Indian constitution under Art 39A(DPSP) recognises a directive to state to provide “free legal aid” for all. Free and Fair access to justice to all is a UN recognised human right and accordingly “Legal Services Authorities Act(1987)” was passed. This resulted in establishment of National Legal Services Authority.
Eligibility for entitlement of Free Legal Aid
Following categories of individuals are entitled to free legal aid under Legal Services Authority Act, 1987:
- A member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes
- A victim of human trafficking or beggar
- A woman or a child
- A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person
- A person in custody, including custody in a protective home.
- A juvenile in juvenile home
- An individual who has an annual; income less than the amount prescribed by the respective Government (except for a case before apex court)
- Less than Rs. 5 Lakhs, if the case is before the Supreme Court.
Role of NALSA in rendering free legal aid in India
- Providing justice to women: Ex. National Legal Aid Helpline(15100)- For reporting Domestic Violence.
- Legal Services for transgender rights.
- Protection of rights of prisoners and undertrials. Ex. Haq Hamara Bhi to Hai campaign
- For Senior Citizens: As per Annual Report of NALSA, nearly 1,04,084 senior citizens were assisted through legal services in 2020.
- Organize Lok Adalat.
- Promote settlements of disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms. Ex. DISHA (designing Innovative Solutions for Holistic Access to Justice), e-Lok Adalat, Legal Aid clinics.
- Spreading Legal Awareness: Through legal literacy programmes.
- Enabling compensation to victims of crime.
Limitations and issues faced by NALSA
- Low proportion of cases are investigated aby Alternate Dispute Resolution (around 1% of the litigation.)
- Low awareness: Poor and illiterate people are unaware of their legal rights and entitlements. A majority are not able to seek help of NALSA due to ignorance.
- Poor capacity building of Lok Adalat – Lok Adalats are facing shortage of resources (financial as well as human).
- Further they are not having enough powers (at power with civil courts) to effectively deal with cases.
- Poor interest in pro-bono cases by lawyers.
Justice administration is a core responsibility of state. Apex court has linked Article 14 and Article 22(1) with the provisioning of legal aid. State must accept a pan India Legal Awareness and Outreach Campaign to spread awareness. Provisioning of greater financial resources to ADR mechanisms, linking the profession of law with minimum annual pro bono cases, providing more powers to Lok Adalat etc must be explored upon.
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