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Genesis of Legal Aid in India

Genesis of Legal Aid in India3ed 

Legal aid is a stride to assist the poor to and squash the denial of justice on the footsteps of the foundation stone of all legal systems, the Constitution of India. It is defined in section 2(c)of the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 as rendering of any service in the conduct of any case in any court or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter. However, the concept is not new in India the origin can traced back in 1949.

In 1949 Bombay government set up a Bombay committee on legal aid and advise, under the chairmanship of Justice NM Bhagwati.  The committee took cognizance of the issues of existence of poverty, and measures to provide legal aid to the citizens. The committee proposed the concept of Dharma wherein the state is duty bound and under obligation to take care of the welfare of the individuals in his jurisdiction. As a result the committee gave three suggestions:

  • Legal aid is a service and not charity. It is an obligation on the state.
  • Legal aid is equally important.
  • Legal aid should be given to both the parties in the proceedings.

In 1950, the Government of West Bengal set up Bengal committee to discuss various ways to implement legal legal aid, on the same line committee submitted the report. Between 1952- 1956 the Central Government asked the states to legislate for the implementation of legal services. This was due to the entry of the subject (legal aid) in the state list under schedule VII of the Constitution of India. The states are now empowered to legislate but the state government did not have sufficient funds to implement the same.

Then in 1958 the issue was recognized and 14th law Commission Report on Reform of Judicial Administration, headed by Mr. MC Setalvad gave suggestion on legal aid:

  • State owes duty to provide free legal aid to persons of limited means
  • The duty or obligation not only binds the state but also the members of legal fraternity
  • There should be Access to Justice

In 1959, the International Commission by Jurists Committee on Judicial and Legal Profession under Rule of Law said that under the rule of law the state is under obligation to provide access to free legal aid to limited persons such as women, children or poor persons etc.

In 1960, three issues taken up by Central Government Scheme,

  • Legal aid should be given statutory force
  • It should be available to both the parties
  • It is obligation of the state

Then, Gujarat committee report came under the chairmanship of Justice PN Bhagwati in 1970. The committee gave few suggestions such as:

  • State is under constitutional obligation to provide legal services under Article 14 and Article 22(1)
  • Committee was in favour of free legal aid not only in civil or criminal courts but also in tribunals. Thereafter, legal aid scheme should be provided at all levels- state, district and taluk.
  • Creation of legal funds
  • Ambit of the term ‘legal aid’- proper legal advice, preventive services, representation by lawyers, preventive measures.

Further in 1973, an Expert Committee under the chairmanship of Krishna Iyer said that the legal aid is indispensable postulate of legal system and not matter of charity. Then, in consequence, in 1976 Article 39A of the Indian Constitution was enacted wherein the state was under the obligation to provide legal aid to the weaker sections of the society.

Finally, in 1980 legal aid was drafted by a committee headed by Justice PN Bhagwati. The draft gained the position of an act in 1987 called The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987

  • evolution of legal aid
  • implementation of legal aid
  • codification of legal services

BY : Rakhi

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