Justice for all is only possible when everyone has access to it. The Indian Constitution and Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 defines the paradigm for achieving Access to Justice by providing free legal services to the underprivileged and the marginalized. The Legal Services Act provides legal services aid to convicts since they are recognized as a disadvantage.
According to the report of NCRB Prison Statistics India 2018, over 70% of the inmates in India’s prisons are still awaiting trial and come from economically disadvantaged groups. They are legally entitled to free legal assistance in order to file their appeals within the allotted time frames. But Convicts have a relatively low literacy rate.
They are generally ignorant of their legal rights and are not aware of the legal procedures as well. lack of legal knowledge or awareness about the right to appeal, bail petitions, Parole, Furlough, and Remission and its processes as well as the availability of free legal aid are some of the basic challenges of the accused that can be resolved by free legal aid.
Meaning of Legal Aid
Legal aid refers to providing free legal assistance to the less privileged members of society who cannot afford to hire an advocate to represent them during court proceedings or other legal proceedings before judicial authorities or tribunals. Justice P.N. Bhagwati stated that “Legal Aid involves creating a society-wide mechanism so that the task of administering justice is made easier to access and is not beyond of reach of those who need justice. The court system should be accessible to the underprivileged and illiterate, and none of these factors should prevent them from seeking justice. The impoverished and ignorant should have access to legal aid as they do not have access to the courts. To obtain assistance through legal aid, one need not be a litigant.”
Laws regulating Legal Assistance to Prisoners in India
In accordance with Article 39A of the Constitution, those who cannot afford legal representation or access to the courts are given aid. Offering legal and professional aid free of charge or at reduced rates ensures that those who are not in a financially sound position have equitable access to the justice system. The purpose of this provision is to encourage equality in the administration of justice. Although Art. 39A is a directive concept, it is still enforced by the Legal Service Authority Act of 1987.
The State must provide equality before the law and a legal system that advances justice on the basis of equal opportunity under Articles 14 and22(1) as well. As per Article 21 “Every person has a right to life and personal liberty which can’t be taken away except according to the procedure established by the law.” The Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that Article 39A which emphasised free legal services were an inalienable component of reasonable, fair, and just procedure and the right to free legal aid is a fundamental right that is implied by Article 21 in the landmark case Hussainara Khatton & Ors. V. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1980). Later the supreme court of India expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by ruling that it includes the right to receive free legal representation at the expense of the state in D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1997 SC 610.
Even Sections 303 and 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure from 1973 mention giving the accused individual legal representation. By this Act, the accused has the right to be represented by the counsel of his choosing under Section 303. According to Section 304, the court must assign the accused a pleader for his defense at the state’s expense when the accused is not represented by a pleader during a trial due to a lack of the resources to hire one.
The Supreme Court ruled in Khatri v. the State of Bihar (AIR 1981 SC 262) that the State is constitutionally required to provide legal representation for all detainees, including those initially brought before a magistrate or those who are initially brought before a magistrate or who are remanded at any point. Such a right cannot be rejected on the grounds of financial limitations, administrative inadequacies, or the fact that the accused did not request it. A Magistrate or session judge is responsible for advising the accused of this privilege.
Legal Services Authority Act
The Legal Services Authority Act was passed by the parliament in accordance with Article 39A. The word “services” employed in this Act itself emphasises that it is not merely volunteer assistance, but rather a duty of the States to offer legal services to the underprivileged, illiterate, and uneducated individuals. Section 12 of the legal services act provides free legal aid to a person who is a member of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribes, a victim of human trafficking, a woman or child, a person with a disability, a person who is the victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake, or industrial disaster, Industrial Workman and also to Person in custody including custody in a protective home.
In order to create a nationwide standard network for delivering free and competent legal services to the weaker sectors of society on the basis of equal opportunity, the Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted by the Parliament in 1987 and entered into force on November 9, 1995. That’s why every year on November 9th, National Legal Service Day is observed to raise awareness about the need to provide all citizens with fair and equitable legal processes. The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 established the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to oversee and assess the implementation of legal aid programs and to establish the policies and guidelines for providing legal services in accordance with the Act.
Through the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987, an elaborate structure for legal aid, from the national level to the taluka, was set up. Every State has established a State Legal Services Authority, and each High Court has established a High Court Legal Services Committee. To carry out the policies and directives of the NALSA, provide free legal services to the public, and hold Lok Adalats in the State, District Legal Services Authorities and Taluk Legal Services Committees have been established in the Districts and the majority of Taluks. Insofar as it pertains to the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee has been established to oversee and carry out the legal services program. All these committees provide free and competent legal services to prisoners and to poor and weaker sections of society and ensure justice for all.
The Indian Parliament passed the Legal Services Authority Act which is a very effective tool for achieving the social justice objective set forth in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Legal Services Authorities provide an applicant with counsel at State expense, pay the requisite court fee in the matter, and cover all incidental costs associated with the case after evaluating the applicant’s eligibility requirements and the presence of a prima facie case in his favor. Once the litigation is funded by a Legal Services Authority, the recipient of legal aid is not required to spend any money on it.