Free Legal Aid and Free Legal Services for the Poor


December 03, 2018

We live in a nation where the majority of population comprises of downtrodden and poor. Poor people on account of lack of legal awareness and poverty are often deprived of rights and are unable to avail the legal services to which they are lawfully entitled under the Law. However, Justice is equal for all and equality is one of the pillars on which the Constitutional rights to which every Indian citizen is entitled firmly stands.

Law does not differentiate between rich and poor, hence keeping the Constitutional objective of social justice in view the Legislature in 1987 enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Thus, the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act and the Constitutional rights form the statutory framework for providing free legal services and legal aid to the poor and downtrodden.


National Legal Services Authority

The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 constitutes the National Legal Services Authority. The Patron-in-Chief of the Authority is the Chief Justice of India and the Executive Chairman is a serving or retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India appointed by the President is the Executive Chairman of the Authority.

The functions of the Authority are enlisted below:

  • Lay down policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of this Act.
  • Frame the most effective and economical schemes for the purpose of making legal services available under the provisions of this Act.
  • Utilise the funds at its disposal and make appropriate allocations of funds to the State Authorities and District Authorities.
  • Take necessary steps by way of social justice litigation with regard to consumer protection, environmental protection or any other matter of special concern to the weaker sections of the society and for this purpose, give training to social workers in legal skills.
  • Organise legal aid camps, especially in rural areas, slums or labour colonies with the dual purpose of educating the weaker sections of the society as to their rights as well as encouraging the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalats.
  • Encourage the settlement of disputes by way of negotiations, arbitration and conciliation.
  • Undertake and promote research in the field of legal services with special reference to the need for such services among the poor.
  • To do all things necessary for the purpose of ensuring commitment to the fundamental duties of citizens under Part IVA of the Constitution.
  • Monitor and evaluate implementation of the legal aid programmes at periodic intervals and provide for independent evaluation of programmes and schemes implemented in whole or in part by funds provided under this Act.
  • Provide grants-in-aid for specific schemes to various voluntary social service institutions and the State and District Authorities, from out of the amounts placed at its disposal for the implementation of legal services schemes under the provisions of this Act.
  • Develop, in consultation with the Bar Council of India, programmes for clinical legal education and promote guidance and supervise the establishment and working of legal services clinics in universities, law colleges and other institutions.
  • Take appropriate measures for spreading legal literacy and legal awareness amongst the people and, in particular, to educate weaker sections of the society about the rights, benefits and privileges guaranteed by social welfare legislations and other enactments as well as administrative programmes and measures.
  • Make special efforts to enlist the support of voluntary social welfare institutions working at the grass-root level, particularly among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, women and rural and urban labour; and
  • Coordinate and monitor the functioning 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 given general directions for the proper implementation of the Legal Services programmes.

Apart from National Legal Services Authority or the Central Authority, the Act also provides for the constitution of State Legal Services Authority in every State. The functions of the State Legal Services Authority is enlisted below:

  • It shall be the duty of the State Authority to give effect to the policy and directions of the Central Authority.
  • Give legal service to persons who satisfy the criteria laid down under this Act.
  • Conduct Lok Adalats, including Lok Adalats for High Court cases.
  • Undertake preventive and strategic legal aid programmes; and
  • Perform such other functions as the State Authority may, in consultation with the Central Authority, fix by regulations.

Who is Entitled to Free Legal Services under the Act?

The Act also provides persons who are entitled to avail free legal aid and services under the Act i.e. a person who fulfils the requirements as enumerated under the Act is only entitled to free legal services. The requirements are as under:

  • A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; or
  • A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution; or
  • A woman or a child; or
  • A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person.
  • 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
  • An industrial workman or
  • In custody, including custody in a protective home
  • Minimum annual income- Person in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Government;

Organization of Lok Adalats

The Act additionally provides organization of Lok Adalats. Every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or Taluk Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats at such intervals and places as it thinks fit.