Legal aid may be defined as the free help which is provided by the lawyers to the people who are poor, needy and to those who are not able to afford the services of the lawyer for a case or any other legal proceedings in a court or tribunal or before any such authority. Legal aid refers to free or inexpensive advice, assistance or representation concerning law. Legal aid is provided by the “Legal Services Authority” (LSA). If the accused does not have the sufficient means to engage a pleader or a lawyer then it is the duty of the court to engage a pleader or a lawyer and the court must provide it to the accused at the expense of the State. Legal aid is the provision for the assistance of people who are unable to afford the legal representation and access to court system.
In general sense the term legal aid refers to the legal service provided by the lawyers to the poor people. The term “Legal Services” has been defined under Section 2(a) of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 as follows:
“It includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matters”
On the analysis of the above definition, the researcher has found that there are three basic features of definition, they are as follows:
1. Legal services are provided in conducting legal proceedings.
2. Legal proceedings may be before courts or tribunals by any other authority.
3. Legal service also includes legal advice.
The scope of legal services is increasing day by day and broadly the legal services include:
1. Legal advice- it may be given at pre- litigation or post-litigation,
2. Legal aid or assistance,
3. Legal literacy or legal awareness,
4. Organization of Lok Adalats,
5. Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
Under the legal aid, when the accused gets the services of the lawyer, who will represent his case in a court and the payment for such services rendered by the lawyer will be paid by the Legal Services Authority. The Legal Service Authority will also pay for all the court fees and for all the charges for the preparation of the file. The authority will also pay for the costs that have been incurred in obtaining the court papers such as decrees, orders and other legal documents. In 2008, Mumbai High Court in Baliram Madhukar Dalvi v State of Maharashtra, acquitted the accused Baliram Madhukar Dalvi on the ground that he was not provided free legal aid and he remained unrepresented before the lower court as well as before the Appellate Court. Thereafter the court appointed the lawyer to represent his case wherein the lawyer based her arguments on the ground of right to legal representation. The High Court decided the matter in his favour by way of unconditional release.
Objective of Legal Aid The overall objective of providing legal aid is to provide “access to justice for all” so that justice is not denied to citizens by reason of economic or other disabilities. In this context, NALSA as well as some of the other State Authorities have launched programmes to spread awareness about the contents of legislations.
Parliament in order to achieve the objective has also enacted the “Legal Services Authority Act, 1987” in order to give effect to Article 39-A of the Constitution to extend free legal aid, to ensure that the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity and 9th November is observed as a National Legal Services Day.
1.2 Circumstances In Which The Legal Aid Is Provided
The following are the cases in which the legal aid is provided:
1. Where the accused is not represented by the pleader and where the accused does not have the sufficient means to engage a pleader.
2. The High Court may with the previous approval of the State Government may make rules for the:
a) Mode of selection of pleader.
b) Facilities to be allowed to such pleader.
c) The fees payable to such pleader by the government.
1.3 Circumstances In Which The Legal Aid Cannot Be Granted
The following are the cases in which the legal aid cannot be granted:
1. Proceeding wholly or partly in respect of :-
b) Malicious prosecution
c) A person charged with the contempt of court proceeding.
2. Proceeding relating to any election.
3. Proceedings in which the fine imposed is not more than Rs. 50.
4. Proceedings in respect of economic offences and offences against social laws.
5. When the person seeking legal services-
a) Is concerned with the proceedings only in representative capacity or official capacity.
b) Is a formal party and his interest is not likely to prejudice the amount in the absence of proper representation
As we have already discussed that the legal aid is the free help which is provided by the lawyers to the people who are poor, needy and who do not have sufficient means to engage a pleader for themselves. It is the duty of the state to provide the poor person with the pleader having sufficient knowledge so that he can also be represented by the pleader and can represent their case through him. Despite of several efforts made by the government with regard to provide free legal aid, there are many problems which are being faced by the people in the Indian Society. The problem of knowledge is one of the major problem which is faced by most of the people as they are not aware about the law. In India, before taking every step they had to think for their resources and means because they usually don’t have any knowledge about the legal aid which can be provided to them. People in the past used to show their fear and ignorance towards the legal system, which has certain after effects in the present society and the result of this ignorance is that the advocates take the advantage of this and demand the fees as per their will due to which the poor people are not able to get access to justice.
In a country like India where Rule of law prevails, legal aid is a means of dispensation of justice to poor. The Indian societies have suffered from inequalities on economic and social plane for centuries and now it is a high time when it needs to be removed by the Constitutional process and perhaps the implementation of Directive Principles enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution would be a right step in this direction.
The provisions relating to legal aid has been provided under the various statutes such as Constitution of India, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and under Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. In spite of having several provisions under the various statutes the judiciary has also done an excellent work in the evolution of legal aid and has done wonders in providing justice to the unprivileged group of people so that they are able to stand on equal footing as compared to the people who are rich.