Free Legal Aid: A Constitutional Provision

Legal aid is the free provision of legal services to the underprivileged and destitute who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent them in court, a tribunal, or before a governmental authority. By providing legal aid, we can make sure that no one is ever denied justice. It is considered essential for ensuring access to justice through defending rights such as equality before the law, the right to counsel, and a fair trial, among other things. It is a necessary component of a welfare state, as specified by a constitution, because it ensures welfare aid through access to legal counsel and courts.

What is Free Legal Aid?

Legal aid is a government program that provides individuals who cannot afford it with assistance, advice, and counsel. According to the Indian Constitution, everyone in India has a basic human right to free legal representation. The National Legal Services Authority oversees this aspect of legal services. It provides assistance to the poorer segments of society who are covered by Section 12 of the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987.

Free Legal Aid helps give free legal services to the needy and destitute who are unable to pay for the services of a lawyer to undertake legal procedures or a case in a court of law, tribunal, forum, or before any other body due to financial constraints.

The Indian Constitution establishes an independent and impartial judiciary, and courts are granted authority to uphold the constitution and protect individuals' rights regardless of their financial situation. The constitution mandates that the judiciary has a duty to defend the rights of the underprivileged as well as the rights of society as a whole since the goal of the constitution is to deliver justice for everyone and because the directive principles are an essential component of the constitution. The court has exerted significant judicial pressure and guided the legislature to enact appropriate laws to bring justice to the doorsteps of society's most vulnerable members.

Constitutional Provision

Article 39-A of the Constitution guarantees equal justice and free legal assistance. As a result, this provision of the Constitution serves as the foundation for the implementation of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The major goal was to give free legal services to the needy in society. As a result, the government established the "Committee for the Implementation of Legal Aid Schemes" (CILAS). The committee, led by Justice P.N. Bhagwati, was formed to monitor and execute any legal aid programs that may be implemented throughout the country. Legal Aid Boards were established in a number of states and territories.

Free legal aid is a recognized right under Article 21, as is theright to speedy justice and a fair trial.

"This right to free legal aid is the duty of the government and is an implicit aspect of Article 21 in ensuring fairness and reasonableness; this cannot be termed as government charity,"  said Justice Krishna Iyer.

In the landmark decision Hussainara Khatton & Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1980) 1SCC98, the Hon'ble Supreme Court said that Article 39A underlined that free legal services were an intrinsic component of reasonable, fair, and just procedure and that the right to free legal services was implied in Article 21.

In Khatri v. State of Bihar (AIR 1981 SC 262), the Supreme Court decided that the state is legally required to give legal aid not only during the trial stage but also when they are initially presented before the magistrate or remanded at any time.

Article 22 provides protection against arrest and detention in certain circumstances. As a result, everyone who is taken to prison without being told has the right to consult with and be represented by a legal practitioner of his choice.

Need for Free Legal Aid

Legal aid has evolved in the minds of the country's people from a responsibility of the accused to find a lawyer and seek assistance to a fundamental right of an accused to get free legal advice. Despite the statute's efforts to promote the concept of legal aid in our state, the stated objectives have yet to be accomplished. There are various barriers to receiving legal help in the country.

The legal aid movement has failed to achieve its goal because people are still unaware of their basic rights. Because of a lack of legal awareness, the poor are exploited and denied their rights and advantages. As a result, it is critical to provide impoverished illiterate people with legal knowledge and education on their fundamental rights, which should begin at the country's grassroots level. The poor are socially and economically disadvantaged, and many are unaware of their legal rights or ways of resolving conflicts. They either give up their rights or end up on the streets, or they use their physical might to make circumstances worse. This devastates the country's court system, and people lose faith in the administration of the legal system. As a result, providing legal aid to the poor and vulnerable is necessary to maintain the rule of law, which is fundamental for societal survival. Laws and rights that deprive the poor and the uneducated of justice are the same as those that are unfair to all people.

How to Get Free Legal Aid

  • NGOs − There are several NGOs that seek to help the economically disadvantaged and give free legal aid.

  • Legal Aid Clinics in NLUs − Section 4(k) of the LSA requires law colleges and universities to establish a free legal aid clinic.

  • Pro Bono Cases − Corporate responsibility is extended to give free legal help, particularly to reputable businesses.

  • Legal Aid Clinics − The district authorities create them in villages based on their size and population.


Legal aid is an essential idea in the Indian legal system that provides free legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable sections of society. It is supported by authorities at the federal, state, and district levels.

Everyone has the right to free legal representation, especially women, children, and members of disadvantaged communities such as Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. The program pays for court costs, documentation, and lawyer expenses, ensuring that disadvantaged persons have a fair trial. It does, however, cover bribes and transportation charges. Furthermore, individuals must understand the concept of legal assistance and educate themselves in order to benefit from this government program.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Under free legal aid, can someone choose a lawyer of my choice?

Ans. Yes, you can consult with any lawyer of your choosing. The member secretary will submit the application for legal services. If the applicant for legal assistance has indicated a preference, it can be evaluated and granted.

Q2. What kinds of cases can someone apply for free legal aid?

Ans. According to Section 13(1) of the Act, anyone who meets any of the conditions in Section 12 is entitled to legal assistance, provided the competent Legal Services Authority is satisfied that the applicant has a real cause to prosecute or defend the issue. As a result, there is no restriction on the types of cases that may or may not be applied for. All types of instances are covered as long as the individual meets the qualifying requirements outlined in Section 12 of the Act.

Q3. Is free legal aid a fundamental right?

Ans. No, in fact, the provision is added under the Article 39-A of the Constitution by 42nd Amendment in 1977. This article provides for free legal assistance through appropriate laws or schemes, or in any other way that ensures no citizen is denied access to justice due to economic or other limitations. Article 39A is the part of Directive Principles of State Policy and not Fundamental Rights.

Q4. How can one get free legal aid in India?

Ans. If the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court, it provides that such individuals are entitled to free legal assistance if their yearly income is less than the sum set forth by the relevant state government or less than Rs. 5 lakhs if the matter is before the Supreme Court.

Updated on: 16-Feb-2023

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