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Citizens Right to free Legal Aid

Legal Aid means giving free legal services to the poor and weaker section of society who cannot afford to take the service of advocate to conduct a case or any legal proceeding in the court of law, any judicial authority or before any judicial tribunal. Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides that State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.

Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all. Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.

The preamble of the Indian constitution basically aims to secure to the people of India justice - socio- economic and political. His Lordship Justice P.N. Bhagwati aptly stated that legal aid means providing an arrangement in the society which makes the machinery of administration of Justice easily accessible and in reach of those who have to resort to it for enforcement of rights given to them by law. Article 38(1) avows that the State shall promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting the social order including justice.

Article 21 clearly says that every person has an equal right to life and liberty except according to the procedure established by the law. The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

In the case of Hussainara khatoon vs. State of Bihar, it was held that if any accused is not able to afford legal services then he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state. It is the duty of the State to see that the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity for all its citizens. It must therefore arrange to provide free legal aid to those who cannot access justice due to economic and other disabilities. Also in the case of Khatri II v/s. State of Bihar, (1981) 1SCC; 1981 honorable court said that the Constitutional duty to provide legal aid arises from the time the accused is produced before the Magistrate for the first time and continues whenever he is produced for remand. and in another case Madav Hayavadanrao Hoskot Vs. State of Maharastra (1978)3 SCC 544 the court laid down that a person entitled to appeal against his/her sentence has the right to ask for a counsel, to prepare and argue the appeal. And the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons of the society are laid down in Section 12 of legal services authority act 1987

Section 12 of the Act reads as under:-

Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act if that person is -
(a) a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;
(b) a victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
(c) a woman or a child;
(d) a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;
(e) a person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster; or
(f) an industrial workman; or
(g) in custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause.
(j) of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986) or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987 (14 of 1987); or
(h) in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Govt., if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central Govt., if the case is before the Supreme Court." (Rules have already been amended to enhance this income ceiling).

According to section 2(1) (a) of the Act, legal aid can be provided to a person for a 'case' which includes a suit or any proceeding before a court.

Section 2(1) (aaa) defines the 'court' as a civil, criminal or revenue court and includes any tribunal or any other authority constituted under any law for the time being in force, to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions. As per section 2(1)(c) 'legal service' 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 matter.

Legal Services Authorities after examining the eligibility criteria of an applicant and the existence of a prima facie case in his favour provide him counsel at State expense, pay the required Court Fee in the matter and bear all incidental expenses in connection with the case. The person to whom legal aid is provided is not called upon to spend anything on the litigation once it is supported by a Legal Services Authority.

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