The colonization of India by Britishers had led to a massive transformation in our administrative, legal and economical systems. During 7th August 1978, as a result of abrogation of the informal dispute resolution system and the implementation of the adversarial system and its complexity had compelled the court to implement an action for a proper and fair adjudication of justice.
In M.H. Hoskot vs. State of Maharashtra, Supreme Court stated that, because of the proper procedures in court and preponderance of lawyers and charging of the fee due to the technical nature of the law, a provision for free legal aid has to be incorporated into the constitution of India.
The 42nd amendment act had incorporated article 39A (free legal aid), a provision under directive principles of state policy which will provide free and competent legal services to the weaker section of the society. It will ensure equal distribution of justice to every citizen irrespective of their economic and social situation.
Importance Of Free Legal Aid
Equal access to the law is one of the basic rights of every citizen. The main reasons that direct the necessity of free legal aid are:
1. It provides legal services to the vulnerable sections of society.
2. It enables the eradication of differences between rich and poor due to the privileges bagged by the riches.
3. It will ensure that the restrictions are put on the privileged group of the societies from taking the law into one’s hands.
Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
The Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 was enacted by the parliament in the 38th year of the Republic of India in 1987 but it came into force on 9th November 1995. It was introduced as a result of a recommendation made in the 14th report of the law commission of India. In 1960, the central government introduced a legal aid scheme but was scrapped later due to financial dearth. But in 1973, the government introduced its second phase by forming a committee under Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer for developing legal aid schemes for every state. The committee worked in a decentralised manner and formed a committee under the leadership of Justice P.N. Bhagawathi to implement the legal aid scheme. They suggested legal aid schemes for every district, state and centre.
Important Provisions Under Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
The main core of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 is the hierarchical legal service institutions in the district, state and centre, criteria for providing legal aid, Lok Adalat and free legal aid. The hierarchical legal service system in India exists at three levels. They are:
- National Legal Service Authority(NALSA) and Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC)
- State Legal Service Authority (SLSA) and the High Court Legal Services Committee (HCLSC)
- District Legal Services Authority(DLSA)
1. National Legal Services Authority
NALSA has been constituted under Section 4 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 to ensure free legal aid to every citizen in the society. It is a body constituted by the central government. NALSA is currently housed at 12/11, jam Nagar house, New Delhi-110011. The chief justice of India serves as the patron–in–chief. A serving or retired judge of the supreme court of India serves as executive chairman. They are nominated by the president in consultation with the chief justice of India. The central authority constitutes to form a committee called the Supreme Court legal services committee. NALSA ensures that justice is equally distributed among the citizens and justice isn’t denied based on economic or other factors. The major functions of NALSA are:
1. It organises legal aid camps by giving more focus on slums, rural areas and labour colonies. It helps in providing education to the people living in such areas regarding their rights and necessities. They also set up Lok Adalat to settle disputes.
2. It focuses on establishing legal service clinics in law colleges, universities etc.
3. They settle disputes via arbitration, negotiation and conciliation.
4. They provide grant aid to social service institutions that work at the grassroots level for the welfare of socially marginalised communities.
5. It also promotes research activities for improving legal services for the poor.
6. It ensures commitment to the fundamental duties of the citizens.
7. For ensuring that the schemes and programmes are implemented properly they tend to monitor and evaluate the action taken for the legal aid problems at specific periodical intervals.
8. They laid down policies and schemes for making the legal services available.
9. It frames the most effective and economical schemes for making legal services available.
10. It handles financial matters and allocates funds to respective state and district legal services authorities.
2. State Legal Services Authority
Every state has a state legal service authority to provide legal services to people who have no access to the same. It comes under section 6 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. It undertakes preventive and strategic legal aid programmes. They also conduct Lok Adalat to resolve their problems. Their main task is to work according to the direction of NALSA regarding the implementation of policies and schemes. The chief justices of the high court serve as patron-in-chief. A retired or serving judge of the high court serves as its executive chairman. the committee formed by the state authority is called as high court legal service committee. It consists of a chairman (sitting high court judge) and a secretary nominated by the chief justice of the high court.
