Free legal aid is crucial right granted by Constitution; SCs, STs, women among categories of people eligible for provision

Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society, to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity.

FP Staff July 22, 2019 17:25:18 IST
Free legal aid is crucial right granted by Constitution; SCs, STs, women among categories of people eligible for provision
  • Free legal aid is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all the citizens of the country.

  • Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society, to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity.

  • NALSA works in close coordination with various state legal services authorities and district legal services authorities to ensure free legal aid to people.

Free legal aid is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all the citizens of the country. Article 21 of the Constitution of India states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Hence ensuring legal aid to everyone is necessary for ensuring substantive equality.

Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society, to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity.

In pursuance of this in 1987, the ‘Legal Services Authorities Act’ was enacted by Parliament, which came into force on 9 November, 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.

The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free legal services to weaker sections of the society.

Free legal aid is crucial right granted by Constitution SCs STs women among categories of people eligible for provision

File photo of the Supreme Court. Reuters

The Chief Justice of India is the patron-in-chief and the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court is the executive chairperson of the authority.

Presently, NALSA is housed at 12/11, Jam Nagar House, New Delhi-110011

NALSA works in close coordination with various state legal services authorities and district legal services authorities to ensure free legal aid to people.

Who is entitled for legal aid?

According to Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, the following categories of people are entitled for free legal services —

-A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;
-A victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
-A woman or a child;
-A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;
-A person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster; or
-An industrial workman; or
-In custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause(g) of Section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956(104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause(j) of Section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986); or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987(14 of 1987);or
-In receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the state government, if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the central government, if the case is before the Supreme Court.

Types of legal services provided

According to NALSA's official website, free legal services include free legal aid in civil and criminal matters for those poor and marginalised people who cannot afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding in any court, tribunal or before an authority.

Provision of free legal aid may include:
-Representation by an advocate in legal proceedings.
-Preparation of pleadings, memo of appeal, paper book including printing and translation of documents in legal proceedings;
-Drafting of legal documents, special leave petition etc.
-Rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other Authority or tribunal and;
-Giving of advice on any legal matter.

Free legal services also includes a provision of aid and advice to the beneficiaries to access the benefits under the welfare statutes and schemes framed by the central government or the state government and to ensure access to justice in any other manner.

How to apply

A person in need of free legal services can approach the concerned authority or committee through an application which could either be made by sending in written form or by filling up the forms prepared by the said authorities stating in brief the reason for seeking legal aid or can be made orally, in which case an officer of the concerned legal services authority or a paralegal volunteer can assist the person.

A person can also apply online for getting Legal Aid to any Legal Services Institution in the country by filling up the Legal Aid Application form available online at NALSA’s website by clicking on the ‘online application’ link (given below) and by uploading necessary documents.

Procedure after application

Legal aid is provided to the entitled persons through legal services authorities existing from the national to taluka levels including the NALSA, State Legal Services Authorities, District Legal Services Authorities, Taluk Legal Services Committees, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee and High Court Legal Services Committees.

Also, if an application or request for legal aid is received by NALSA, the authority forwards the same to the concerned authority.

Once the application is submitted with the proper authority, it would be perused by the concerned legal services institution to examine what action is needed upon the same. The information about the next step on the application would then be sent to the parties concerned.

The action taken on an application received would vary from providing counselling/advice to the parties, providing a lawyer to represent them in the court, etc.

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