scheme was first introduced by Justice P.N. Bhagwati under the
Legal Aid Committee formed in 1971. According to him, the legal
means providing an arrangement in the society so that the
administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out
reach of those who have to resort to it for enforcement of its
them by law" the poor and illiterate should be able to approach
courts and their ignorance and poverty should not be an impediment
the way of their obtaining justice from the courts.
Legal aid should be available to the poor and illiterate. Legal
defined, deals with legal aid to poor, illiterate, who don't have
to courts. One need not be a litigant to seek aid by means of
Legal aid is available to anybody on the road.
Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides that State shall
secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on
basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular, provide free
aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to
that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any
reason of economic or other disability. Articles 14 and 22(1) also
it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a
system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to
Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is
its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the
downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.
The earliest Legal Aid movement appears to be of the year 1851
enactment was introduced in France for providing legal assistance
indigent. In Britain, the history of the organised efforts on the
of the State to provide legal services to the poor and needy dates
to 1944, when Lord Chancellor, Viscount Simon appointed Rushcliffe
Committee to enquire about the facilities existing in England and
for giving legal advice to the poor and to make recommendations as
appear to be desirable for ensuring that persons in need of legal
are provided the same by the State. Since 1952, the Govt. of India
started addressing to the question of legal aid for the poor in
conferences of Law Ministers and Law Commissions. In 1960, some
guidelines were drawn by the Govt. for legal aid schemes. In
states legal aid schemes were floated through Legal Aid Boards,
Societies and Law Departments. In 1980, a Committee at the
level was constituted to oversee and supervise legal aid
throughout the country under the Chairmanship of Hon. Mr. Justice
Bhagwati then a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. This
to be known as CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid
started monitoring legal aid activities throughout the country.
Expert committees constituted, from 1950 onwards, to advise
on providing legal aid to the poor have been unanimous that the
legal system is unsuited to the needs of the poor. The 1977 report
the committee of Justices Krishna Iyer and P.N. Bhagwati, both of
Supreme Court, drew up a detailed scheme which envisaged public
litigation (PIL) as a major tool in bringing about both
and law reform even while it enabled easy access to the judicial
for the poor. Their report, as those of the previous committees,
ignored. This explained partly the impatience of these two judges,
the post-emergency phase, in making the institution appear
the needs of the population that had stood distanced from it. The
judges played a major role in spearheading the PIL jurisdiction.
The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the justice
dispensation system of this country and succeeded in providing a
supplementary forum to the litigants for conciliatory settlement
their disputes. In 1987 Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted
give a statutory base to legal aid programmes throughout the
a uniform pattern. This Act was finally enforced on 9th of
1995 after certain amendments were introduced therein by the
Act of 1994. Hon. Mr. Justice R.N. Mishra the then Chief Justice
India played a key role in the enforcement of the Act.
National Legal Services Authority was constituted on 5th December,
His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Judge, Supreme Court of
took over as the Executive Chairman of National Legal Services
on 17the July, 1997. Soon after assuming the office, His Lordship
initiated steps for making the National Legal Services Authority
functional. The first Member Secretary of the authority joined in
December, 1997 and by January, 1998 the other officers and staff
also appointed. By February, 1998 the office of National Legal
Authority became properly functional for the first time.
In October, 1998, His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand assumed
Office of the Chief Justice of India and thus became the
of National Legal Services Authority. His Lordship Hon. Mr.
Bharucha, the senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court of India
the office of the Executive Chairman, National Legal Services
Criterion for providing legal aid
Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 prescribes
criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons.
of the Act reads as under:-
Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to
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
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
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
Act, 1956 (104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning
(j) of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986) or
psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the
clause (g) of section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987 (14 of
(h) in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or
other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Govt., if
is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than
twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed
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
court. Section 2(1) (aaa) defines the 'court' as a civil, criminal
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)
service' includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of
case or other legal proceeding before any court or other authority
tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter.
Legal Services Authorities after examining the eligibility
an applicant and the existence of a prima facie case in his favour
provide him counsel at State expense, pay the required Court Fee
matter and bear all incidental expenses in connection with 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
Hierarchy of Bodies created under the Act
A nationwide network has been envisaged under the Act for
legal aid and assistance. National Legal Services Authority is the
body constituted to lay down policies and principles for making
services available under the provisions of the Act and to frame
effective and economical schemes for legal services. It also
funds and grants to State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for
implementing legal aid schemes and programmes.
