet
- One who wants to avail the service of free legal aid in sufficiently well off to bear the costs incurred in the legal process
- If the case is not strong enough to survive against the authority
It also must be kept in mind that the authorities have the power to withdraw the support at any stage if they find out that one has attained these services through any kind of fraud or misrepresentation. It can also be withdrawn if there is any kind of non – cooperation with the lawyer provided by the authority.
CASES FOR WHICH ONE CANNOT AVAIL LEGAL AID
- Matters relating to malicious prosecution, contempt of court, defamation or perjury
- Election related matters
- Offences that invites fine less than Rs.50/-
- Offences that are economic in nature and that are at odds with social law
- When the person who applies for the service of free legal aid is not the one directly related to the event and the result of the matter is not of hid interest.
PROBLEM FACED IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF FREE LEGAL AID
In May, 1964 attorney general Robert Kennedy during his law day speech asserted that “the poor man looks upon the law as an enemy, not as a friend. For him the law is always taking something away”. There can be 4 main reasons for why the authorities have failed to provide free legal aid as expected:
- There is not much awareness about the topic among the general public and also the reach of legal aid services is limited
- There is a common notion that persists in the mind of people that any service which is provided for free will not be so qualitative
- The number of lawyers for providing legal aid are not enough
- Those who give free legal aid are not so motivated during the process due to not so money involved.