The Judicial System should be easily accessible to every citizen of the country. Whether it is rich or poor as the poor should also have an equal opportunity to get their statutory; as well as constitutional rights enforced by the courts of law. Article 14 of our Constitution ensures equality for all before the law. Free legal aid to the accused at state expense is given under Article 39A of the Constitution and S.304 of the CRPC.
In the year 1977, Justice P.N.Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer submitted a report titled, National Juridicare: Equal Justice-Social Justice which recommended the establishment of the National Legal Service Authority NALSA) accountable to the Parliament. But eventually, NALSA, State Legal Service Authority, District Legal Service Authority, and Lok Adalat were established by the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987.
Justice P.N.Bhagwati described legal aid as a means for providing an arrangement in the society which enables the poor and illiterate to access justice without their poverty and ignorance becoming a hindrance.
What is Free Legal Aid
Article 39-A of the Constitution of India and S.304 of the CRPC provides for Free legal aid. Article 39-A describes that it shall be the duty of the state to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice; on the basis of equal opportunity. And provide free legal aid. The article also ensures that the opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
Section 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure describes free legal aid. In a trial before the Court of Sessions, where the offender is not acting through a pleader. And where it appears to the court that the accused has not sufficient means to engage a pleader. Then it shall be the duty of the court to appoint a pleader for his defence, at state expense. It shall be the duty of the High Court (with the previous approval of the state government); to make rules providing for the mode of selecting pleaders for defence as well as the facilities provided to such pleaders by the courts.
Leading Cases on Free Legal Aid
The court in the case of Hussnaira Khatoon and Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar; held that Article 39A emphasizes that free legal service is an inalienable element of ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure. Without it, a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing justice. The right to free legal aid must be implicit in the guarantee of Article 21.
In the case of M.H.Hoscot vs the state of Maharashtra, Justice Krishna Iyer held that free legal assistance at state cost is a fundamental right of a person accused of an offence. It may involve jeopardy to his life and personal liberty. This fundamental right is implicit in the requirement of ‘reasonable, fair and just procedure’ prescribed under Article 21 of the constitution.
Lack of legal awareness is the major stumbling block to the legal aid movement in India. It is because of the absence of legal awareness that leads to the misuse and deprivation of the rights; benefits of the marginalized. Therefore, Weaker sections of the society shall have the legal knowledge; And should be aware of their rights. Free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society is essential. It is for the preservation of the Rule of Law.
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