In every State a State Legal Services Authority is constituted to
effect to the policies and directions of the Central Authority (NALSA)
and to give legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats
State. State Legal Services Authority is headed by the Chief
the State High Court who is its Patron-in-Chief. A serving or
Judge of the High Court is nominated as its Executive Chairman.
District Legal Services Authority is constituted in every District
implement Legal Aid Programmes and Schemes in the District. The
Judge of the District is its ex-officio Chairman.
Taluk Legal Services Committees are also constituted for each of
Taluk or Mandal or for group of Taluk or Mandals to coordinate the
activities of legal services in the Taluk and to organise Lok
Every Taluk Legal Services Committee is headed by a senior Civil
operating within the jurisdiction of the Committee who is its
Supreme Court Legal Services Committee
The Central Authority shall constitute a Committee to be called
Supreme Court Legal Services Committee for the purpose of
such powers and performing such functions as may be determined by
regulations made by the Central Authority.
NALSA is laying great deal of emphasis on legal literacy and legal
awareness campaign. Almost all the State Legal Services
identifying suitable and trustworthy NGOs through whom legal
campaign may be taken to tribal, backward and far-flung areas in
country. The effort is to publicise legal aid schemes so that the
group, for whom Legal Services Authorities Act has provided for
legal aid, may come to know about the same and approach the
legal services functionaries.
NALSA has also called upon State Legal Services Authorities to set
legal aid cells in jails so that the prisoners lodged therein are
provided prompt and efficient legal aid to which they are entitled
virtue of section 12 of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
Certain Salient Features of the Act are enumerated below:-
Section 2 Definitions.-
(1)... (c) 'legal service' includes the rendering of any service
the conduct any case or other legal proceeding before any court
or other Authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any
(d) 'Lok Adalat' means a Lok Adalat organised under Chapter VI;
(g) 'scheme' means any scheme framed by the Central Authority, a
Authority or a District Authority for the purpose of giving effect
any of the provisions of this Act;
(h) 'State Authority' means a State Legal Services Authority
under Section 6;
(2) Any reference in this Act to any other enactment or any
thereof shall, in relation to an area in which such enactment or
provision is not in force, be construed as a reference to the
corresponding law or the relevant provision of the corresponding
any, in force in that area.
1. Central, State, District and Taluk Legal Services Authority has
created who are responsible for organizing Lok Adalats at such
2. Conciliators for Lok Adalat comprise the following: -
A. A sitting or retired judicial officer.
B. other persons of repute as may be prescribed by the State
in consultation with the Chief Justice of High Court.
Section 20: Reference of Cases
Cases can be referred for consideration of Lok Adalat as under:-
1. By consent of both the parties to the disputes.
2. One of the parties makes an application for reference.
3. Where the Court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate
be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat.
4. Compromise settlement shall be guided by the principles of
equity, fair play and other legal principles.
5. Where no compromise has been arrived at through conciliation,
matter shall be returned to the concerned court for disposal in
accordance with Law.
After the agreement is arrived by the consent of the parties,
passed by the conciliators. The matter need not be referred to the
concerned Court for consent decree.
The Act provisions envisages as under:
1. Every award of Lok Adalat shall be deemed as decree of Civil
2. Every award made by the Lok Adalat shall be final and binding
the parties to the dispute.
3. No appeal shall lie from the award of the Lok Adalat.
Every proceedings of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial
proceedings for the purpose of :-
1. Summoning of Witnesses.
2. Discovery of documents.
3. Reception of evidences.
4. Requisitioning of Public record.
Hon'ble Delhi High Court has given a landmark decision
significance of Lok Adalat movement which has far reaching
Abdul Hasan and National Legal Services Authority Vs. Delhi Vidyut
and others  -
Facts of the Case -
The petitioner filed a writ petition before Delhi High Court for
restoration of electricity at his premises, which was disconnected
the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) on account of non-payment of Bill.
alia, the grievances of the citizens were not only confined to the
but also directed against the State agencies like DDA, Municipal
Corporation, MTNL, GIC and other bodies, Court notices were
be issued to NALSA and Delhi State Legal Service Authority.
