It was rightly said by Justice Blackmun, in Jackson v. Bishop, that the concept of justice cannot be equated to money. While India has the largest population in the world, it is also home to poor and illiterate masses. As a result, most of the people are unaware of their legal, constitutional, social as well as economic rights. Hence, the need for Legal Aid was felt. The idea is to provide and make justice accessible to everyone including the destitute or people who cannot afford it. Legal aid services have to be ensured and regulated by the state. 

Need for Legal Aid

In our country, there is a difficulty in appointing a legal counsel, because of the rise in the expense of affording one. The primary reason for this is the fact that individuals are still not aware of their basic rights and the legal aid movement as introduced by the government. The economically weaker section of the society is constantly exploited by the richer section causing hindrance to the former’s rights and privileges. Hence, the judiciary strongly urged introducing Legal Aid for such people. 

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, PN. Bhagwati observed that when any of the parties, who are involved in the litigation, belong to a poor and deprived segment of society, need legal assistance to be provided to them.  

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, in his report, “Processionals Justice to Poor” mentioned the need to recognise the poor with legal aid. 

Historical development of Free Legal Aid in India 

In 1958, the then Law Commission of India published a report, “Reform of the Judicial Administration” stating that legal assistance to the poor litigants- was the need of the hour. In 1960, the government of India took into consideration the aforementioned report and made schemes for legal aid. Subsequently, in 1976, after the 42nd amendment, Article 39-A was introduced in the Indian constitution. Furthermore, in 1980, a committee was formed under the guardianship of Justice P.N. Bhagwati to look into the matters of legal aid projects. In 1987, the Legal Services Authority Act was established to provide a formal framework for legal help across the country. Under the authority provided in this act, in 1995, the National Legal Service Authority was established to formulate policies and guidelines to ensure cost-effective legal service. 

Constitutional Mandates concerning Legal Aid

The necessity of Legal Aid can be seen sprinkled in various legislations- whether in the constitution or CrPC etc. India is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, whereby in Article 11(1) it is enshrined that everyone should be given the necessary opportunities to prove themself. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 also enshrines a similar essence. 

At the foundation, Articles 14 and 21 are the basic rights that protect one’s right to legal service and aid. Article 14 deals with the right to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law. Article 21, on the other hand, provides citizens as well as no citizens, the right to life. 

Article 39A of the constitution of India, which is part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy, provides that the State should secure the individuals’ equal opportunity, in particular by providing legal aid, via schemes and appropriate schemes. 

Section 304 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in India provides that legal aid should be provided to the accused in specific cases at the State’s expense. 

Challenges amidst the goal of achieving legal aid

  1. Lack of public legal education: one of the biggest lacunae existing is the lack of knowledge. Citizens are oblivious to legal knowledge and information.
  2. Lack of volunteers: there is a lack in the number of volunteers who are required to promote legal aid programmes to the poor and disadvantaged segments of society. 
  3. No proper allocation of cases to Lok Adalat- generally most of the cases are not tried in the Lok Adalat, and they are not given proper powers to try cases either. 

Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

The act focuses on establishing a comprehensive environment for delivering free and competent legal services to the weaker or destitute section of society. Under this act itself, the National Legal Services Authority is formed to assess the execution of legal services and aid to everyone. Under this act, there are two types of services which are laid down- firstly, free legal awareness and secondly, free legal aid counsel. Majorly, this act focuses on the establishment of Lok Adalats, for better and faster disposal of cases. 

Leading Cases

In Abdul Hassan and National Legal Services Authority v. Delhi Vidyut Board, the court observed that to ensure the cases are disposed of expeditiously, Lok Adalat must be set up and given more powers to try cases. 

In Khatri v. State of Bihar, the court observed that the constitutional right as laid down under Article 21 is jurisprudentially evolving. Hence, the concept of Legal aid falls under the purview of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Furthermore, Article 39-A is an interpretative rule of Article 21. 

In M.H Hosket v. State of Maharashtra, the court observed that the procedure established by law means procedure includes the right to appeal and the right to counsel. The state must provide legal aid. 

In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, It was observed by the court that the government should introduce a comprehensive legal services authority. 


The need of the hour is a proper and strong legal aid service in India. There are many situations where an innocent is not able to seek justice merely because he is destitute. It is significant for people to understand that justice doesn’t equate to Money or vice versa. Merely because a person is not financially sound, doesn’t make him any less of seeking justice.

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