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Review of the working of Free Legal aid

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Indian Constitution

 

Source: Sansad

 Context: Department-related Parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice has reviewed legal aid under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

 

What is the Legal Services Authorities (LSA) Act of 1987?

It aims to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society, in line with Article 39A. It establishes the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) as the apex organization to frame and monitor legal aid policies. The Act also mandates the formation of various legal service committees at different levels, including the Supreme Court, high courts, and districts. Activities include legal aid, advice, alternative dispute resolution, and victim compensation schemes.

 

As per the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the following categories of people are entitled to receive free legal aid:

  • A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe
  • A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggars 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.
  • A person in receipt of annual income less than the amount mentioned in the following schedule (or any other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Government),

 

Role of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in rendering free legal aid in India:

  • Legal Aid Clinics: NALSA has established legal aid clinics at the grassroots level to provide free legal assistance to disadvantaged communities. These clinics offer legal advice, aid, and representation.
  • Mobile Legal Aid Units: NALSA operates Mobile Legal Aid Units in rural and remote areas to reach underserved populations. These units offer legal services, awareness programs, and legal literacy campaigns.
  • Para-Legal Volunteers: NALSA trains and deploys para-legal volunteers who assist individuals in understanding their rights, filling out legal forms, and accessing legal aid.
  • Special Initiatives: NALSA conducts special initiatives and camps for specific groups, such as prisoners, women in distress, and victims of natural disasters, to provide timely legal aid.
  • Public Interest Litigations (PILs): NALSA has been instrumental in filing PILs to address systemic issues and protect the rights of marginalized groups.
    • For example, NALSA played a significant role in the landmark judgment recognizing transgender rights in the case of NALSA vs. Union of India.
  • Awareness Programs: NALSA conducts awareness programs and legal literacy campaigns to educate people about their legal rights and the availability of free legal aid.
    • For legal awareness among prisoners Haq Hamara bhi to hai campaign was recently launched by NALSA.

 

Challenges faced by NALSA in providing free legal aid (as also identified by the Parliamentary Committee)

  • Limited adoption of Alternate Dispute Resolution: Former Chief Justice of India has noted that the Legal Services Authority is involved in resolving only 1% of the total litigation, indicating a low acceptance of alternate dispute resolution methods.
  • Funding: Static grants-in-aid to NALSA and decline in the allocated funds
  • Limitations of Lok Adalat: Limited power, lack of proper procedure, Inadequate infrastructure
  • Low awareness: A significant portion of the economically disadvantaged and less educated population remains unaware of their fundamental constitutional and legal rights.
  • Inadequate empowerment of Lok Adalats: Lok Adalats, while crucial for dispute resolution, lack specific powers to impose penalties on non-compliant parties.
    • Additionally, their authority is comparatively limited when compared to civil courts.
  • Underutilization of Para-legal volunteers: The underutilization of para-legal volunteers is partly due to inadequate training, capacity-building efforts, and a lack of effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
  • Limited engagement of Advocates and Lawyers: There is a general lack of enthusiasm among advocates and lawyers for pro-bono cases, which can hinder the provision of free legal aid to those in need.
    • only about 17% of the legal aid cases were handled by lawyers
    • There is reluctance of lawyers to provide pro bono services

 

Recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee: 

  1. Increase grant-in-aid to NALSA. Search for innovative funding mechanisms including CSR funds
  2. Extensive mass media campaign for legal education
  3. Monitor efficacy and accountability of lawyers providing free legal aid services
  4. Strengthen Lok Adalats and other alternative dispute redressal mechanisms
  5. Capacity Building of Para-Legal Volunteers

  

Conclusion

NALSA plays a pivotal role in ensuring that free legal aid reaches those who need it the most in India, thus fulfilling the constitutional mandate of justice for all, irrespective of economic or other disabilities.

 

Insta Links:

  

Mains Links:

Who is entitled to receive free legal aid? Assess the role of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in rendering free legal aid in India. (UPSC 2023)