His lordship Hon'ble Mr. Justice Anil Dev Singh passed the order
directions for setting up of permanent Lok Adalats. The scholarly
observations of His Lordship Mr. Justice Anil Dev Singh deserve
commendations and are worthy of note. It will be profitable to
the important text and abstract from this judgment, which should
eye opener for all of us. It should also steer the conscience of
there is an increasing need to make Lok Adalat movement a
Article 39A of
the Constitution of India provides for equal justice and free
legal aid. It is, therefore clear that the State has been ordained
to secure a legal system, which promotes justice on the basis of
equal opportunity. The language of Article-39A is couched in
mandatory terms. This is made more than clear by the use of the
in Art-39 A. It is emphasized that the legal system should be able
to deliver justice expeditiously on the basis of equal opportunity
and provide free legal aid to secure that opportunities for
securing justice are not denied to any citizens by reasons of
economic or other disabilities. It was in this context that the
parliament enacted the Legal Services Authority Act-1987.
The need of the hour is frantically beckoning for setting up
on permanent and continuous basis. What we do today will shape our
tomorrow. Lok Adalat is between an ever-burdened Court System
the choice under its own weight and alternative dispute resolution
machinery including an inexpensive and quick dispensation of
The Lok Adalat and alternative dispute resolution experiment must
succeed otherwise the consequence for an over burdened court
would be disastrous. The system needs to inhale the life giving
of justice through the note.
If we closely scrutinize the contents of the decision of Delhi
Court, there has been an alarming situation of docket-explosion
ultimately remedy is the disposal of cases through the mechanism
Supreme Court on Legal Aid
The linkage between Article 21 and the right to free legal aid was
forged in the decision in
Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar
the court was appalled at the plight of thousands of undertrials
languishing in the jails in Bihar for years on end without ever
represented by a lawyer. The court declared that "there can be no
that speedy trial, and by speedy trial, we mean reasonably
trial, is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right
life and liberty enshrined in Article 21." The court pointed out
Article 39-A emphasised that free legal service was an inalienable
element of 'reasonable, fair and just' procedure and that the
free legal services was implicit in the guarantee of Article 21.
inimitable style Justice Bhagwati declared:
"Legal aid is really nothing else but equal justice in action.
is in fact the delivery system of social justice. If free legal
are not provided to such an accused, the trial itself may run the
of being vitiated as contravening Article 21 and we have no doubt
every State Government would try to avoid such a possible
He reiterated this in Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal
 and said "It may therefore now be taken as settled law that
legal assistance at State cost is a fundamental right of a person
accused of an offence which may involve jeopardy to his life or
liberty and this fundamental right is implicit in the requirement
reasonable, fair and just procedure prescribed by Article 21."
of the narration would be incomplete without referring to the
astute architect of human rights jurisprudence, Justice Krishna
M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra , he declared: "If a
sentenced to imprisonment is virtually unable to exercise his
constitutional and statutory right of appeal inclusive of special
to appeal (to the Supreme Court) for want of legal assistance,
implicit in the Court under Article 142 read with Articles 21 and
of the Constitution, power to assign counsel for such imprisoned
individual 'for doing complete justice".
In Khatri & Others v. St. of Bihar &
others  Bhagmati J. observed;
"Right to free legal aid, just, fail and reasonable procedures is
fundamental right (Khatoon's Case).
It is elementary that the
to his personal liberty arises as soon as the person is arrested
produced before a magistrate for it is at this stage that he gets
the 1st opportunity to apply for bail and obtain his release as also to
resist remain to police or jail custody. This is the stage at
accused person needs competent legal advice and representation. No
procedure can be said to be just, fair and reasonable which denies
advice representation to the accused at this stage. Thus, state is
a constitutional obligation to provide free to aid to the accused
only at the stage of...... Every individual of the society are
as a matter of prerogative."
In Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain  the Court:
"Rule Of Law is basic structure of constitution of India. Every
individual is guaranteed the its give to him under the
one so condemn unheard. Equality of justice. There ought to be a
violation to the fundamental right or prerogatives, or privileges,
then remedy go to Court of Law. But also at the stage when he
produced before the magistrate. In absence of legal aid, trial is
Legal Aid under C.P.C and Cr.P.C
Lays down that when accused facing a trial. Concept of
legal aid scheme under legal services Authority. Act is only when
accused facing trial in court. When person is VV poor, then he can
legal aid. In the absence of lawyer, the entire trial becomes
and then case to be remanded back to the trial court. Court to ask
accused, whether he has services to engage a lawyer or not. If
court is bound to give him lawyer from the bar, who should be well
versed with the law and to be get paid by St. Govt. Court cannot
sympathize with a lawyer. Lawyer must be a competent one. " is
amicus curiae (friend of court). S. 304, CrPC plays V. imp. role."
Order 33, rule 17, CPC :- Suit by or against an indigent person.
plaint along with petition, that person unable to avail services
lawyer, then court exempts him from court fees.
Amendments to made to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted to constitute
services authorities for providing free and competent legal
the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities
securing justice were not denied to any citizen by reason of
other disabilities and to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the
operation of the legal system promoted justice on a basis of equal
opportunity. The system of Lok Adalat, which is an innovative mechanism
for alternate dispute resolution, has proved effective for
disputes in a spirit of conciliation outside the courts.
However, the major drawback in the existing scheme of organization
the Lok Adalats under Chapter VI of the said Act is that the
Lok Adalats is mainly based on compromise or settlement between
parties. If the parties do not arrive at any compromise or
the case is either returned to the court of law or the parties are
advised to seek remedy in a court of law. This causes unnecessary
in the dispensation of justice. If Lok Adalats are given power to
the cases on merits in case parties fails to arrive at any
settlement, this problem can be tackled to a great extent.
cases which arise in relation to public utility services such as
Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, Delhi Vidyut Board, etc., need
settled urgently so that people get justice without delay even at
pre-litigation stage and thus most of the petty cases which ought
go in the regular courts would be settled at the pre-litigation
itself which would result in reducing the workload of the regular
to a great extent. It is, therefore, proposed to amend the Legal
Services Authorities Act, 1987 to set up Permanent Lok Adalats for
providing compulsory pre-litigative mechanism for conciliation and
settlement of cases relating to public utility services.
features of the amendment are as follows:
(i) to provide for the establishment of Permanent Lok Adalats
shall consist of a Chairman who is or has been a district judge or
additional district judge or has held judicial office higher in
than that of the district judge and two other persons having
experience in public utility services;
(ii) the Permanent Lok Adalat shall exercise jurisdiction in
one or more public utility services such as transport services of
passengers or goods by air, road and water, postal, telegraph or
telephone services, supply of power, light or water to the public
establishment, public conservancy or sanitation, services in
or dispensaries; and insurance services;
(iii) the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalat shall
to rupees ten lakhs. However, the Central Government may increase
said pecuniary jurisdiction from time to time. It shall have not
jurisdiction in respect of any matter relating to an offence not
compoundable under any law;
(iv) it also provides that before the dispute is brought before
court, any party to the dispute may make an application to the
Lok Adalat for settlement of the dispute;
(v) where it appears to the Permanent Lok Adalat that there exist
elements of a settlement, which may be acceptable to the parties,
shall formulate the terms of a possible settlement and submit them
the parties for their observations and in case the parties reach
agreement, the Permanent Lok Adalat shall pass an award in terms
thereof. In case parties to the dispute fail to reach an
Permanent Lok Adalat shall decide the dispute on merits; and
(vi) every award made by the Permanent Lok Adalat shall be final
binding on all the parties thereto and shall be by a majority of
persons constituting the Permanent Lok Adalat.
