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"It is the duty of the state to provide equal justice and free legal aid to every citizen." says Indian Constitution.

Legal aid means that legal aid should be provided to people with limited resources for free or at nominal fees. Although legal advice and legal aid complement each other, the two are completely different from each other. Legal aid means to assist the party in the proceedings of a court or tribunal with a free or nominal fee, while legal advice includes both remedial and preventive measures.

There was no system to provide assistance to the poor in British India. However, some private institutions in Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai) voluntarily provided free legal aid to the poor who were tasked with planning free legal aid for the disabled.



Under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, advice and assistance for all types of civil and criminal cases is called free legal aid.



Article 39A of the Indian Constitution ensured justice for all and provided for free law aid for the poor and weaker sections of society. Article 39A of the Constitution provides that- “The State shall ensure that the judiciary functions in such a way that everyone gets equal opportunity of justice and no citizen is denied justice due to economic or any other reason. For this, the state will arrange free legal aid.


Under Article 14 and 22 (1) of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure equal opportunities for all. The Legal Services Authorization Act was passed in the year 1987 to establish a mechanism to provide competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society on the basis of equality. Under this, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was formed. Its task is to implement and support legal monitoring programs. Also, it is also its job to provide legal services under this Act. Articles 14 and 22 (1) also make provision for the state to ensure equality before the law, which promotes the basis of providing equal opportunities for justice to all.


The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 Order 33, Rule 1 contains provisions for non-litigation, under which the poor person is exempted from paying court fees.

Section 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that whenever a case is being tried before the court and it appears to the Presiding Officer that the Accused is unable to appoint a Pleader for his immunity, Such accused will be provided with the Pleader at the expense of the State Government.




The rise of legal aid at the international arena is considered to be the famous historical document, Magnacarta, however, with subsequent social progress and economic development, many public welfare schemes have emerged. Many beneficial schemes for the weaker sections of the society were taken up by the state. The scheme of legal advice and legal aid in the judicial sector has also been implemented with the objective of providing accessible justice to the poor and weaker sections.

The proposal regarding proper legal aid to the poor was first introduced in the Human Rights Conference held in Tehran in 1968 under the aegis of the United Nations. In this proposal, it was accepted that it is the responsibility of the state to provide the poor and legal aid of the society and for this, joint financial assistance should be given to the states.

Article 22 (3) of the International Covenant relating to the civil and political rights of humans gives every person the right to self-defense by the legal assistance of his choice.




(Legal Service Authorities-LSA, Act)

 In the year 1987, the Legal Service Authorities Act-LSA Act was enacted with the objective of providing free and competent legal services to the poor.

The Act paved the way for the formation of the National Legal Service Authority-NALSA and other legal service institutions at the state, district and taluka levels.

Free legal services provided under the LSA Act are available to Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, children, women, victims of human trafficking, industrial workers, detained persons and the poor.





NALSA issues guidelines on the State Legal Services Authority to implement legal aid programs and schemes across the country.

Mainly the State Legal Assistance Authority, District Legal Assistance Authority, Taluk Legal Support Committees etc. have been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the following tasks on a regular basis-

• Providing free legal aid to eligible people

• To conduct Lok Adalats for settling disputes amicably.



Free legal services include:

·        To pay court fees and all other charges payable in any legal proceeding,

·        Providing counsel in legal proceedings

·        Obtaining certified copies of orders etc. in legal proceedings

·        Preparation of paper book including translation and printing of appeals and documents in legal proceedings.


·        Modernization of judicial support offices at the district level as a one-stop center for people seeking legal aid.


·        Updating the records of legal aided cases so that the legal aids team are informed about the progress of their cases and better monitoring of the cases is possible.


·        NALSA awareness programs (eg door-to-door campaigns) have made people aware of legal advice and other types of legal services such as drafting of applications, etc.



• Women and children

• Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe members

• Industrial Workers

•Victims of major disasters, violence, floods, droughts, earthquakes and industrial disasters.

• handicapped people

• Hirarat people

• Individuals whose annual income does not exceed Rs 50,000

• Victims of forced labor or illegal human trade.




In Madhav Haskat v. State of Maharashtra

The Supreme Court has also interpreted Articles 14, 21 and 22 of the Constitution in its decisions in such a way that it generates consciousness towards legal advice and assistance. The Supreme Court has given the following welfare instructions to provide legal assistance to prisoners, which are required to be applied to citizens whose personal liberty of life poses a serious threat:

1- While awarding sentence to the person punished by imprisonment, a copy of the judgment of the court should be granted.

2- In the event of arrest or revision by the prisoner, the jail administration should provide necessary facilities to him.

3- If the accused is resourceless or inefficient, then the court will provide him the services of lawyer for free.

4- Appropriate fees should be given by the state to the lawyer appointed for the resourceless accused.






·        According to a report by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative-CHRI, the proportion of advocates per capita in India is better than other countries.


·        There are around 1.8 million lawyers in India i.e. one advocate is available for every 736 people.


·        The same report also stated that there are around 61,593 advocating panels in the country which means that there is only one legal advisor per 18,609 population or five legal advisors per 100,000 population.


·        According to the data provided by NALSA, from April 2017 to June 2018, around 8.22 lakh people across India benefited from legal aid services.


·        According to the findings of the study, about 75% of the beneficiaries opted for free legal aid because they did not have sufficient resources to appoint a personal advocate and said they would not seek LSA support if they had sufficient resources (capital) available and would appoint personal advocates only.


·        22.6% of the beneficiaries have assumed that they will not opt ​​for free legal aid services again.


·         60% of women aware of free legal aid services chose private advocates because they lacked credibility over the quality of services provided under the legal aid system and could have better control over their personal advocate.


·        56% of Legal Aid Counsel- LACs give an average of 1 to 10 hours per week on legal aid matters. In contrast, about 58% of LACs spend an average of 20 hours or more per week on personal matters.


·        About 33% of judicial officers have claimed complaints against LAC seeking money from beneficiaries.


·        Most judicial officers (52%) believe that private lawyers are more qualified than LACs.



As of 31-03-2009, 96.99 lakh people have received benefits through legal aid and consultation across the country. Of these, 13.83 lakh people were Scheduled Castes and 4.64 lakh people were Scheduled Tribes. Of these, 10.22 lakh were women and 2.35 lakh were in custody.

Around 7.25 lakh Lok Adalats were set up across the country from which 2.68 crore cases were dealt. Where 16.87 lakh cases were of road accidents and  Rs 7593 crore was distributed as compensation.





 Providing equal opportunity for justice to all is the fundamental principle of judicial administration. It is the ultimate duty of every welfare state to provide proper justice to all citizens without any discrimination of caste, religious, social or economic.

In a developing country like India, where most of the people are poor, resourceless and poor, it is possible to provide equal justice to all, only when appropriate legal aid is available to the disputants in criminal and civil matters. If a person does not have sufficient opportunity to enforce his rights or to get proper immunity, such a system of justice would be discriminatory which is contrary to the principles of natural justice.


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