Our Independence from the Britishers and the establishment of a democracy avails us citizens to uphold our fundamental human rights. One such right is access to justice. Although many face varying constraints and are in the 28% of Indians below the poverty line, or approx. 40-80 million people with disabilities, it is your right to have justice, fairness, and liberty. Our Constitution acknowledges it as a basic vital right. Article 38(1) affirms that the “State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”
Article 21 precisely states that every person has an equal right to life and liberty except according to the procedure established by the law. Articles 14 and 22(1) clearly upholds that every person has and the State ensures their parity in front of the law and equal preservation of rights, and the right of a person who is arrested to speak for themselves and defend themselves. In the remarkable case of Hussaina Khatoon vs State of Bihar case 1979, the Justice PN Bhagwati noted that also emphasizes that “free legal service
is an inalienable element of ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure for without it a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing justice”, as emphasized by Article 39A. It’s a police’s obligation to notify the closest Legal Aid Committee about the detention of such a person. Legal Aid Counsels (LACs) provide immediate counsel to those prisoners who are not in a position to get it on their own.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) indicated that India’s per capita lawyer ratio is one lawyer for every 736 people, which is better than many countries.
Ten things you should know about legal aid by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative!
After the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, NALSA- National Legal Services Authority of India was formed to render free legal aid to eligible netizens and govern the efficiency of Lok Adalats. You can go to its site (available below) to file for free legal aid.
WHO ARE ELIGIBLE FOR LEGAL AID?
Any person, who is:
1. any person belonging to Scheduled caste/tribe and those having annual income less than Rs 1 lakh are entitled to avail free legal assistance
2. a sufferer of trafficking in human beings or beggar;
3.disabled, including mentally disabled;
4. a woman or child;
5. a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake, industrial
disaster and other cases of undeserved want;
6. an industrial worker;
7. in captivity, including protective custody;
8. facing a charge which might result in imprisonment;
9. Incapable to hire a lawyer and secure legal services due to destitution;
10. in cases of great public importance;
11. particular cases considered being entitled to legal aids.
India’s first online Legal Aid Clinic was launched on August 2, 2020, by Dr. Nachiketa Mital. A person can contact it for legal aid, the team of students will connect them to an apt lawyer, and work with them on the entire process. Apart from there have been various statistics, suggesting less faith of citizens in free legal aid. Research by economical and political weekly, reports the poor condition of the Legal Aid Counsels. The research found that 22.6% would not use free legal aid for the second time and that 56% of the legal aid counsel (LAC) spent only 1 – 10 hours of time per week on legal service while 58% LAC spent an average of 20+hrs per week on private cases.
30% LACs complained of receiving their payment unreasonably late from District Legal Services Authorities. Advocate Priya Singh, a Delhi based juvenile LAC remarked that remunerations for counsels should be increased per year since the low financial stability demotivates them from working and moreover makes their livelihood difficult. On the positive side, the NALSA Director, Sunil Chauhan said in 2019 that they are taking steps to improve the situation and educating the masses about their free legal aid rights on the door to door rationale. There is an immediate need to look into these matters for reforming them for safeguarding the rights and resolving the existing impediments.
- By Dharna Prasad, Hindu College.
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