“The concept of seeking justice cannot be equated with the value of dollars. Money plays no role in seeking justice”- Justice Harry Blackmun
The pressing necessity and the State's dedication to providing access to justice to the deserving people is marked by the repeated mention of free legal aid provisions in the Constitution. The responsibility to provide free legal services is placed on the State by provisions that range from sweeping and generic Article such as 14, 21,22(1) and 39A of the Constitution to specific statutory provisions like Legal Services Authority Act. 1987.
Branches of LSA go down to taluka level.
LSA Act was passed in 1994 and the very next year marked the establishment of the National Legal Services Authority of India. This authority is part of the hierarchical mechanism designed which has State legal services authority in each state along with District and Taluqa level authorities in order to cover as much ground as possible. NALSA is the central government body that lays down policies and schemes to spread access to legal services, grants funds to the different branches, conduct Lok Adalat, operate legal aid clinics and undertakes campaigns and programs designed to create outreach and spread awareness.
Free legal aid not limited to financial weakness, SC/ST, women and children eligible.
The LSA Act, under section 12, provides certain categories of people who are entitled to receive legal services for all their legal issues from the authority if the authority is convinced that the case is of substance. These include people belonging to Scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, victims of human trafficking or beggar, women and children, disabled people, victims of disasters, industrial labour, people in custody, people with annual income less than 9 thousand or as prescribed by the government. A point to be noted here as an aside is that not all cases are entitled to receive free legal aid. It is not available for cases pertaining to defamation, malicious prosecution, perjury, contempt of court, election-related, economic offender cases, etc. Also, your claim may be rejected on a later date on grounds like misrepresentation, fraud, not cooperating with the lawyer etc.
NALSA works through Lok Adalat, legal aid clinics and empanelled lawyers
Once the eligibility for free legal aid under Indian law is established, the next step is to consider which authority to be approached and how. National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010 are the guiding principles for all the relevant authorities under this act such as Supreme Court legal services committee, SLSAs, DLSAs.
An applicant must fill up an application which is preferred to be presented in FORM-I attached to the regulations below.
NALSA (free and competent services) regulations, 2010
It must contain the details of the issue for which legal aid is being sought and an affidavit declaring eligibility for free services must be attached along. These application forms are also present free of cost at all the offices or online websites of the various bodies under this act.
The form can be filed in the local language or English. Requests made in the oral form may also be accepted. An illiterate person can be appointed as an assistant to help with the application process. A committee of the authority will scrutinize the application to adjudge whether the applicant is entitled to free services and reach back to him within 8 weeks of applying. If accepted, a lawyer will be appointed to your case free of charge.
Free services of the legal services authorities also come in the form of Lok Adalats and legal aid clinics. Lok Adalats adjudge matters that are referred to it from the Civil Courts and either of the parties can file applications for the same. However, consent of both the parties is must for subjecting the case to the Lok Adalats. It is presided over by an active or retired judicial officer and lawyers or social workers who constitute other members.
Approach the Legal Aid Clinics in your district
Usually, the first access point to the free services for a person in need is the Legal aid clinic established by the LSA in various localities. People may approach them for legal advice, mediation by the paralegal volunteers for quick settlements and information about the LSA services. PLVs record all applications, help with documentation, settle disputes wherever possible and refer the qualified matters and cases to the higher authorities like DLSA.
Therefore, you can simply approach the legal aid clinic in your locality with all your queries, through oral or written requests.
Other than these government services, free legal aid is also available through lawyers and firms that undertake pro bono cases such as Human Rights Law Network, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & co., etc. It is also mandated by law for law colleges and universities to have a functioning legal aid clinic where people can approach PLVs for advice and information.
Similarly, various NGOs also offer free legal services. I-probono, for instance, is a recent online platform that connects social organizations and lawyers who wish to provide volunteer services with the various NGOs and civil societies that require legal aid for their social crusades.
Written by Ms.Ayushi Singh, NLU Lucknow