3. District Legal Service Authority
It comes under Section 9 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. It ensures that the legal aid programmes are implemented in every district effectively. They conduct Lok Adalat at the district level. The district judge serves as its ex-officio chairman. It coordinates the activities at the taluk legal service committee.
4. Criteria For Giving Legal Services
It comes under Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. The criteria for giving legal services are:
- The person should have an annual income of fewer than nine thousand rupees according to the state government and twelve thousand rupees according to the central government.
- Victims of ethnic violence, mass disaster and natural calamities.
- People are under custody especially in protective homes like juvenile homes.
- People with disabilities
- Women and children
- People belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe.
- Victims of human trafficking or beggars.
5. Lok Adalat
The organisation of Lok Adalat comes under Section 19 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. All central, state and district legal service authority conducts Lok Adalat. It acts as an Alternative dispute resolution system. It was under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 it received its statutory status. They settle cases which are pending or the cases that haven’t been brought before any court of law. It constitutes judicial officers or people under central, state and district legal service authority. After the conciliation of cases and getting consent from the parties, the award is passed by conciliators according to Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. And it is deemed as a decree of civil court.
Functioning of Lok Adalat:
- The members of Lok Adalat should deal with the parties fairly and impartially.
- The cases that are pending in the court are dealt with in Lok Adalat. If the dispute is settled in the Lok Adalat, the court fee paid in the court on the petition will be received back
- There is no need to pay a fee to the court when a dispute is filed in a Lok Adalat.
Types of cases at Lok Adalat:
- Family disputes
- Mutation of land cases
- Compoundable criminal offence
- Encroachment on forest lands
- Land acquisition disputes
- Motor accident claim
- Cases which are not sub-judice.
Types of Lok Adalat:
1. National level Lok Adalat: it is held at regular intervals throughout the country at the Supreme Court to taluk levels wherein cases are disposed of in huge numbers. It started in 2015 and is being held on a specific subject matter every month.
2. Permanent Lok Adalat: it is organised under section 22B of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. It provides a compulsory pre-litigation mechanism to settle disputes related to public utility services like transport, telegraph, postal etc.
3. Mobile Lok Adalat: under this system, it travels from one place to other to settle disputes. As of 30th September 2015, more than 15.14 lakhs Lok Adalat have been conducted in the country and over 8.25 crore cases have been settled so far.
4. Mega Lok Adalat: this mechanism is held on a single day on the state level in all courts of the state.
5. Daily Lok Adalat: it is held every single day.
6. Continuous Lok Adalat: it is conducted for a particular number of days continuously.
6. Free Legal Aid
Article 39A of the constitution states that: “the state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice based on an 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 because of economic or other disabilities”. Article 14 and Article 22(1) also promotes the state to ensure equality before the law. Free legal aid strengthens the idea of the constitution to see every individual be equal and to provide necessary legal services to the poor and vulnerable group.
Provisions under free legal aid are:
- Advice on any legal matter.
- Payment of all charges in connection with legal proceedings.
- Providing a lawyer to carry out legal proceedings.
- Procurement of certified copies of legal documents.
- Preparation, printing and translation of legal documents.
As we all know that our Indian constitution put forward the idea of equality. The essence of democracy is that every individual is equal in the eyes of law. Just like that every citizen irrespective of economic status, caste, creed, gender, sex and other social conditions have the right to receive equal access to law and equal opportunities to receive legal services. To satisfy these necessities our government had set up the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. It also ensures the promotion of justice based on equal opportunity.
- M.H. Hoskot vs. state of Maharashtra 1978 AIR 1548,1979 SCR (1) 192
This article has been written by Nourien Nizar, 1st Year B.com LL.B (Hons.) student at Government law college, Ernakulam, Kerala
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