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LEGAL AID AS A MEANS OF JUSTICE– FREE OR FLAWED?

Author: Gaurang Takkar, I year of B.A.,LL.B. from Army Institute of Law, Mohali


“True peace is not merely the Absence of war, It is the Presence of justice”

-Jane Addams


What is justice? Is it giving everyone equal treatment OR serving them with what they conceive to be right? If we go about the meaning of the statement subjectively, then it differs from individual to individual because everyone has their idea of what Justice is. In a courtroom, Justice is served only against one of the parties and another party conceives the verdict as an injustice. Therefore, we always use the term Legal Justice instead of Justice alone. It means that rule of law and not the person shall prevail. According to Legal justice, everyone is on equal footing in front of the law and applies to all harmoniously.


The Preamble of India mentions 3 types of Justice – Social, Economic, and Political which means to provide justice to people in all these spheres. The Apex court of India in the case of Anita Khushwa v. PushpaSadan (2016) declared that Access to Justice is a part of Fundamental Rights of the Indian Citizens given under Part III of the Constitution of India. It is an essential part of the Right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. The judgment even went on to the extent of discussing the facets which constitute the essence of access to justice which is:-

  • An effective mechanism for adjudication

  • Speedy process of adjudication

  • Justice must be affordable

  • Should be reasonably accessible in terms of distance

Article 39A of the Directive principles of State Policy talks about providing free legal aid to poor and weaker section of the society but was elevated to the footing of a Fundamental right in the case of HussainaraKhatoon(1979) by PN Bhagwati by quoting that right to free legal aid is an indispensableconcomitant of Right to life and liberty. Article 14 and 22(1) are also pertinent to mention here.


The idea to have free legal aid got the attention of masses around 1950s for which many committees and commissions were formulated.The 14th Law Commission Report of 1958 emphasized on the concept of providing free legal aid and justice to the poor.The legal aid schemes were floated across many states through many societies and departments. Kerela became the 1st state to introduce a policy on legal aid.[1] In 1980, a committee was formed under the chairmanship of then judge of Supreme court PN Bhagwati to supervise legal aid programmes and activities across the nation. The establishment of LokAdalatswas also a welcome step towards easement of justice delivery to the downtrodden section of society. In pursuance of all this, Legal Services Authority Act (LSAA) was passed in 1987 to create a base for uniform applicability of legal aid programmes and policies to all without any prejudice. National legal Services Authority (NALSA) was created under this act to monitor and evaluate the implementation of legal aid programs across the country. State and District Legal services authority is also created to highlight the decentralisation of power and also to assure that legal aid reaches to primarily to the proletariats and commoners.


Now, after reading all this, there must be a question that should arise among us that is “Why do many people face injustice even after Legal aid is made free? ”. There are multiple reasons for this vacuum. The primary reason can be the unawareness of law and rights among people because of which they are prone to the exploitation and deprivation of legal justice. Another one can be the unwillingness oflawyers to facilitate people with free legal services due to hand full of excuses. There is not enough support of lawyers for the accomplishment of the aim of this scheme.Out of those who agree to provide support, they lag good quality litigation skills which renders the idea of justice delivery futile. The powers that LokAdalats possesses are not enough to achieve this aim as it lacks compelling power due to which parties do not appear for hearing and it leads to delay in disposal of justice to the needy. The insufficiency of remuneration which is provided by the legal aid committee could also be a deterrent for lawyers not taking up Pro-bono cases. Tedious court procedures and paperwork could also be a reason for people taking resort to justice delivery system.


Associate US Supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor once said that ‘We educated, privileged lawyers, have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice’. The Idea of free legal aid as a means of justice to the people is not a largesse, instead, it is the right of the citizens of the country.It is universally accepted as a human right and plethora of movements are recorded in the history to achieve this state of affairs. Despite such a progressive step, the legal aid system in India could not prove to be as effective as it was conceived to be. The reason for the same have already been discussed is the preceding paragraph. Let us talk about the ways to overcome this issue. The first and foremost priority should be the awareness campaigns and programs among the people to educate them about the right they have been bestowed with by the statute.Role of NGOs can be significant in creating awareness amongst the people.The legal aid committee which pays to the lawyers for the pro bono cases (cases taken under free legal aid scheme) should pay a handsome amount to the lawyers so that they don’t show a dilly-dally approach to fight for the cause of the needy efficiently. The only objective behind this scheme is to provide equal justice to all irrespective of their financial status. Proper management and monitoring of the implementation of this scheme can surely work towards the upliftment and augmentation of the Justice delivery system in the country and respect for the laws because “We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those, we have entrusted to enforce those laws”

-Hunter S. Thompson

[1]https://blog.ipleaders.in/challenges-solutions-free-legal-aid/?amp=1