“The concept of seeking justice cannot be equated with dollars. Money plays no role in seeking justice.”
Legal aid to the poor and weak is necessary for the preservation of rule of law which is necessary for the existence of the orderly society until and unless poor illiterate man is not legally assisted; he is denied equality in the opportunity to seek justice. Therefore as step towards making the legal service serve the poor and the deprived the judiciary has taken active interests in providing legal aid in the present scenario. The Indian Constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and the courts are given power to protect the constitution and safeguard the rights of people irrespective of their financial status since the aim of the constitution is to provide justice to all and the directive principles are in its integral part of the constitution, the constitution dictates that the judiciary has the duty to protect rights of the poor as society as whole. The judiciary through its significant judicial intervention has compelled as well as guided the legislative to come up with suitable legislation to bring justice to the doorstep of the weakest sections of the society. Public interest litigation is one of the examples of how Indian Judiciary has played the role of the vanguard of the rights of Indian Citizens especially to the poor.
Read: Disenfranchisement Of Prisoners Justified Or Not
Legal aid implies giving free legal service to the poor and the needy who cannot afford the services of lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court, tribunal or before an authority. Legal aid is the method adopted to ensure that no one is deprived of professional advice and help because of the lack of funds. Therefore the main object is to provide equal justice to be made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.
Justice P.N Bhagwati observed that
“The legal aid means providing an arrangement in the society so that the missionary of the administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who have to resort to it for the enforcement of its given to them by laws the poor and illiterate should be able to approach the court and their ignorance and poverty should not impediment in the way of their obtaining justice from the courts. Legal aid should be available to the poor and illiterate who don’t have the access to the courts. One need not be a litigant to seek aid by means of legal aid.”
Therefore legal aid is to be made available to the poor and the needy by providing a system of government for those who cannot afford the cost of litigation.
LEGAL SERVICE AUTHORITY ACT 1987
In 1987, the legal services authorities act was enacted by the Parliament which came into force on 9th November 1995 to establish nationwide network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker section of the society.
Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons. If the person is:
- A member of Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe
- A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution.
- A woman or child
- A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person
- A person who is a victim of earthquake or massive disaster etc.
- An industrial workmen
- In custody, including custody in protective homes within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956
- In a Juvenile home within the meaning of section 2 of Juvenile Justice Act
- In receipt of income less than Rs 50,000 or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by state government if the case is before the court other than the Supreme Court or any other matter as may be prescribed by the central Government in such behalf.
In the case of Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar the Supreme Court held that the state cannot be permitted to deny the constitutional right of the speedy trial to the accused on the ground that the state has no adequate financial resources to incur the necessary expenditure needed for improving the administrative and judicial apparatus.
In the case of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain it was held that rule of law is the basic structure of the constitution of India. Every individual is guaranteed the rights given to him under the Constitution, equality of justice should be given to everyone.
Read: Judicial Independence Over Judicial Overreach
Thus, legal aid strives to ensure that Constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its better spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and the weaker section of the society. It is worthy to mention that the Constitution of India provides that state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equl opportunity and shall in particular provides free legal aid by suitable legislation and schemes or in any other way. Justice Krishna Iyer who is a crusader of social justice in India had rightly said that Article 39 A emphasised that free legal services is an inalienable element of reasonable, fair and just procedure and that the right to free legal service was implicit in the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
 (1980) 1 SCC 98.
 AIR 1977 SC 69.