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The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1965: A Study

Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is an act regulating legal services authorities to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of society to ensure that opportunities for obtaining justice are not denied to any person due to economic or other disadvantages, and to organize Lok Adalat’s to ensure that the legal system operates in a way that ensures justice on a level playing field.

History Of Legal Aid In India

The adversarial system that arrived in India with the arrival of the British put an end to the informal dispute resolution system. This new system was more complicated, and it required prior knowledge to use. Since 1952, the Indian government has been addressing the issue of legal aid for the poor at various conferences of Law Ministers and Law Commissions. The government established some guidelines for legal aid schemes in 1960.

Legal aid schemes were floated in various states through Legal Aid Boards, Societies, and Law Departments. Under the chairmanship of Hon. Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati, a national Committee was formed in 1980 to oversee and supervise legal aid programmes throughout the country. This Committee was named CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes) and began overseeing legal assistance in the world. The Committee has been responsible for the implementation of legal aid systems.

In M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court ruled that our legal system, which is based on Anglo-American models and heavily relies on legal technology, needs the cooperation of lawyer power or steering the wheels of equal justice under law. Because of the technical nature of law and the proliferation of lawyers and subsequent fees in the adversarial paradigm, it became imperative for the reasonable and equitable adjudication of justice that Legal Aid be integrated into the Constitution.

Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution states that:
The State shall ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on an equal footing, and that the State shall provide free legal assistance, through appropriate laws or schemes or in some other manner, to ensure that opportunities for obtaining justice are not denied to any person by reason of economic or other disability."

Free legal service is an inalienable feature of a "reasonable, equitable, and just" process, according to Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution, since without it, an individual with economic or other lim/itations will be deprived of the ability to obtain justice. As a result, the right to free legal care is simply an integral component of a "reasonable, equitable, and just" process for an individual convicted of a crime, and it must be regarded as implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution's guarantee.

The Supreme Court's attention was drawn to the inability of the oppressed to hire a lawyer for their defence and bear the costs of the delay in receiving the judgement in the Hussainara Khatoon case. The court in this case emphasised the importance of Article 39-A. Articles 14 and 22(1) also require the state to ensure equality before the law and a legal framework that ensures justice on a level playing field for everyone. Legal aid works to ensure that the constitution's promise is kept in letter and spirit, and that the needy, downtrodden, and weaker members of society have access to equal justice.

Provisions For Legal Aid Under The Legal Services Authorities Act

The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 was passed to provide a legislative foundation for legal aid programmes around the country. The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 revolutionised the legal services industry. It is a law that establishes legal services authorities to offer free and qualified legal services to the poorer parts of society, ensuring that no citizen's right to justice is violated due to economic or other limitations.

If a person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; a victim of human trafficking or beggar; a woman or a child; a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person; a person in circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic riots, an industrial worker or in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State govenment, if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousands or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central govenment, if the case is before the Supreme Court. etc., he or she is entitled to legal services under this Act.

The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 states that the Central Government shall establish a body to be known as the National Legal Services Authority to exercise the powers and execute the functions conferred on or delegated to the Central Authority by this Act. The National Legal Services Authority is the apex body established to establish policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of the Act, as well as to develop the most effective and cost-effective legal services schemes. It also provides funding and grants to state legal services authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help them establish legal assistance schemes and programmes.

The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 establishes the ‘State Legal Services Authority.' A State Legal Services Authority is established in each state to carry out the policies and directions of the Central Authority (NALSA), provide legal services to the citizens, and conduct ‘Lok Adalats' in the state. The State Legal Services Authority is led by the Chief Justice of the State High Court, who also serves as the Authority's Patron-in-Chief. As Executive Chairman, a current or retired High Court Judge is nominated.

Every District Legal Services Authority is established to carry out the District's Legal Aid Programs and Schemes. The District Judge serves as its ex-officio Chairman.
Taluk Legal Services Committees are often established for each Taluk or Mandal, or for groups of Taluks or Mandals, to coordinate legal services activities in the Taluk and to organise Lok Adalats. Every Taluk Legal Services Committee is led by an ex-officio Chairman who is a senior Civil Judge practising within the Committee's jurisdiction.

