Free legal aid refers to giving legal services, free of cost, to certain vulnerable persons and communities, such as beggars, victims of human trafficking, differently-abled people, etc. You can only ask for free legal aid if you are eligible to apply for it.
The purpose of providing legal aid is to ensure that no one is deprived of legal services and justice due to their social or economic background. You can get free legal aid when:
- You cannot afford to pay or engage a lawyer to represent you in court or for any other purpose. For example, you can get legal aid when you are appealing your sentence, or if you are appearing in front of the Magistrate for the first time.
- You want legal advice, legal services, or legal steps to take for a problem.
- You need help with getting legal documents ready.
- You need help to pay court fees for a case or any other fee required for legal processes.
- You want to apply for compensation or get money through the Court.
- You have a constitutional right to legal aid, which means that the state is constitutionally bound to provide legal aid to you at all stages i.e. not only at the stage of trial but also when you are first produced before the Magistrate or let off on bail. This is clearly spelled out in Articles 22 and 39-A of the Constitution of India, 1950 and in Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1980).
- Legal aid authorities cannot deny you this right stating excuses or reasons like the fact that you did not ask for help or that the authorities have financial or administrative constraints. If you are eligible for legal aid, you have every right to get it.
Please note that this explainer only gives a general central overview of the procedures in relation to getting free legal aid. The actual procedure varies across states.
If you're seeking legal aid, you are also entitled to avail legal services, that is, any service for a case or any other legal proceeding before any Court, authority, or tribunal. Getting legal advice is also a part of legal service.
To get legal aid, you will have to approach a Legal Services Authority who you can ask for help for your situation. You have a right to ask for any of the legal services given below:
- Representation by a lawyer in legal proceedings.
- Payment of all costs including process fees, expenses of witnesses, and all other charges payable or incurred in connection with any legal proceedings.
- Preparation of memo of appeal, paper book including printing and translation of documents in legal proceedings.
- Drafting of legal documents, special leave petitions, etc.
- Supply of certified copies of judgments, orders, notes of evidence, and other documents in legal proceedings.
As stated before, not everyone is eligible for legal aid:
To check whether you are eligible, you need to go to a Legal Services Authority. Once you approach the authority, they will check your eligibility based on two criteria- either -based on who you are or based on the income you get. You only need to qualify for one of these criteria to be eligible for receiving legal aid.
After checking whether you are eligible for legal aid, the authority will then check if you have a genuine case to prosecute or defend. This discretion lies with the authorities and they will take the final call on whether your case itself requires legal aid. There is no bar as to which kind of cases you can apply and not apply for.
However, even if certain conditions are fulfilled, your legal aid may be withdrawn:
Persons Who Can Apply For Legal Aid
The following persons can apply for legal aid irrespective of their income:
- A member of the scheduled castes or tribes;
- A victim of human trafficking or a beggar;
- Any disabled person, including persons who are mentally disabled
- A woman or child;
- A victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake, industrial disaster and other cases of undeserved want;
- An industrial workman;
- Those in custody, including protective custody, juvenile home5, psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home;
- Any person facing a charge which might result in imprisonment
Maximum Income Earned
In addition to the above, a person receiving an annual income less than the amount as mentioned below can apply for legal aid within their own State: Some state such as Assam, Chattisgarh have an upper celing amount upto Rs 1,50,000. While in other states the limit can be upto Rs 3,00,000. This varies from state to state and anyone looking for legal aid need to within the given limit amount.
To prove your income, you can submit an affidavit as proof of income to the authorities. The authorities will examine this affidavit and they have the discretion to allow your application. To make an affidavit, take the help of a lawyer.
Costs involved in obtaining Legal Aid
There is no charge for getting an application form for free legal aid. You are also not required to spend any money to either get or submit the application. Even expenses like Process Fees, Drafting Fees, Typing Fees, Clerkage, etc. are borne by the legal service institutions.
In short, you do not need to pay for:
- Getting an application form for requesting free legal aid, or even getting and submitting your application.
- Expenses like Process Fees, Drafting Fees, Typing Fees, Clerkage, etc.
- Expenses of witnesses and all other charges payable or incurred in connection with any legal proceedings.
Where You Can Go To Obtain Legal Aid
You can approach the following authorities to apply for legal aid:
State Legal Services Authorities – They are in charge of governing and providing legal aid services in their particular state and governing the same at the District and Taluk level. For example, in New Delhi, it is known as the Delhi State Legal Services Authority.
District Legal Services Authorities – The respective State Legal Service Authority determines the powers and functions of this Authority. Generally, you can approach this authority if you require help and support, to submit an application for legal aid, etc. and they will be able to direct you. It coordinates the activities of the Taluk Legal Services Committee and other legal services in the District.
Supreme Court Legal Services Committees – Its functions include receiving applications for legal services, maintaining a panel of advocates to provide legal advice, determining costs related to legal services, etc.
High Court Legal Services Committees – Its functions are the same as the Supreme Court Legal Services Committees, but they are to be performed at the state level and these functions have been prescribed by the state authority.
Also Read: Chennai-Based Space Start-Up Agnikul Cosmos Sets Up India's First Private Launchpad At Sriharikota, Know More