The Constitution of India serves the main purpose of promoting socio-economic and political justice to all. The lady justice is blind, similarly, the Constitution of India provides for equal justice for all; irrespective of the caste, creed, status, language, power, economic status, etc.
INTRODUCTION TO FREE LEGAL AID
The Concept of FREE LEGAL AID arises as a Fundamental Right of the citizens justifying the Articles of Indian Constitution:-14(equality before law); 21(Protection of life and personal liberty); 22(1)[no person arrested shall be denied right to consult or be defended by a legal practitioner].
Free legal Aid basically refers to providing free legal services to the downtrodden, needy sections of the society who are unable to afford the legal services of any advocate for the conduct of their case, or any legal proceeding in a tribunal, court, or before any other judicial authority.
As every citizen has a locus standi in the eyes of law, therefore Free Legal Aid is a very helpful concept for those in need. This can be provided both in civil cases as well as criminal cases.
In the case of “Husaainara Khatoon Vs. State of Bihar”: it was held that if an accused is unable to afford legal services, he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state.
The concept of FREE LEGAL AID doesn’t confine itself only to the lower subordinate courts. It can even be provided before the High Courts and Supreme Court.
Under this, the individual is even to express and specify his/her own choice of advocate, and based on the choice of the individual, the member secretary or the secretary has the duty to assign the required/specified choice of lawyer.
Free legal aid may include, representation of advocate in the court, pleading’s preparation, drafting of legal documents, the supply of evidence or other legal documents during proceedings….etc.
PROVISIONS Regarding Free Legal Aid
Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution talks about providing Free legal aid in order to ensure denial of justice due to any reason for ‘economic or other disabilities’.
Section 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure also highlights the importance of the right of the accused to have the assistance of a counsel in case he’s unable or incapable to do so, for ensuring a FAIR TRIAL.
AUTHORITIES CONCERNED WITH THE FULFILLMENT OF THIS CONCEPT
LEGAL SERVICES AUTHORITIES ACT, 1987 was enacted by the Parliament and came into force on 9 November 1995.
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Also, this Act gives the statutory status to the organization of the LOK ADALATS.
The hierarchy of the Authorities concerned could be understood by the following:-
- National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) – Headed by the Chief Justice of India, who’s Patron-in-chief of NALSA.
- State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) Headed by the Chief Justice of the respective High court, who’s Patron-in-chief of SLSA.
- District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) – Headed by the District Judge of the respective District.
ELIGIBILITY FOR GETTING FREE LEGAL AID
According to Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987; the following sections of the society are eligible to apply for getting the Free Legal Aid:
- a member of the scheduled castes or tribes;
- any person belonging to the Scheduled caste/tribe, persons suffering from natural calamity, industrial worker, children, insane person, handicap, persons in custody and those having annual income less than Rs 1 lakh were entitled to avail free legal aid
- a victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar;
- disabled, including mentally disabled;
- a woman or child;
- a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake, industrial
- disaster and other cases of undeserved want;
- an industrial workman;
- in custody, including protective custody;
- facing a charge which might result in imprisonment; —(Khatri II Vs. State of Bihar, (1981) 1SCC); and
- unable to engage a lawyer and secure legal services on account of reasons such as poverty, indigence, and incommunicado situation;
- In cases of great public importance;
- special cases considered
- deserving of legal services.
PROCESS TO APPLY FOR FREE LEGAL AID
Application for getting a free legal aid can be filed either online or offline. Firstly, the person must qualify for getting free legal aid under Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987.
For applying directly online, one can visit [email protected], along with uploading necessary documents.
According to the subject matter and territorial jurisdiction, the individual must approach the nearest legal services authority like NALSA, SLSA, or DLSA.
The individual can fill up the ready form at his nearest legal services authority and submit it manually or by post. Even writing an application by oneself, attached with various required documents like identity proofs; including the necessary details such as name, gender, residential address, employment status, nationality, whether SC/ST (with proof in support), income per month (with affidavit) and submit it directly or by post.
EXCEPTIONS TO FREE LEGAL AID
In the following mentioned cases, the right to free legal aid can be taken away from the citizens:
- The individual is capable enough to meet the expenses of the trial
- The case is related to defamation, malicious prosecution, contempt of court, perjury, etc.
- Cases where a person seeking legal aid isn’t directly concerned with proceedings & whose interest will not be affected.
- Proceedings related to the election.
- Economic offenses and offenses against social laws.
It is the sole responsibility of the state to ensure that each and every Section of the society gets fair and undenied justice irrespective of economic status or any other obstacle.
Whether weak or poor, whether powerful or downtrodden, the Principles of Natural Justice are the same for all. Audi Alteram Partem and unbiased is the concept that is the fundamental right of all the citizens of the country.
Thus, FREE LEGAL AID is much more than equality i.e., it talks more about EQUITY. Uplifting the needy, downtrodden weaker sections of the society to ensure justice for them is the worth of this concept.
Simran | JIMS, Greater Noida