Following the formation of the Central Authority and the establishment of the NALSA office in early 1998, the Central Authority devised and introduced the following schemes and measures:
  1. establishing policies and principles for providing legal services under the provisions of this Act
  2. formulating the most efficient and cost-effective schemes for providing legal services under the provisions of this Act;
  3. using the funds at its disposal and making suitable fund allocations to State Authorities and District Authorities;
  4. Taking appropriate action through social justice litigation to protect consumers, the environment, or any other issue of particular concern to society's poorer members, and providing legal instruction to social workers for this purpose;
  5. Organizing legal aid camps, especially in rural areas, slums, or labour colonies, with the dual goal of both educating the weaker parts of society about their rights and encouraging the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalats;
  6. Encouraging the settlement of disputes through mediation, arbitration, and conciliation;
  7. Conducting and promoting research in the field of legal services, with a particular focus on the need for such services among the poor;
  8. Monitoring and evaluating the legal aid programmes at regular intervals, and providing for independent evaluation of programmes and schemes funded in whole or in part by funds provided under this Act;
  9. Providing grants-in-aid for specific purposes.
  10. Developing clinical legal education programmes in collaboration with the Bar Council of India, promoting advice, and overseeing the establishment and operation of legal services clinics in universities, law schools, and other institutions;
  11. Taking necessary steps to increase legal literacy and understanding among the public, with a focus on educating the poorest members of society about the rights, advantages, and privileges provided by social security legislation and other enactments, as well as administrative programmes and initiatives;
  12. Making special efforts to enlist the support of voluntary social welfare institutions working at the grass-roots level, particularly among Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes, women, and rural and urban labour; and
  13. Coordinating and monitoring the functions of State Authorities, District Authorities, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committees, Taluk Legal Services Committees and voluntary social service institutions and other legal services organisations and include general guidelines for the effective implementation of legal services programmes.

Lok Adalats

Lok Adalat, as the name implies, is an Indian institution that serves as a People's Court. The word "Lok" means "people," and "Adalat" means "court." Such techniques have a long tradition and history in India, where they are used at the grassroots level.

Lok Adalat is an innovative Indian contribution to global jurisprudence. The implementation of Lok Adalats introduced a new chapter to this country's justice dispensation mechanism and succeeded in providing a supplementary platform for victims to resolve their disputes satisfactorily. This scheme is based on Gandhian values.

On March 14, 1982, the first Lok Adalat was held in Junagarh, Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. Maharashtra instituted the Lok Nyayalaya in 1984. Motor accident claim cases, matrimonial/family disputes, labour disputes, disputes relating to public utilities such as telephone, energy, bank recovery cases, and so on have all been settled successfully via Lok Adalats.

A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of:
  1. Any case pending before; or
  2. Any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised.

The Lok Adalat has the following powers:
  1. The summon, enforcement and examination of every witness by oath. The discovery and production of any document
  2. Any document's discovery and production
  3. Obtaining a public record or document, or a copy of such a record or document, from any court or office.
  4. Receiving evidence on affidavits.
  5. such other matters as prescribed.

Every State Authority or District Authority or Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or Taluk Legal Services Committee may organize Lok Adalats. Lok Adalats comprise of three members – a sitting or retired judicial officer, a member of the legal profession (advocate, law officer, and law teacher) and a social worker, preferably a women. In order to facilitate the successful conduct of ‘Lok Adalats,' the Act and regulations require the secretary of the legal services authority or committee to affiliate students, social advocates, and non-profit organisations in the community.

Whenever a settlement is reached, a ‘Award' is issued, which is regarded as a civil court's ‘Decree.' It must be written in plain and straightforward language. There is no right of appeal against such decisions, which are considered final. If no agreement is made, the case will be returned to court.

Certain changes to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, were made by Parliament in 2002. Pre-Litigation Conciliation and Settlement was added to Chapter VI-A by the said amendment. Section 22-B envisions the establishment of "Permant Lok Adalat " at various locations to hear cases involving public utility services. Permanent Lok Adalats may be established by notification by the Central or State Authorities at any Permanent Lok Adalats for resolving issues relating to Public Utility Services.

