INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY OF NALSA
The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to provide free Legal Services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Altamas Kabir, the Chief Justice of India is the Patron-in-Chief and Hon’ble Mr. Justice P. Sathasivam, Judge, Supreme Court of India is the Executive Chairperson of the Authority. NALSA is housed at 12/11, Jam Nagar House, New Delhi-110011.
In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and to give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. The State Legal Services Authority is headed by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of the respective High Court who is the Patron-in-Chief of the State Legal Services Authority.
In every District, District Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement Legal Services Programmes in the District. The District Legal Services Authority is situated in the District Courts Complex in every District and chaired by the District Judge of the respective district.
LEGAL AID MOVEMENT IN INDIA - ITS DEVELOPMENT AND PRESENT STATUS
Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides that State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability. Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all. Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.
The earliest Legal Aid movement appears to be of the year 1851 when some enactment was introduced in France for providing legal assistance to the indigent. In Britain, the history of the organised efforts on the part of the State to provide legal services to the poor and needy dates back to 1944, when Lord Chancellor, Viscount Simon appointed Rushcliffe Committee to enquire about the facilities existing in England and Wales for giving legal advice to the poor and to make recommendations as appear to be desirable for ensuring that persons in need of legal advice are provided the same by the State. Since 1952, the Govt. of India also started addressing to the question of legal aid for the poor in various conferences of Law Ministers and Law Commissions. In 1960, some guidelines were drawn by the Govt. for legal aid schemes. In different states legal aid schemes were floated through Legal Aid Boards, Societies and Law Departments. In 1980, a Committee at the national level was constituted to oversee and supervise legal aid programmes throughout the country under the Chairmanship of Hon. Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati then a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. This Committee came to be known as CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes) and started monitoring legal aid activities throughout the country. The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of this country and succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the litigants for conciliatory settlement of their disputes. In 1987 Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted to give a statutory base to legal aid programmes throughout the country on a uniform pattern. This Act was finally enforced on 9th of November, 1995 after certain amendments were introduced therein by the Amendment Act of 1994. Hon. Mr. Justice R.N. Mishra the then Chief Justice of India played a key role in the enforcement of the Act.
National Legal Services Authority was constituted on 5th December, 1995. His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Judge, Supreme Court of India took over as the Executive Chairman of National Legal Services Authority on 17the July, 1997. Soon after assuming the office, His Lordship initiated steps for making the National Legal Services Authority functional. The first Member Secretary of the authority joined in December, 1997 and by January, 1998 the other officers and staff were also appointed. By February, 1998 the office of National Legal Services Authority became properly functional for the first time.
In October, 1998, His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand assumed the Office of the Chief Justice of India and thus became the Patron-in-Chief of National Legal Services Authority. His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, the senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court of India assumed the office of the Executive Chairman, National Legal Services Authority.
Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons. Section 12 of the Act reads as under:-
"12.Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act if that person is –
(a) a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;
(b) a victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
(c) a woman or a child;
(d) a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;
(e) a person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster; or
(f) an industrial workman; or
(g) in custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause
(j) of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986) or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987 (14 of 1987); or
(h) in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Govt., if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central Govt., if the case is before the Supreme Court."
(Rules have already been amended to enhance this income ceiling).
According to section 2(1) (a) of the Act, legal aid can be provided to a person for a 'case' which includes a suit or any proceeding before a court. Section 2(1) (aaa) defines the 'court' as a civil, criminal or revenue court and includes any tribunal or any other authority constituted under any law for the time being in force, to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions. As per section 2(1)(c) 'legal service' includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter.
Legal Services Authorities after examining the eligibility criteria of an applicant and the existence of a prima facie case in his favour provide him counsel at State expense, pay the required Court Fee in the matter and bear all incidental expenses in connection with the case. The person to whom legal aid is provided is not called upon to spend anything on the litigation once it is supported by a Legal Services Authority.
A nationwide network has been envisaged under the Act for providing legal aid and assistance. National Legal Services Authority is the apex body constituted to lay down policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of the Act and to frame most effective and economical schemes for legal services. It also disburses funds and grants to State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for implementing legal aid schemes and programmes.