Criticism by Krishna Iyer
The innovative part in the act is contained in Chapter VI. But
considerable conceptual shrinkage in the statutory ideation of Lok
Adalats. There is a Lok Adalat movement in the country which
the conceptual limitations of Chapter VI. Many states have shown
enthusiasm for this versatile phenomenon of informal justice with
finality and community orientation. Gujarat has set a record in
experiment; thanks to the Chief Justice taking vigorous personal
interest. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh has produced results in
conciliation. Tamil Nadu also is doing good work and is a model in
respects. Why? Judges charged with the responsibility of
Adalats in these States and in Maharastra, Rajsthan and elsewhere
worked with inspired zeal. In Karnatka, the Law Minister has
himself with restless wanderlust and soulful commitment, to this
and is a sort of Lok Adalats personified in a few States like
state Legal Aid boards have proved disappointing in their Lok
performance, although partly made up for by a voluntary agency
Council for Social Justice), headed by a retired judge. The drive
the Lok Adalats is the roused consciousness of the community to
disruption of local unity and to secure substantial equity and
justice, in a mood of human solidarity. In many places, Lok
transfigured as People's Festivals of Justice. The participants
merely judicial officers or lawyers as envisaged in Section 19(2),
justice, equity and fairplay. (vide Sec. 19(4) which means, again,
common law) and the settlement are not necessarily according to
principles, but with an eye on social goals like ending feuds,
family peace and providing for destitute, law or no law.
One need not further elaborate the other provisions except to sum
say that the defects above mentioned are cardinal and not
correctible and not irremediable. The philosophy of autonomy and
accountability for statutory authorities with democratic
social initiative must be accepted by the state. Such a postulate
for the categorical imperative that free legal service in its
sweep of semantics is the guaranteed right of every Indian and not
largess condescendingly extended by Government. The jurisprudence
judicature walks a different street paved with right, not grace.
Public interest litigation is part of the process of participate
and 'standing' in civil litigation of that pattern must have
reception at the judicial doorsteps.
Accountability and democracy are close companions; a free legal
project affecting vast numbers of under privileged Indians must be
accountable to the people. I wonder why there is no provision for
central or State authorities to present reports to parliament and
legislature so that there may be annual discussions at the highest
levels and consequential changes brought in the system itself.
The State legal Service Authorities must face criticism more or
like what has been leveled earlier against the central authority.
chief justice or his associate judge is to be in a committee which
be organized Lok Adalat, [Sec 7 (2)(b)], if he is to grant legal
sitting and screening the means and the merits of the applicants
there cases [Sec 7(2)(a)] it may be wrong because there role may
misunderstood. The authority applies the merits test and the judge
the member of that counsel. Technically the authority therefore
implicates the judge in the assessment of the merits of a case
to be filed. This is not right. If the judges are to be kept away
screening particular cases for eligibility for legal aid, there
statutory indication to that effect. The presence on the authority
useful. But his being directly or vicariously involved in
merits of the cases, even prima facie, is fraught with risk to the
confidence in the impartiality of the judges who hear the cases.
In the Municipal Council, Ratlam , a bench of this court
It is procedural rules as this appeal proves, 'which infuse life
substantive rights, which activate them to make them effective'....
truth is that a few profound issue of processual jurisprudence of
strategic significance to our legal system face us and we must
on them as they involve problems of access to justice for the
beyond the blinkered rules of 'standing of British Indian
the Centre of gravity of justice is to shift , as a preamble to
constitution mandates, from the traditional individualism of locus
standi to the community orientation of public interest litigation,
issues must be considered. In that sense the case before us
Ratlam municipality and the citizens of the Ward is a pathfinder
field of peoples involvement in the judicious process, sans which
Prof. Sikes points the system may crumble under the burden of its
In the Fertilizer Corporation, Kamagar Union Case  the Supreme
has made the following meaningful observations:
'We have no doubt that in competition between Courts and Streets
dispensers of justice, the rule of law must win the aggrieved
the law Court and wesn him from the lawless street. In simple
locus standi must be liberalized to meet the challenges of the
Ubi jus ibi remedium must be enlarged to embrace all in tersest of
public minded citizens or organizations with serious concern for
conservation of public resources and the direction and correction
public power so as to promote justice in its triune facets'.
The United States, through Chief justice Warren Burger and the
Bar Association, has been experimenting with and discussing
routes like arbitration and negotiation as well as simpler
alternatives to make justice a poor man's pragmatic hope. India,
America, suffers from 'litigation neuroses' the poor are the worst
victims because the rich can afford forensic mountaineering while
needy freeze to death midway. It is therefore integral to any
under 39 A to discover imaginatively and innovatively all
of getting inexpensive, early and easy justice. In the United
small claims Courts have been tried with success to resolve minor
disputes fairly and more swiftly than any present judicial