Legal Aid Under Different Statutory Provisions

Several provisions have been made in various statutes for offering free legal aid to the needy; some relevant laws are as follows:
  1. Under Indian Constitution:
    Article 39A promotes justice based on equality of opportunity. It makes it a moral obligation for the government to offer free legal assistance to the needy. The scheme of providing legal aid and assistance to the poor was conceived with the aim of enabling the poor litigant to have easy access to a Court of Law in order to exercise legal rights and to ensure him equal protection of the law against his well-to-do opponent. legal aid has been held to be a mandate not only from article 39A but from article 14 and article 21.

    In the case of Centre for Legal Research v. Kerala State, It has been proposed that, in order to achieve Article 39A's goal, the state should encourage and promote charitable organisations and social action groups to participate operating the legal aid programme. The Court decided that it could not grant a writ of mandamus to enforce Article 39A, and that the social duty of equal justice and free legal aid must be enforced by appropriate legislation or the creation of a free legal aid scheme. Hence, Parliament passed the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 in response to this suggestion.

    In P.N.B. v . Laxmichand Rai, the Court held that the award made by Lok Adalat under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was final and that no appeal could be filed against it in any court.
     
  2. Under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973:
    In cases triable by a Court of Session, section 304 gives the accused the right to legal assistance at the expense of the State Government, and empowers the State Government to extend this right to other cases. The section is based on the premise that an accused person's indigence should not be used as a reason to refuse them a fair trial or equal justice.

    In Sukh Das v. State of Arunachal Pradesh, the Supreme Court ruled that an accused's conviction in a trial in which he was denied legal representation must be overturned as a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. However, it was held that if the accused pleads guilty without the help of a lawyer under the legal aid scheme and is convicted by the Magistrate, the trial and conviction are not vitiated because the Magistrate was completely satisfied that the plea was voluntary, valid, and real.
     
  3. Under Civil Procedure Code, 1908:
    Order XXXIII of the C.P.C, deals with the suit filed by needy persons. It is necessary to pay a court fee in order to file a lawsuit. However, there are a large number of people who are unable to pay the court fee because of their poverty, and Order 33 of the C.P.C. provides an exemption from the court fee to allow them to file suits.

    The basic object of Order XXXIII was extensively discussed by the Kerala High Court in Sumathy Kutty v. Narayani, where it was stated that the real test is whether the petitioner is in a position in the ordinary course to turn his possessions, if any, into liquid cash without undue hardship and delay for the purpose of paying the required court fee.
     
  4. Under Bar Council of India Rules:
    Rule 46 of Section VI of Chapter II of Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules states, "Any Advocate shall in the practise of the profession of law bear in mind that every one genuinely in need of a lawyer is entitle to legal assistance even if he cannot pay for it completely or adequately, and that free legal assistance to the indigent shall be provided within the limits of an advocates economic condition."
     
  5. Under Advocates Act, 1961:
    Sec 9(A) of the Act states about formation of legal aid committee by bar council with a minimum of 5 members. This has been done for providing legal assistance to the poor and needy.

Conclusion
For decades, legal services have been a pillar of justice, assisting in the implementation of equal justice, regardless of an individual's financial capacity. The presence of legal services is a testament to the working of socialist structure in the country, as well as a demonstration of the various benefits of a socialist structure. The lack of legal services may lead to misused of law that was created to protect the underprivileged and poor in the first place.

Legal services can be in many different forms; in India, they have taken the form of central and state authorities. As a result, making the best use of them and putting them into practise is essential for the proper functioning of a country's judicial system.

References:
  1. M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra [1978] AIR 1548
  2. Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar [1979] AIR 1369
  3. Centre for Legal Research v. Kerala State AIR [1986] SC 1322
  4. P.N.B. v. Laxmichand Rai AIR [2000] MP 301
  5. Sukh Das v. State of Arunachal Pradesh [1986] AIR 991
  6. Sumathy Kutty v. Narayani AIR [1973] Ker 19
  7. Pardeep Kumar Jain, “An Assessment of The Functioning of Legal Services Authorities in India: A Theoretical Perspective”< https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318748545 > last accessed on 20th may, 2021.
  8. Functions of the Legal Services Authority’< https://blog.ipleaders.in/functions-legal-services-authority/ > accessed on 20th may, 2021.

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