In every State a State Legal Services Authority is constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the Central Authority (NALSA) and to give legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. State Legal Services Authority is headed by the Chief Justice of the State High Court who is its Patron-in-Chief. A serving or retired Judge of the High Court is nominated as its Executive Chairman.
District Legal Services Authority is constituted in every District to implement Legal Aid Programmes and Schemes in the District. The District Judge of the District is its ex-officio Chairman.
Taluk Legal Services Committees are also constituted for each of the Taluk or Mandal or for group of Taluk or Mandals to coordinate the activities of legal services in the Taluk and to organise Lok Adalats. Every Taluk Legal Services Committee is headed by a senior Civil Judge operating within the jurisdiction of the Committee who is its ex-officio Chairman.
After the constitution of the Central Authority and the establishment of NALSA office towards the beginning of 1998, following schemes and measures have been envisaged and implemented by the Central Authority:-
(a) Establishing Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats in all the Districts in the country for disposal of pending matters as well as disputes at pre-litigative stage;
(b) Establishing separate Permanent & Continuous Lok Adalats for Govt. Departments, Statutory Authorities and Public Sector Undertakings for disposal of pending cases as well as disputes at pre-litigative stage;
(c) Accreditation of NGOs for Legal Literacy and Legal Awareness campaign;
(d) Appointment of "Legal Aid Counsel" in all the Courts of Magistrates in the country;
(e) Disposal of cases through Lok Adalats on old pattern;
(f) Publicity to Legal Aid Schemes and programmes to make people aware about legal aid facilities;
(g) Emphasis on competent and quality legal services to the aided persons;
(h) Legal aid facilities in jails;
(i) Setting up of Counseling and Conciliation Centers in all the Districts in the country;
(j) Sensitisation of Judicial Officers in regard to Legal Services Schemes and programmes;
(k) Publication of "Nyaya Deep", the official newsletter of NALSA;
(l) Enhancement of Income Ceiling to Rs.50,000/- p.a. for legal aid before Supreme Court of India and to Rs.25,000/- p.a. for legal aid upto High Courts; and
(m) Steps for framing rules for refund of court fees and execution of Awards passed by Lok Adalats.
The First Annual Meet of the State Legal Services Authorities was held on 12th of September, 1998 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi which was presided over by His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, the then Executive Chairman, NALSA. His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice S.B. Majmudar, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Chairman, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, the Members of the Central Authority and the Executive Chairmen and Member Secretaries of the State Legal Services Authorities attended this Meet. In this Meet, the progress of on-going schemes which had been initiated by NALSA was examined and decisions of far reaching implications were taken with a view to strengthen and streamline legal aid programmes in the country. The Second Annual Meet of the State Legal Services Authorities was held at Jubilee Hall, Hyderabad on 9th of October, 1999. This Meet was inaugurated by His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, the Chief Justice of India and Patron-in-Chief, NALSA. Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman, NALSA delivered the keynote address. Other dignitaries present at the inaugural function included Hon. Mr. Justice S.B. Majmudar, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Chairman, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, Hon. Mr. Justice M.S. Liberhan, Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court and Members of Central Authority.
In pursuance of the call given by His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, the Chief Justice of India in the First Annual Meet, 9th of November is being celebrated every year by all Legal Services Authorities as "Legal Services Day". NALSA issues Press Releases in almost all the leading newspapers in the country in English, Hindi and regional languages to convey to the public salient provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, the important schemes introduced by NALSA for providing legal aid and the utility of Lok Adalats, so that people should know about the facilities being provided by Legal Services Authorities throughout the country. State Legal Services Authorities all over the country organise Lok Adalats, legal literacy camps and undertake legal awareness campaign to make people aware of their legal rights.
Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats are being established in all the Districts in the country. NALSA has been providing and shall continue to provide funds to State Legal Services Authorities for the implementation of the Legal Aid Schemes and Programmes but the infrastructure has to be provided by the State Govts. Separate Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats in Govt. Departments are aimed at amicably settling pending cases as well as the matters at pre-litigative stage between Govt. Departments and general public so that the inflow of litigation to regular Courts is reduced. In so many Govt. bodies these Lok Adalats have become functional. In Delhi Permanent Lok Adalats have been established in Delhi Vidyut Board, Delhi Development Authority, Municipal Corpn. Of Delhi, MTNL and General Insurance Corpn. These Lok Adalats are becoming popular day-by-day and it is expected that very soon a large number of disputes between public and statutory authorities would start getting settled at pre-litigative stage itself saving the parties from unnecessary expense and litigational inconvenience. In other States also State Legal Services Authorities have initiated steps to pursuade the State Govts. and statutory bodies, etc. to set up separate Permanent Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of their legal disputes.
"Legal Aid Counsel" Scheme which was conceived and introduced by His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand when His Lordship was the Executive Chairman, NALSA has been well received all over country. Legal Aid Counsel have been provided in most of the courts of the Magistrates in the country to provide immediate legal assistance to those prisoners who are not in a position to engage their own counsel.
Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman, NALSA in the course of working session of the Second Annual Meet of the State Legal Services Authorities held at Hyderabad, had emphasised that Counselling and Conciliation Centers should be established in all the Districts in the country to bring about negotiated settlement of disputes between the parties. All the State Legal Services Authorities are taking steps to establish these Centers which would prove immensely useful for settling legal disputes at pre-litigative stage and would also help legal services functionaries to find out as to whether a person approaching them for legal aid has or not a prima facie case in his favour which is a pre-requisite for grant of legal aid. Hon. Executive Chairman has repeatedly emphasised that legal aid must not be given as a matter of routine and frivolous cases should not be supported by legal aid authorities.
Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman, NALSA while writing in 'Nyaya Deep' and in the course of his keynote address in the meeting of the Member Secretaries held in NALSA office on 19.2.2000 emphasised the need for improving the quality of legal aid that is being given by legal aid advocates. His Lordship observed that teeming millions of this country who live below poverty line in tribal, backward and far flung areas look to Legal Services Authorities for help and support in resolving their legal problems. When involved in litigation they very often feel that they are fighting an unequal battle in which the party that has better financial resources can secure more able legal assistance. His Lordship is of the view that these poor and weaker sections must not remain under the impression that they are getting comparatively inferior legal assistance. His Lordship has called upon legal services authorities to revise the payment schedule for legal aid panel advocates and also compress the panels so that panel advocates get more work and better remuneration from legal services authorities and thus get encouraged to render effective legal assistance to aided persons.
His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice B.N.Kirpal, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Chairman, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee has a very long association with legal aid movement. Under the guidance and control of His Lordship, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee is providing legal aid to eligible persons in a very effective and meaningful way. Up to 31.12.99 Supreme Court Legal Services Committee has provided legal aid and assistance to 10,125 applicants.
'Nyaya Deep', the official newsletter of NALSA is promoting a healthy working relationship between legal services functionaries throughout the country and is proving immensely useful for exchange of views and sharing of ideas. Statistical information in regard to legal aid schemes and programmes is also included in this newsletter which is printed on quarterly basis. The editorials written by Hon. Mr. Justice R.C. Lahoti reflect the soul of 'Nyaya Deep' and measure the depth of the material included therein. These provide a window to the reader who in one glance through it can appreciate the content and purpose of the articles.
NALSA is laying great deal of emphasis on legal literacy and legal awareness campaign. Almost all the State Legal Services Authorities are identifying suitable and trustworthy NGOs through whom legal literacy campaign may be taken to tribal, backward and far-flung areas in the country. The effort is to publicise legal aid schemes so that the target group, for whom Legal Services Authorities Act has provided for free legal aid, may come to know about the same and approach the concerned legal services functionaries.
