The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted to give a statutory base
to legal aid programmes throughout the country on a uniform pattern. The Act was
brought into force with effect from Ninth September one thousand nine hundred
ninety five, almost eight years after its enactment, after certain
amendments were introduced therein by the Amendment Act of 1994. Hon.
Mr. Justice R.N. Mishra (the then Chief Justice of India) played a key
role in the enforcement of the Act.
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted on 5th December, 1995.
His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Judge, Supreme Court of India took
over as the Executive Chairman of it on 17th July, 1997. By February,
1998, the office of National Legal Services Authority became properly
functional for the first time.
In October, 1998, His Lordship A.S. Anand then
assumed the Office of the Chief Justice of India and thus became the
Patron-in-Chief of National Legal Services Authority. His Lordship Hon. Mr.
Justice S.R Bharucha, the senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court of
India assumed the office of the Executive Chairman, NALSA. A nationwide
network has been envisaged under the Act for providing legal aid and
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) is the apex body constituted to
lay down policies and principles for making legal services available under the
provisions of the Act and to frame most effective and economical
schemes for legal services. It also disburses 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 give effect to the policies and
directions of the Central Authority (NALSA) and to give legal services to the
people. State Legal Services Authority is headed by the Chief Justice of
the State High Court who is its Patron-in- Chief.
A serving or
retired Judge of the High Court is nominated as its Executive Chairman.
District Legal Services Authority is constituted in every District to implement
Legal Aid Programmes and Schemes in the District. The District Judge of the
District is its ex-officio Chairman. Taluk Legal Services Committees are
also constituted for each of the Taluk or Mandal or for group of Taluk
or Mandate to coordinate the activities of legal services in the Taluk
and to organize Lok Adalats. Every Taluk Legal Services Committee is
headed by a senior Civil Judge operating within the jurisdiction of
the Committee who is its ex-officio Chairman.
Criteria for Legal Service/Aid Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act,
1987, prescribe the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons.
Section 12 of the Act reads as under, “12 Every person who has to file or
defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act if that
- A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
- A victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred
to in Artical 23 of the Constitution.
- A woman or a child.
- A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person.
- A person under circumstances of underserved want such as being a victim
of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought,
earthquake or industrial disaster.
- An industrial workman.
- In custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of
clause (g) of Section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, or in
a juvenile home within the meaning of clause.
- Of Section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, or in a psychiatric
hospital/nursing home within the meaning of Section 2(g) of the Mental
Health Act, 1987.
- 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. Sec, 2(1) 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/other authority/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 prime facia 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.
Schemes and Measures by NALSAThe following scheme and measures have been envisaged and implemented
by the Central Authority- NALSA:
- Establishing Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats in ail the
Districts in the country for disposal of pending matters as well as disputes
at pre-litigative stage.
- Establishing separate Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats for Govt
Departments, Statutory Authorities and Public Sector Undertakings for
disposal of pending cases as well as disputes at pre-litigative stage.
- Accreditation of NGOs for Legal Literacy and Legal Awareness campaign.
- Appointment of “Legal Aid Counsel” in all the Courts of Magistrates in
- Disposal of cases through Lok Adalats on old pattern.
- Publicity to Legal Aid Schemes and programmes to make people aware about
legal aid facilities.
- Emphasis on competent and quality legal services to the aided persons.
- Legal aid facilities in jails.
- Setting up of Counselling and Conciliation Centers in all the Districts
in the country
- Sensitisation of Judicial Officers in regard to Legal Services
Schemes and programmes.
- Publication of the Nyaya Deep, the official newsletter of NALSA.
- Enhancement of Income Ceiling to Rupee Fifty thousand per annum for
legal aid before Supreme Court of India and to Rupee Twenty Five thousand
per annum for legal aid up to High Courts.
- Steps for framing rules for refund of court fees and execution of awards
passed by Lok Adalats.
In pursuance of the call given by His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S.
Anand, Nineth of November is being celebrated every year by all Legal
Services Authorities as “Legal Services Day”
. NALSA has been providing and
shall continue to provide funds to State Legal Services Authorities for the
implementation of the Legal Aid Schemes and Programmes but the
infrastructure has to be provided by the State Governments. NALSA has
also called upon State Legal Services Authorities to set up legal aid cells in
jails so that the prisoners lodged therein are provided prompt and efficient
Legal Aid Counsel Scheme which was conceived and introduced by His Lordship A.S.
Anand has been well received all over country. Legal Aid Counsels have been
provided in most of the courts of the Magistrates in the country to
provide immediate legal assistance to those prisoners who are not in
a position to engage their own counsel. Hon. Mr. Justice S.R Bharucha
had emphasized that Counselling and Conciliation Centers
be established in all the Districts in the country to bring about
negotiated settlement of disputes between the parties.
All the State Legal Services Authorities are taking steps to establish
these Centers which would prove immensely useful for settling legal
disputes at pre-litigative stage and would also help legal services
functionaries to find out as to whether a person approaching them for
legal aid has or not a prima facie case in his favour which is a
pre-requisite for grant of legal aid.
NALSA is keen to develop and promote a culture of conciliation
instead of litigation in the country so that the citizens of this
country prefer to resolve their disputes and differences across the table
in a spirit of goodwill and brotherhood.
NALSA also wishes to ensure that even the weakest amongst the weak in
the country does not suffer injustice arising out of any abrasive action on
the part of State or private person.
Improving Legal Aid Quality
Role of Lawyers and Judges Honourable Mr. Justice S.R Bharucha emphasised the
need for improving the quality of legal aid that is being given by legal aid
advocates. His Lordship observed that teeming millions of this country who
live below poverty line looks towards Legal Services Authorities for
help and support in resolving their legal problems. These poor and
weaker sections must not remain under the impression that they are
getting comparatively inferior legal assistance.
His Lordship has called upon legal services authorities to revise the
payment schedule for legal aid panel advocates and also compress the
panels so that panel advocates get more work and better remuneration
from legal services authorities and thus get encouraged to render
effective legal assistance to aided persons.
The plight of poor litigants approaching Lok Adalats through the
bastion of legal aid is quite deplorable. Lamenting on the poor
quality of legal service extended under the rubric of legal aid the
Supreme Court held that 'right to defend includes right to effective and
meaningful defence'. To ensure quality legal assistance the Court directed the
State to fix better remuneration for lawyers.
The apex court has cautioned that legal aid must not be reduced to patronizing
gestures to raw entrants to the Bar
, but the practice of extending
legal assistance through such inexperienced lawyers is continuing resulting into
unequal and ineffective presentation or defence. Whereas 'to have the assistance
of a counsel' is to be construed as the 'effective' assistance of counsel
performing within a minimum standard of competency. Therefore, legal aid through
a raw talent amounts to denial of legal aid and hits the equality clause of
Article 14 of our Constitution.
Sensitization of Judicial Officers in regard to legal aid schemes and programmes
is also important. Legal Services Authorities must ensure that judicial officers
are duly sensitized about the work NALSA is doing and its importance for the
poor and illiterate. Once all the judicial officers in the country get property
sensitized in regard to the relevance and importance of legal aid schemes they
shall themselves start caring for the poor, backward and weaker sections of the
society who are not in a position to engage their own counsel and look after
their legal causes.Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Mohd Aqib Aslam
Authentication No: SP26211584989-18-920