August 28, 2021
Help is at hand
To: either/view subscribers
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS – EDITION 5
Right to free legal aid
Good morning. We know everyone is equal before the law. The Constitution also guarantees all of us the right to justice in the country. But when we decide to fight the matters legally in court, some of us may not be able to afford lawyers. This could put us in a blind spot.
For instance, a woman who is battling against domestic violence decides to file a case against her husband. But she does not have many resources at hand. She is not alone, there are many people out there who are not able to afford legal expenses. In such a situation, what could they do?
Wouldn’t it be unfair if an opportunity for justice is denied because of one’s economic or other issues? Don’t worry.
This is the very reason the Constitution makes space for free legal aid. Article 39A provides that the State shall promote justice on the basis of equality, especially by providing free legal aid through schemes and policies. This is further ensured by the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Its main aim is to give free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society. So, an individual who meets prescribed criteria is entitled to avail free legal services.
Before we delve into the details of legal services and how one could apply, let’s figure out who can apply for free legal aid.
To begin with, any woman or child under the age of 18 can avail free aid without having to meet any requirements. For the rest of us, a person who earns less than ₹5 lakh annually can apply for legal aid when the case is heard in the Supreme Court. In other courts, it depends on the specified annual income limit set by each state. You can check the income ceiling limit here. Persons who earn less than the same are eligible to apply. Others who can avail free legal aid include people who belong to SC/ST, a victim of human trafficking, someone who is mentally ill, a victim of mass disasters and atrocities and others.
Right from finding an advocate to represent you and give free legal advice to preparing and drafting documents, a lot of services are provided. How do we apply? To make this process easier, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act. There are also other committees offering legal services in different states.
Legal Service Authorities are established in every State, District and Taluk. You can approach the High Court or District Court that has constituted legal services. You will have to fill out a form or submit a letter. You can also do it online. For instance, if you are applying on the NALSA website, all you should do is click on the application link on their website, submit proper documents and await a reply. Know what? There is also room for availing services of a lawyer of your choice under free legal services.
So, here is a question. Four accused charged with a criminal offence are produced in the court. Out of the four, three of them were acquitted. One of them was not able to afford a lawyer on account of his poverty and was later convicted. So, can an accused apply for legal aid?
Yes! The right can be exercised by any accused. If an accused is not able to afford the services, then the person has the right to free legal aid at the cost of the state. This way, the Constitution makes sure that one is not denied the right to justice due to their economic or other issues.
We all are aware that Article 21 of the Constitution secures our right to life and personal liberty. What we should know is that free legal aid and equal justice have been held as a part of the fundamental rights under this article. This has been reiterated by the Supreme Court on several occasions. So basically, the right to legal aid is our fundamental right. This ensures our right to secure a free and fair trial and to uphold the principle of natural justice.
Knowing about this right could change someone’s life. So, if you can not afford a legal service or if you find someone who is struggling with the same, you know what to do.