Legal aid mainly means giving free legal services to the needy people who are unable to afford the advocate for the conduct of the case. The Constitution of India contains the preamble which states the aim to secure people of Indian justice-socio economic and political.

“Legal aid” is a legal support, to the poorer and weaker numbers to enable them to enforce their legal rights through the legal process. Legal aid not only means providing the legal aid within the ambit of the court but it means that providing the legal support within and outside the ambit of the court to the poorer section of the society.

Section 2(a) of the legal aid act, 2000 defines legal aid as providing legal advice, paying lawyers' fees and cost of litigation including providing any other assistance to those who suffer financial insolvency, destitution, helpless or are unable to access justice due to various socio-economic conditions.

The legal aid is not a matter of charity but it is a matter that can be claimed as a matter of right. In the Constitution of India, there was no such express provision which was dealing with the concept of legal aid. But the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, had inserted a new Article 39(a) in the Constitution of India and a significant step in the direction of the setting up of legal aid. The relevant provisions in the code of criminal procedure and the code of civil procedure have also amended for securing equal and social justice in criminal as well as civil cases.

Importance of legal aid

Nowadays, it has become very costly to take a legal adjudicator and has become very expensive for the average people to afford a legal representative for the case. For example, if a suit is filed where one party is poor and the other party is affluent so the party who is affluent will be able to hear a competent and the best lawyer for the case as compared to the party which is poor. So the lawyer who is the best will won the case so in this case the rule of equality applies and also the rule of law also applies. So for providing justice to the poorer section of the society free legal aid should be provided to the needy.

In the case of Bandhu Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India, the former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati has observed in this case that where one of the parties to the litigant belongs to the poorer section which does not possess adequate socials and material resources where he is bound to be at the lower level as against a strong powerful opponent. So as long as India is suffering from poverty and poor and needy people are there in our Indian society so there is a need of the free legal aid to them for human rights and also the equality.

Supreme Court on legal aid services

The linkage between article 21 and also the right to free legal aid has forged the decision in Hussainara Khatoon v. The State of Bihar. In this case, the court has declared that that “there can be no doubt that speedy trial, and by speedy trial, we mean reasonably expeditious trial, is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in the Article 21“. The court also stated that Article 39a of our Indian constitution states free legal aid to the needy people and its basic inalienable element are “reasonable, fair and just“.

Legal aid is really nothing else but equal justice in action. Legal aid is, in fact, the delivery system of social justice. If free legal services are not provided to such an accused, the trial itself may run the risk of being vitiated as contravening article 21 and we have no doubt that every state government would try to avoid such a possible eventuality”

3 legal aid committees have also been set up for the betterment of the needy and the weaker section of the societies. They are as follows-

  • The district legal aid committee
  • The state legal aid committee
  • The taluka legal aid committee.

Supreme Court Legal Service Committees

The Supreme Court legal services committee has been enacted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. This committee has been set for the effective rendering of justice in the apex court. If a person belongs to the poor section of the society having an annual income of less than Rs. 18,000/- or belongs to scheduled caste or scheduled tribe and if a victim of natural calamity, is a woman or a child or a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person or an industrial workman or is in custody including custody in protective home, he/she is entitled to get free legal aid from the supreme court legal aid committee.

The aid so granted by the committee includes the cost of preparation of the matter and all applications connected therewith, in addition to providing an advocate for preparing and arguing the case. Any person desirous of availing legal service through the committee has to make an application to the secretary and hand over all necessary documents concerning his case to it. The committee after ascertaining the eligibility of the person provides necessary legal aid to him/her. The persons belonging to the middle-income group i.e. with income above Rs.18000/- but under Rs.120000/- per annum are eligible to get legal aid from the Supreme Court middle income group society, on nominal payments.

So the main concept of providing free legal service is to help the needy people those who are not able to afford an advocate for the justice. As in India, there is a lot of poverty and people are so poor that they are no able to afford an advocate so free legal aid is necessary to those. And the government has also made many provisions for free legal aid. Certain constitutional provisions have also been made for free legal aid.