Legal Aid in India

Author: Gauri Dharne

Anand Vishwa Gurukul college of Law


India being the second populated country in world, it has majority of illiterate people till date. It is a developing country, which means that it is in the phase of development and not yet developed. It has shown a remarkable development in industrial sector and is in progress in field of commerce, finance but with that it cannot be denied that with this development there is drawback of our society that is population and illiteracy. Literacy in India is a key to socio-economic progress but despite of various government programmers India’s literacy rate is growing at very low pace. As per National Statistical Office, India’s average literacy rate is 77.7%. Although government introduces many policies for upliftment of poor section of society but many people have not been able to reap benefits, thus resulting in widening gap between rich and poor. It is seen that almost poor section of society has to face various social injustice, but instead of taking recourse of court .

They choose to suffer such injustice reason being:-

1. Lack of knowledge- Major part of people does not know about legal system and their fundamental rights/protected rights.

2. Cost- It is no new that the fees payable to lawyers are expensive and unaffordable sometimes.

In such case, if any person is not aware that anything wrong is being done with them, it’s different part, but if any person who has knowledge and still he/she is not willing to take any action against such wrong then by this they are encouraging the wrong doer. Thus it is very important and necessary to spread awareness about legal rights, duties and liability so that justice is served to all.

[1]What is Legal Aid?

Under Section 2(1) (c) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, 'Legal Service' includes the rendering of any service in the conduct any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other Authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter.

Legal Service includes providing Free Legal Aid to that weaker section of society which falls under purview of Section 12 of Legal Service Authority Act; 1987.Free legal aid is provision of free legal services for poor and marginalized who are not able to afford costs /fees of lawyers in civil and criminal cases. These services are governed by Legal Service Authority Act, 1987 and headed by National Service Authority (NALSA).

[2]Eligibility for Legal Aid Services.

Section 12 of Legal services Authority Act, 1987 mentions the criteria for giving legal service. It has mentioned a list of people who can seek Free legal services if they fit in such criteria.

[3]Legal Service Authority Act, 1987

Legal Service Authority Act was enacted by parliament which came into force on 9th November, 1995, which establishes a nationwide uniformity for providing free and competent legal service to weaker section.

“Access to Justice for all” is main motto or objective of Legal service authority.

[4]The National Legal Service Authority (NALSA)

The Legal services authority act, 1987 has constituted a body under it as The National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) to exercise the powers and perform functions as prescribed under this Act.

It lays down various principles, polices guidelines for state legal service authorities to implement legal service programmes throughout country.

Mainly the State Legal Service Authorities, District Legal Service Authorities, Taluka Legal Service

Committee have asked to discharge following duties :-

1. To provide Free and Competent Legal Service to eligible persons. Section 12 of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 provides for criteria for giving legal services.

2. To organize Lok Adalats

3. To organize legal awareness camps in rural areas

Free Legal Aid provision in Constitution of India.

Free Legal Aid is Fundamental Right guaranteed to all citizen of the country. Article 21 of Constitution of India states that, No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Article 39A of Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society, to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity.

Article 14 and 22(1) of Constitution also makes it obligatory for state to ensure equality before law and legal system which promotes justice on basis of equal opportunity to all.

Case- Khatri II v/s. State of Bihar, (1981) 1SCC; 1981 SCC (Cri) 228; 1981 Cri. LJ 470

In this case it was stated that the Constitutional duty to provide legal aid arises from the time the accused is produced before the Magistrate for the first time and continues whenever he is produced for remand.

Criminal Procedure Code

Under Section 304 of Criminal Procedure Code, if the accused does not have sufficient means to engage a lawyer; the court must provide one for the defense of the accused at the expense of the state.

Case- Hussainara khatoon vs. State of Bihar 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532

In this case it was held that if any accused is not able to afford legal services then he has a right to free legal aid at the cost of the state.

How to get Free Legal Aid

The person who needs free legal aid and who qualifies the eligibility criteria under Section 12 and Section 13 of the Act can approach the Legal Services Authority at any level- national, state, district and Taluka. The application is made to concerned authorities as mentioned in the Legal Service Authorities Act.

[5]Application Procedure

1. Application is Free either Online or Offline. It is presented preferably in Form-I in local language or English. Applicant may furnish summary of his/her grievance in separate sheet along with application.

2. Application though not in Form-I can be made in writing on piece of paper with necessary details such as name, gender, residential address, employment status, nationality, whether SC/ST (with proof in support), income per month (with affidavit), reason for legal aid required and can submit either physically or by post. Thus such application will be entertained if reasonably it explains facts seeking legal service.

3. It is also possible orally.

4. If applicant is illiterate or unable to give application then such arrangement is made for helping out the applicant, to fill application and other notes of his grievance.

5. Applicant who is advised by Para-legal volunteers, legal aid clubs, legal aid clinics are also considered for free legal services.

6. Requests through online or emails are also considered for free legal services after verification and ensuring that he/she needs such service.

After receipt of the application, the board of trustees set up by the foundation where such application has been recorded will investigate the application to set up whether the candidate is qualified for free legal aid and shall revert within eight weeks from the date of receipt of such application.


Legal aid is a basic fundamental and human right of every citizen of country, which should not be deprived of. The main aim of legal aid service is to provide free legal service to poor and needy persons, as law does not distinguish rich or poor and each and every person has right to lead a dignity life. It’s just absence of legal awareness amongst people which leads to deprivation of such rights and benefits of poor people.

[1] The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 1987 (India). [2] The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 1987 (India). [3] The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 1987 (India). [4] The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 1987 (India). [5] The National Legal Service Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010.

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