Legal Services Authorities Act is an Act of the Indian Parliament enforcing the provisions of Article 39A of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing equal means of livelihood to all citizens of the country.
Article 39A of the constitution deals with promoting justice based on an equal opportunity by providing free legal aid to unaffordable segments of society, like the poor and economically disadvantaged.
The act addresses, among other things, employee pay and qualifications and resulted in the establishment of The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) throughout the country.
The act went into effect on November 9, 1987. On November 9th, India observes National Legal Services Day commemorating the occasion.
Concept of Legal Aid
The theory of legal aid has extended over centuries to 1919. Reginald Heber Smith supported the core idea of legal aid. In his book Justice and Poor, he belittled the legal profession, asserting that justice and fairness should be available to all without any financial obligation.
Reginald Heber Smith wrote that without equal access to the law, the system not only deprives the poor of their only protective measure and also sites the most potent weapon ever invented in the hands of oppressors.
Even Hammurabi’s code attempts to limit the fees charged for services provided to poor men. Through free legal aid, the code outlined three processes by which society can progress toward social engineering.
- The initial step in offering justice would be to help and support disadvantaged communities;
- the second would have been to restrict the exercise of legal privileges granted to the wealthy; and
- the third was to deprive the wealthy of their luxuries and equalise the rich and poor.
Because he was poor, Mosaic Law bestowed upon him numerous benefits. For example, if creditors took a poor man’s cloak as a pledge, he must return it by nightfall or suffer sleep deprivation. Paying the poor’s wages on time was also deemed necessary.
Introduction of Free Legal Aid in India
India’s 14th Report of the Law Commission proposed the state provide free legal assistance to the poor. The Report focussed on the legal community’s responsibility to administer the legal assistance scheme and the responsibility of the state to fund legal representation for the accused in appeals, criminal proceedings, and jails.
The Union Government launched the national legal aid scheme in 1960, but it ran into financial difficulties and died independently.
In the second phase, chaired by Justice Krishna Iyer, the Union Government established a committee to develop a legal aid scheme for states in 1973. The Committee devised a decentralised strategy, with legal aid committees in each district, state, and centre.
A judicial committee chaired by Justice P N Bhagwati was formed to carry out the legal aid scheme.
This Committee proposed legal aid camps and nyayalayas in rural areas and a provision for free legal aid in the Constitution. The Committee on National Implementation of Legal Aid got established in 1980, with Justice Bhagwati as its chairman. As a result, Parliament passed the Legal Services Authorities Act in 1987.
History of NALSA
The parliament of India enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 to provide free legal assistance to the poor while promoting justice based on equal opportunity, thereby putting Article 39-A of the constitution into effect.
Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution was created to promote justice by providing free legal aid to poorer, backward, and weaker citizens and promoting justice in society.
The Act became enforceable on November 9, 1995, establishing a nationwide network and accessible and efficient legal services to the poor and vulnerable members. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) courts were established throughout the country to carry out the provisions of this Act.
Per the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987, every Lok Adalats decision is binding. Every award made by a Lok Adalat is final and binding on all parties to the dispute, and no appeal may be filed against the award in any court.
The primary goal of NALSA is to expedite the resolution of cases while reducing the burden on the judiciary. Other goals can be listed as follows:
- Spreading Legal Knowledge
- Organisation of Lok Adalats
- Promoting alternative dispute resolution
- Providing restitution to victims of crime
Legal Services Authorities in India
Legal services are available in India at three levels: central, state, and district. The Central government established the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC).
The State Government established the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and the High Court Legal Services Committee (HCLSC). The State government also established District Legal Services Authority (DLSA).
The Taluk Legal Services Committee gets addressed in sections 11A and 11B of the Legal Services Authority Act.
All authorities share some responsibilities, divided into two categories:
- pre-litigation and
- post-litigation services.
Following the principle- prevention is better than cure; the authorities emphasised pre-litigation services such as legal awareness, legal advice, legal camps, and legal education.
It is also the responsibility of all of these authorities to provide post-litigation services in the form of free legal representation in court and assistance with other court-related expenses.
National Legal Service Authority (NALSA)
The NALSA members include:
- The Patron-in-Chief is the Chief Justice of India.
- As executive chairman, the President appoints a Supreme Court justice.
- Other members appointed by the government after consulting the CJI
- Establish policies and principles for carrying out the provisions of the Legal Services Act.
- Create the most cost-effective legal assistance schemes for the poor.
- Utilize funds available to them for distribution to State and District authorities.
- Set up Legal Aid clinics in rural and slum areas.
- Promote and conduct legal aid research, emphasising providing legal aid to the poor.
- To do everything essential to carry out the fundamental duties mentioned in Part IV-A of the Constitution.
