Brief Resume of Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 (Act No. 39 of 1987 as amended vide Act No. 37 of 2002)
By the constitutional 42nd Amendment Act of 76, a new provision was incorporated in the Constitution under Article 39A, for providing free Legal Aid and concept of equal justice found a place in our constitution Article 39A which was incorporated under part IV-Directive Principles of State Policy reads as under:-
“Equal justice and free legal aid-The 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 disabilities”.
2. With the object of providing free legal aid, the Government of India had, by a resolution dated 26th September, 1980 appointed a Committee known as “Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes” (CILAS) under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati (as he then was) to monitor and implement legal aid programmes on an uniform basis in all the States and Union Territories. CILAS evolved a model scheme for legal aid programmes applicable throughout the country by which several legal aid and advice Boards were set up in the States and Union Territories.
3. In the case of Hossainara Khatun Vs. State of Bihar in AIR 1979 S.C. page 1371, the Supreme Court held that the right to free legal services is an essential ingredient of reasonable, fair and just procedure for a person accused of an offence and it must be held to be implicit in the guarantee of Article 21. This was a case where it was found by Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice D.A. Desai that many under-trail prisoners in different jails in the State of Bihar had been in jail for period longer than the maximum terms for which they would have been sentenced, if convicted, and that their retention in jails was totally unjustified and in violation of the fundamental rights to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. While disclosing shocking state of affairs and callousness of our legal and judicial system causing enormous misery and sufferings to the poor and illiterate citizens resulting into totally unjustified deprivation of personal liberty, Justice P.N. Bhagwati (as he then was), made following observations in para 6 of the judgment, which are thought provoking:-
“This unfortunate situation cries aloud for introduction of an adequate and comprehensive legal service programmes, but so far, these cries do not seem to have evoked any response. We do not think it is possible to reach the benefits of the legal process to the poor to protect them against injustice and to secure to them their constitutional and statutory rights unless there is a nation-wide legal service programme to provide free legal services to them.”
4. It is also worth while to quote the following observations of Justice P.N. Bhagwati in para 9 of the said judgment:-
“We would strongly recommend to the Government of India and the State Government that it is high time that a comprehensive legal service programme is introduced in the country. That is not only a mandate of equal justice implicit in Article 14 and to right to life and liberty conferred by Article 21, but also the compulsion of the constitutional directive embodied in Article 39A.”
5. Two years thereafter, in the case of Khatri Vs. State of Bhiar reported in AIR 1981 S.C. at page 926 (Bhagalpur Blinded Prisoners’ case) Justice P.N. Bhagwati while referring to the Supreme Court’s mandate in the aforesaid Hossainara Khatun’s case, made the following comments, in para 4 of the said judgment
“It is unfortunate that though this Court declared the right to legal aid as a fundamental right of an accused person by a process of judicial construction of Article 21, most of the States in the country have not taken note of this decision and provided free legal services to a person accused of an offence…………..The State is under a constitutional mandate to provide free legal aid to an accused person who is unable to secure legal services on account of indigence, and whatever is necessary for this purpose has to be done by the State. The State may have its financial constraints and its priorities in expenditure but the law does not permit any Government to deprive its priorities in expenditure but the law does not permit any Government to deprive its citizens of constitutional rights on the plea of poverty.”
6. In 1986, in another case of Sukhdas V. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, reported in AIR 1986 S.C. at page 991, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, once again, while referring to the earlier decision of Hossainara Khatun’s case and some other cases had made the following observations in para 6 of the said judgment:-
“Now it is common knowledge that about 70% of the people living in rural areas are illiterate and even more than that percentage of the people are not aware of the rights conferred upon them by law. Even literate people do not know what are their rights and entitlements under the law. It is this absence of legal awareness which is responsible for the deception, exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits from which the poor suffer in this land. Their legal needs always stand to become crisis oriented because their ignorance prevents them from anticipating legal troubles and approaching a lawyer for consultation and advise in time and their poverty magnifies the impact of the legal troubles and difficulties when they come. Moreover, because of their ignorance and illiteracy, they cannot become self-reliant; they cannot even help themselves. The Law ceases to be their protector because they do not know that they are entitled to the protection of the law and they can avail of the legal service programmes for putting an end to their exploitation and winning their rights. The result is that poverty becomes with them a condition of total helplessness. This miserable condition in which the poor find themselves can be alleviated to some extent by creating legal awareness amongst the poor. That is why it has always been recognized as one of the principal items of the programme of the legal aid movement in the country to promote legal literacy. It would be in these circumstances made a mockery of legal aid if it were to be left to a poor, ignorant and illiterate accused to ask for free legal service, legal aid would become merely a paper promise and it would fail of its purpose.”
7. It was in the above backdrop that he Parliament passed the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which was published in the Gazette of India Extraordinary Part II, Section I No. 55 dated 12th October, 1987. Although the Act was passed in 1987, the provisions of the Act, except Chapter III, were enforced with effect from 9.11.1995 by the Central Government Notification S.O.893(E) dated 9.11.1995. Chapter III, under the heading “State Legal Services Authorities” was enforced in different States under different Notifications in the years 1995-98. In Haryana, it was implemented with effect from 3.4.1996.
8. This Act, as amended with effect from 12.6.2002, now provides for decision even on merits, by the Presiding Officers of the Permanent Lok Adalats constituted by the State Legal Services Authority, of those matters which relate to “public utility services” which have been duly defined in the Act.