Constitutional Provisions for Free Legal Aid for Poor and Obstacles in Implementation

Constitutional Provisions for Free Legal Aid for Poor and Obstacles in Implementation

Q.3: Examine how the Constitution of India provides free legal aid for poorer and weaker sections of society and the obstacles lying in their implementation.

A. Constitutional Provision for Free Legal Aid to Weaker Sections

• Article 39A of the Constitution provides for free legal aid for poor and underprivileged sections of society and ensures justice for all

• As per this Article, in 1987 the Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted by the government and it came into force w.e.f November 9, 1995.

• Act seeks to provide nationwide uniform network for free and competent legal aid to poor persons on basis of equal opportunity

• Under this Act, The National Legal Services Authority/NALSA has been constituted to monitor and evaluate legal aid programmes

• Legal service institutions have been established at all levels from Taluk to SC

• HC Legal Services Committees have also been formed at HC and SC Legal Services Committees at SC level to provide free legal aid to persons eligible under Legal Services Authorities Act, Section 12.

• Free legal aid services comprise:

- Payment of court fee, process fees plus other charges payable with regard to legal proceedings

- Obtaining and supply of certified copies of orders plus other documents in legal matters

- Preparation of appeal paper book (inclusive of printing and translation) of documents for legal proceedings

- Receipt of requests is from NALSA for taking up matter with relevant State Legal Services Institutions for appropriate action

B. Issues in Implementation

• The National Legal Services Authority has been stymied by non flexible attitude of many states on income eligibility limit

• As many as 35 State Legal Services Authorities/ SALSAs raised eligibility income limit of poor litigants from INR 25,000 to 50,000 but only 8 of the SALSAs have implemented the decision

• More states and UTs need to raise the ceiling so that people benefit from this scheme

• Funds for legal aid programmes are also woefully inadequate and this is why the latter are not being effectively implemented

Facts and Stats

• According to a 2011 report of the National Crime Records Bureau/NCRB, a large percentage of prisoners (80%) are under trials comprising women, Dalits, Muslims and juveniles

• According to NCRB, only 20% of prisoners are convicts and central jails are overcrowded by 118. 6 percent while district jails are overcrowded by 126.9%

• Maximum overcrowding is reported in Chhattisgarh; highest number of undertrials are in UP followed by Bihar, Maharashtra, WB and Jharkhand
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