- Create clinical legal education programmes in collaboration with the Bar Council of India.
- Design adequate steps to increase legal literacy and legal awareness among the public, focusing on educating the most vulnerable members of society.
- Make a concerted effort to enlist the help of grassroots voluntary social welfare organisations.
- Coordinate and monitor the following functions and provide general guidance for the program’s proper implementation.
- the State Authorities, District Authorities,
- Supreme Court Legal Services Committee,
- Taluk Legal Services Committees, and
- other legal services organisations
- High Court Legal Services Committees
- Grants and assistance are available for various schemes and social service institutions.
NALSA’s Criteria for Eligibility for Free Legal Services
The Indian Constitution Article 39A provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of society to promote justice based on equal opportunity.
Articles 14 and 22(1) of the constitution of India require the state to ensure equality before the law. To obtain those services, the person acquiring them must fall into any one of the following categories:
|People having disabilities||Children and women|
|members of SC & ST communities||Victims of poverty (beggars) and human trafficking|
|Industrial workers||People under custody|
|natural disasters, caste or ethnic violence, etc. victims||People having an annual income lower than 1 lakh|
Legal Aid under C.P.C & Cr. P.C
Legal Aid is available under C.P.C. and Cr. P.C. Under S.304 (1), which comes into action when an accused person faces a trial. The idea of a free legal aid scheme is run by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
The Act only applies when an accused is facing a court of law. If a person is poor, he may be eligible for legal aid. In the absence of a lawyer, the entire trial gets tainted, and the case is remanded to the trial court.
The court will ask the accused whether he has the means to hire a lawyer. If not, the court is obligated to appoint a lawyer from the bar who is well-versed in the law and paid by the state government.
Programmes For Legal Awareness
Through the State Legal Services Authorities, NALSA conducts legal literacy programmes as part of its preventive and strategic legal aid. In some states, in addition to rural legal literacy camps, annual Legal Literacy Programs are held in schools and colleges and women’s empowerment.
NALSA conducted special legal awareness programmes on MGNREGA, Senior Citizens’ Rights, and Women’s Welfare Programs. NALSA also implemented a special scheme for resolving MGNREGA-related grievances through Lok Adalat.
Khatri & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Ors.
While discussing legal aid, Bhagmati J. opined that “the right to free legal aid, fair and reasonable procedures is a fundamental right” (Khatoon’s Case).
The person’s liberty gets jeopardised as soon as he is arrested and brought before a magistrate because it is at this point that he has the first opportunity to apply for bail and get his release and to refuse to remain in police or jail custody.
At this point, an accused person requires competent legal advice and representation. No procedure can be just, fair, or reasonable if the accused gets denied legal counsel and representation at this stage.
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs Union of India
The issue before the court was whether persons who fall outside the binary gender could be legally recognised as “third gender” persons?
It was a landmark decision in which, for the first time, the apex court legally recognised “third gender”/transgender persons and discussed “gender identity” at length. The Court recognised that third gender persons have the entitlement to fundamental rights under the Constitution and International law.
The Court cleared that gender identity did not refer to biological characteristics but instead referred to it as “an innate perception of one’s gender”. Thus, it held that no third gender persons should get subjected to any medical examination or biological test that would invade their right to privacy.
The Court also observed ‘dignity’ under Article 21 of the Constitution to include diversity in self-expression, allowing a person to lead a dignified life. It placed the gender identity of an individual within the framework of the fundamental right to dignity under Article 21.
For centuries, legal services have been a justice’s cornerstone; they contribute to the ideal dealing with equal justice, regardless of an individual’s financial ability. Their existence is also a testament to a country’s functioning socialist structure and demonstrates the various benefits of a socialist structure.
Due to a lack of legal services, the NALSA may get misapplied, which was intended to safeguard the wronged and underprivileged in the first place.
Legal services can take many forms; central and state governments provide them in India. Legal services are also mentioned in the constitution’s Directive principles of state policy.
Besides repeated efforts of NALSA in representing the underprivileged and weaker sections of society, most people lack legal representation against illicit practices and torture in society from the more powerful ones. It is hard to accept the fact, but indeed it is true.
National legal services authority with the state legal services authorities is continuously working to resolve people’s difficulties with the hectic legal process by organising Lok Adalats from time to time.
What are NALSA's functions?
NALSA's functions include providing free and competent legal services to eligible individuals, organising Lok Adalats for amicable dispute resolution, and organising legal awareness camps in rural areas.
What is another name of People's court?
Is NALSA a statutory body?
Yes, NALSA is a statutory body constituted under NALSA Act.
Where was the first Lok Adalat held?
The first Lok Adalat was held in Gujarat in 1982