The Legal Aid Service: A Constitutional and Statutory Right
History: In the year 1976 the 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India was made wherein Article 39A was newly inserter. It provides-
Article 39A: The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
In order to give effect of the provisions of Article 39A of the Constitution of India, initially the Government of India, by resolution dated 26th September, 1980 appointed the “Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes” (CILAS) under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagawati to monitor and implement the legal aid programmes on uniform basis in all the States and Union Territories. CILAS evolved a model scheme for legal aid programme applicable throughout the country by which several legal aid and advice boards were set up. But on a review on the working of the CILAS, certain deficiencies have come to the fore. It is therefore felt that it will be desirable to constitute statutory legal service authorities at the National, State and District levels so as to provide for the effective monitoring of legal aid programmes. Hence the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted which came into force in 1995.
Objectives: To constitute Legal Services Authorities-
- To provide Free and Competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society
- To organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.
Definition of Legal Service [Sec. 2(c)]:
“Legal Service” 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.
Different Legal Services Authorities:
- The National Legal Services Authority (Sec. 3)
- The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (Sec. 3A)
- The State Legal Services Authority (Sec. 6)
- The High Court Legal Services Committee (Sec. 8A)
- The District Legal Services Authority (Sec. 9)
- The Taluk Legal Services Committee (Sec. 11A)
Functions of Different Legal Services Authorities:
- Functions of the National Legal Services Authority (Sec.4)-
- Lay down policies and principles for legal services
- Frame effective and economical schemes for legal services
- Take necessary steps for consumer protection, environment protection etc. for weaker sections of the society and to give training to social workers in legal skills.
- Organize legal aid camps in rural and slum areas for educating poor people and encourage them to settle the dispute through Lok Adalat.
- Encourage settlement of disputes by way of negotiations, arbitration and conciliation.
- Undertake and promote research in the field of legal service
- Monitor and evaluate implementation of legal aid programmes.
- Provide grant-in-aid for specific schemes to different authorities.
- Spread legal literacy and legal awareness among the people
- Co-ordinate and monitor the functioning of different authorities.
- Functions of the State Legal Services Authority (Sec.7)-
- Give legal service to the eligible persons
- Conduct Lok Adalats
- Undertake preventive and strategic legal aid programmes and
- Perform other functions as fixed by regulation.
- Functions of the District Legal Services Authority (Sec. 10)-
- Co-ordinate the activities of the Taluk Legal Services Committee
- Organize Lok Adalats within the District, and
- Perform other functions as fixed by the regulation.
- Functions of the Taluk Legal Services Committee (Sec. 11B)-
- Co-ordinate the activities of legal services in the Taluk.
- Organize Lok Adalats within the Taluk, and
- Perform other functions as assigned by the District Authority.
Criteria for giving legal services (Sec. 12): Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under the Act if that person, is-
- A member of SC or ST
- A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar
- A women or child
- A person with disability
- A victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster
- An industrial workman
- A person in custody
- A person in receipt of annual income as prescribed by concerned Government [In the State of Assam the upper limit of income to be eligible for free legal service is fixed as Rs. 3,00,000/- (three lakhs)].