National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was formed to provide free legal services to eligible candidates. Read here to know the history and significance of NALSA.
The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
It aims to provide free Legal Services to the weaker sections of society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
Hon’ble The Chief Justice of India is the Patron-in-Chief.
NALSA is housed at the Supreme Court of India.
In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and 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 is chaired by the District Judge of the respective district.
Constitutional provision for National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)
- 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 because of economic or other disability.
- Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before the law and a legal system that promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity for all.
Legal aid strives to ensure that the constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and that equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden, and weaker sections of society.
History of legal aid movement in India
The earliest Legal Aid movement appears to be from the year 1851 when some enactment was introduced in France for providing legal assistance to the indigent.
In Britain, the history of the organized efforts on the part of the State to provide legal services to the poor and needy dates back to 1944, when the Rushcliffe Committee was appointed to enquire about the facilities existing in England and Wales for giving legal advice to the poor.
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 Government 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 programs throughout the country under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble 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 programs throughout the country on a uniform pattern.
- This Act was finally enforced on the 9th of November, 1995 after certain amendments were introduced therein by the Amendment Act of 1994.
National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted on 5th December 1995.
Objectives of NALSA
The prime objective of NALSA is speedy disposal of cases and reducing the burden of the judiciary. Other objectives can be listed as follows:
- Spreading Legal Awareness
- Organizing Lok Adalats
- Promoting dispute settlements
- Providing the victims of crime with compensation
Legal Services Authority Act
Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to eligible persons.
Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act if that person is-
- a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;
- a victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
- a woman or a child;
- a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person;
- 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
- an industrial workman; or
- in custody, including custody in a protective home according to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (104 of 1956);
- or in a juvenile home according to the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986) or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing according to the Mental Health Act, 1987 (14 of 1987); or
- 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 been amended to enhance the income ceiling).
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 the 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 programs.
Challenges faced by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)
- The number of actual beneficiaries of the legal aid services is less according to the India Justice Report of 2019.
- The legal aides are not well trained enough to handle free legal services and people associated with it.
- There is a lack of optimal financial management, inadequate performance monitoring, and no mechanism to record customer satisfaction.
- The organizational practices are very uneven which is hampering the legal services on the national scale as a collective.
- Gender parity is missing among the representatives, which hinders the aiding of the women victims.
Legal aid is a human right, and article 21 of the Indian constitution describes it as a right to free legal aid or free legal service as a fundamental right. Legal aid as a human right is also envisaged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
Hence, it is the judicial system’s responsibility that a mechanism like NALSA is utilized to the fullest to aid the right section of the society. More mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that the needed can avail of the services without any hindrance.
Initiatives like the Legal service mobile app launched by NALSA to enable equitable access to justice are a step in the right direction.
DISHA scheme was launched by the Department of Justice:
- Designing Innovative Solutions for Holistic Access to Justice (DISHA) is a comprehensive, holistic, integrated, and systemic solution to access justice at the pan-India level.
- All the Access to Justice Programmes have been merged under the DISHA scheme and upscaled to all India levels.
Other components of DISHA are:
- Tele-Law: Reaching the Unreached;
- Ensure pan – India dispensation framework to deliver Pro Bono legal Services through Nyaya Bandhu (Pro Bono Legal Services) program;
- Facilitate disposal of 15-year-old pending cases at the district level through its Nyaya Mitra program and empower citizens through Pan India legal literacy and legal awareness program.
The Scheme embeds the use of technology and developing contextualized IEC (Information, Education, and Communication) material in regional/local dialects to support its intervention and to achieve easy accessibility of legal services to the poor and weakest sections of society.
Previous year question
With reference to National Legal Services Authority, consider the following statements: (2013)
- Its objective is to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society based on equal opportunity.
- It issues guidelines for the State Legal Services Authorities to implement the legal programmes and schemes throughout the country.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2