Legal Aid in India

Article 39A – State shall provide free legal aid to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability. Articles 14 – State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all – right to speedy justice and free legal aid is part of Article 21 – Sec. 304, Criminal Procedure Code: The Constitutional duty to provide legal aid arises from the time the accused is produced before the Magistrate for the first time and continues whenever he is produced for remand.
Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 – every citizen whose annual income does not exceed Rs 9,000 is eligible for free legal aid in cases before subordinate courts and high courts. In cases before the Supreme Court, the limit is Rs 12,000. This limit can be increased by the state governments. Limitation as to the income does not apply in the case of persons belonging to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women, children, handicapped, etc.
Legal aid architecture in India
In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted by the Parliament which came into force on 9th November, 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society on the basis of equal opportunity.
In every State, a State Legal Services Authority and in every High Court, a High Court Legal Services Committee has been constituted. District Legal Services Authorities, Taluk Legal Services Committees have been constituted in the Districts and most of the Taluks to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and to provide free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State.
Supreme Court Legal Services Committee has been constituted to administer and implement the legal services programme insofar as it relates to the Supreme Court of India.
NALSA lays down policies, principles, guidelines and frames effective and economical schemes for the State Legal Services Authorities to implement the Legal Services Programmes throughout the country.
Primarily, the State Legal Services Authorities, District Legal Services Authorities, Taluk Legal Services Committees, etc. have been asked to discharge the following main functions on regular basis:
  1. To Provide Free and Competent Legal Services to the eligible persons;
  2. To organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes; and
  3. To organize legal awareness camps in the rural areas.
  • lack of good and efficient lawyers in legal aid panels
  • financial constraints for State Legal Services Authority
  • lack of identification mechanism to help those who require legal aid
  • lack of understanding of rights by the prisoners who can use this facility

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