About The Author
Kumud Tomar is a law student of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat.
In India, every individual is equal in the eyes of the law. Article 14 of the constitution provides that, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India“. The economic condition of an individual does not become a bar in order to obtain justice. The government, by the 42nd amendment, inserted Article 39 A into chapter IV of the constitution. Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of society and ensures justice for all. There are various articles in the constitution, Articles 14,15,19,21, and 22, which are the backbone of providing an individual right to free legal aid.
In 1987, under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the National Legal Services Authority [NALSA] was constituted. It became a statutory body in 1995. It is headed by the patron-in-chief, the Chief Justice of India, Justice N.V. Ramana. It has been constituted to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society and to organize LokAdalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
Recently, the CJI Ramanalaunched the ‘vision and mission statement’ and mobile app for NALSA. This app is a way forward in helping needy people. Through this app, anybody who is in need of free legal aid at any court in India can easily apply and check the current status on the app.
Legal Aid: a concept
The concept of legal aid was introduced for those people who are indignant, poor, and not able to afford professional advice from lawyers for the conduct of legal proceedings in any tribunal, court, etc. In India, we follow the basic principle of law, Audi AlteramPartem,No party should be left unheard. There is a high chance that if a person is not represented by a lawyer, he will not be able to keep his word or not be able to prove his point well. So, it is important to provide free legal aid to those who are not able to arrange it.
In the case of HussainaraKhatoon v State of Bihar, The supreme court pointed out that Article 39-A of the constitution emphasizes the importance of free legal services as an inherent aspect of just, fair, and reasonable procedure, and that the right to free legal services is implicit in Article 21’s guarantee. The court also ordered the state to give free legal services to people awaiting trial who are in financial distress, so that they can get bail or final release.
In the case of Khatri v State of Bihar, the right to free legal aid has been widely discussed. The court ruled that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide free legal advice to the poor defendant not only during the trial stage, but also when he first appears before a judge and is occasionally stationed and that this right cannot be denied due to financial constraints or administrative incompetence, or because the defendant did not request it.
The one and foremost challenge to providing free legal aid is the lack of legal awareness among the people. The people who are covered to render the services of free legal aid are poor and illiterate. They are unaware of the rights guaranteed by the constitution. Even those who are literate are unaware of all of their legal rights. People do not approach lawyers for consultation or assistance due to a lack of legal awareness. Some people also believe that free legal aid and paid services are incompatible.
They stand a considerably better probability of losing the lawsuit. It is seen in some cases that the lawyers who are appointed to fight the case do not take their clients seriously because the remuneration provided to lawyers by the government is very low. Sometimes, the lawyer, for his own financial benefit, takes advantage of the client’s illiteracy and charges extra money. Sometimes, tactics are used to intentionally delay the case. The sole purpose of that is to make money. They do not even worry about their client’s suffering. When such incidents are revealed in the public domain, the trust of individuals is shaken by these lawyers.
India is a developing country. Approx 70% of the population is covered under the sphere to acquire free legal aid. It is a natural law that a person who does nothing wrong should not be punished. The government’s main goal is to provide free assistance to ensure that everyone is treated equally. It is critical to ensure that no one is denied justice only because of their financial situation or other impairment.
Everyone, no matter how poor or wealthy, whether he belongs to a particular caste, creed, sex, has the right to seek justice. The government has introduced various reforms and schemes to ensure the growth of free legal aid, recent mobile app launch is one such example. But there is a huge gap between the goal which is set up and the actual condition.
It is one of the foremost requirements that people should be aware of their legal rights. On a large scale, a legal awareness drive should be run so that every stratum of society must be aware of their basic legal rights. The remuneration paid to lawyers who fight these people’s cases needs to be increased.
In addition, incentives should be provided in order to encourage these lawyers. We, as awakened members of society, have to play an active role in order to make people who are illiterate living in rural areas and slums aware of their basic legal rights. It would be unfair if an innocent person was charged and convicted solely because of his lack of legal knowledge and financial hardship.