NALSA has also called upon State Legal Services Authorities to set up legal aid cells in jails so that the prisoners lodged therein are provided prompt and efficient legal aid to which they are entitled by virtue of section 12 of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Hon. The Chief Justice of India His Lordship Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, while delivering the inaugural address at the Second Annual meet of the State Legal Services Authorities at Hyderabad, had pointed out that a very large number of undertrial prisoners lodged in jails are involved in petty criminal offences. His Lordship expressed his deep anguish and stated that these poor and under privileged prisoners are languishing in jails for fairly long period in spite of the fact that they are willing to plead guilty and the ultimate sentences which are likely to be passed against them will be far less than the period they are incarcerated as undertrial prisoners. His Lordship suggested that the CJMs/CMMs of the areas in which the District Jails are situated should hold their courts in jails once or twice in a month for disposing of the cases of such undertrial prisoners. In many States, the suggestion has already been implemented and the prisoners involved in petty and minor offences are getting substantial relief. A copy of news item reported in the Hindu daily is attached.
Sensitization of Judicial Officers in regard to legal aid schemes and programmes is also high on our agenda. His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman, NALSA while writing from the Desk of the Executive Chairman in Jan.,99 Issue of 'Nyaya Deep' had observed that not all judicial officers in the country are duly sensitized to Legal Services Schemes and programmes and as such are unable to guide poor litigants in this regard. His Lordship observed that Legal Services Authorities must ensure that Judicial officers are duly sensitized about the work NALSA is doing and its importance for the poor and illiterate.
In the last Chief Justices' Conference held at New Delhi, a resolution was passed to say that in the service records of the Judicial officers, their interest in legal aid programmes should be reflected and all the High Courts should take steps for sensitizing the Judicial officers in regard to legal aid programmes and schemes. Once all the judicial officers in the country get properly sensitized in regard to the relevance and importance of legal aid schemes they shall themselves start caring for the poor, backward and weaker sections of the society who are not in a position to engage their own counsel and look after their legal causes.
His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman, NALSA has repeatedly called upon State Legal Services Authorities to continue to hold Lok Adalats on old pattern so that the pace of the disposal of cases through Lok Adalats is not inhibited. Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats are primarily aimed at settling disputes at pre-litigative stage and more contentious pending matters in District courts in which the parties can be motivated only by repeated sitting to arrive at settlement. Counselling and Conciliation Centers at Districts and Permanent Lok Adalats in Districts can be under same roof and can effectively function in unison. Most significant contribution by Legal Services Authorities to the administration of justice would be to settle legal disputes through Lok Adalats at pre-litigative stage so that the inflow of cases in our already over-burdened courts is reduced to the extent possible.
Most of the offices of the State Legal Services Authorities are now equipped with FAX machines, computers and E-mail facilities. These modern gadgets shall surely help legal services functionaries to act swiftly to provide legal aid and assistance to the eligible persons in a meaningful manner.
At present Hon’ble Mr. Justice Altamas Kabir, Judge Supreme Court of India is the Executive Chairman of NALSA. During His Lordship’s Chairmanship, the following innovative steps have been introduced in the functioning of NALSA:-
- A National Plan of Action to be executed by all State Legal Services Authorities and Calendar for activities was put in place.
- NALSA Regulations on Lok Adalat were published in the Gazette.
- NALSA Regulations on Free and Competent Legal Services were published in the Gazette of India.
- Legal Services to Trans-Gender people was taken up as a new project of NALSA
- Training of Para-Legal Volunteers and engaging them in the front offices of Legal Services Institutions and in the village level legal aid clinics were started.
- Legal Literacy Programmes in schools and colleges started in an organised manner with the assistance of the Department of Education in all States.
- School Legal Literacy Clubs set up in all High Schools under the State Legal Services Authorities in order to create legal awareness, obedience to law and spread the philosophy of rule of law amongst the younger generation.
- Legal Aid Clinics in all villages to be manned by Para-legal Volunteers and panel lawyers.
- Retainer lawyers are engaged at Taluk, District, High Court and Supreme Court level for handling legal aided cases.
NALSA is very sure that under the kind patronage and guidance of Hon. The Chief Justice of India and Hon. Executive Chairman, a vibrant nationwide network of Legal Services Authorities shall be made available to the people to provide free and competent legal services to the eligible persons. NALSA is keen to develop and promote a culture of conciliation instead of litigation in the country so that the citizens of this country prefer to resolve their disputes and differences across the table in a spirit of goodwill and brotherhood. NALSA also wishes to ensure that even the weakest amongst the weak in the country does not suffer injustice arising out of any abrasive action on the part of State or private person.