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The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987

Providing Free and Competent Legal Services to the Weaker Sections
12:00 AM May 18, 2024 IST | MUNEEB RASHID MALIK
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“The concept of Lok Adalat is an innovative Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence. It is a new form of the justice dispensation system and has largely succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the victims for settlement of their disputes. This system is based on Gandhian principles. It is one of the components of alternative dispute resolution systems specifically provided in Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 as well. It has proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation. Lok Adalats have been created to restore access to remedies and protections and alleviate the institutional burden of the millions of petty cases clogging the regular courts. It offers the aggrieved claimant whose case would otherwise sit in the regular courts for decades, at least some compensation now. The Presiding Judge of a Lok Adalat is an experienced adjudicator with a documented record of public service and has legal acumen. Experience has shown that not only huge number of cases are settled through Lok Adalats, this system has definite advantages, some of which are, speedy justice and saving from the lengthy court procedures; justice at no cost; solving problems of backlog cases; and maintenance of cordial relations. Thus, it cannot be doubted that Lok Adalats are serving an important public purpose.” - M.P. State Legal Services Authority v. Prateek Jain, (2014) 10 SCC 690.




What is Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution?



According to Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution, the State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice based on 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 disabilities. Articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before the law and a legal system which promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity to all.




What is the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987?


The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”), which extends to the whole of India, was enacted to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.


What is NALSA?

The National Legal Services Authority, also known as NALSA, was constituted under the Act to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to organize Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.


What is SLSA?

In every State, State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of NALSA, to give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State.


What is DLSA?

In every District, District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) has been constituted to implement Legal Services Programmes in the District.


What are Taluk Legal Services Committees?

Taluk Legal Services Committees have also been constituted for each of the Taluk or Mandal or for a group of Taluk or Mandals to coordinate the activities of legal services in the Taluk and to organise Lok Adalats.

Who is entitled to legal services under the Act?

Every person who is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, a victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar, a woman or a child, a person with a disability, a person under circumstances of underserved 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, or in a juvenile home, or in receipt of less annual income, as prescribed by the State Government, is entitled to legal services under the Act, for filing or defending a case. It is the duty of the concerned Legal Services Authority to provide legal services to the aforementioned persons if the concerned Authority is satisfied that such person has a prima facie case to prosecute or to defend.


What are Lok Adalats?

Lok Adalats provide a supplementary forum to the litigants for conciliatory settlement of their disputes. e-Lok Adalats have also been introduced so that justice dispensation system of this country continues through virtual mode also.


What are the benefits of a Lok Adalat?

The benefits of Lok Adalat are the procedural flexibility and speedy trial of the disputes. There is no strict application of procedural laws while assessing the claim by Lok Adalat. The parties to the dispute can directly interact with the judge through their counsel which is not possible in regular courts of law. The award by the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties and it has the status of a decree of a civil court and it is non-appealable, which does not cause delay in the settlement of disputes. There is no court fee and if court fee is already paid, the amount will be refunded if the dispute is settled at Lok Adalat according to the rules.


What steps has NALSA taken to empower women and stop domestic violence?

NALSA has collaborated with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and issued directions to the State Legal Services Authorities to collaborate with One Stop Centres to address the issue of legal aid for domestic violence cases. Many cases are being reported and women in these cases have received legal aid. NALSA and the National Commission for Women have rolled out a Campaign for Empowering women through Legal Awareness to make women aware of the relevant rights and protections available to them under the various laws. Under the Project, legal literacy programmes are being carried out for women in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. This will surely help the women to enhance their capacities so that they can advance their rights and navigate the judicial and administrative set up for actualisation of their rights.


What other steps has NALSA taken for the weaker sections?

NALSA has taken many steps such as establishing Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats in all the districts in the country to dispose of pending matters as well as disputes at a pre-litigative stage, disposal of cases through e-Lok Adalats, publicity to Legal Aid Schemes and programmes to make people aware about legal aid facilities, ensuring legal aid facilities in jails, setting up of Counselling and Conciliation Centers in all the districts in the country, sensitisation of Judicial Officers regarding Legal Services Schemes and programmes, publication of Nyaya Deep, the official newsletter of NALSA, steps for framing rules for refund of court fees and execution of Awards passed by Lok Adalats, etc.


What did Justice S.P. Bharucha say about the Legal Services Authorities?

Justice S.P. Bharucha, Former Executive Chairman, NALSA, observed that teeming millions of this country who live below poverty line in tribal, backward and far flung areas look to Legal Services Authorities for help and support in resolving their legal problems. When involved in litigation they very often feel that they are fighting an unequal battle in which the party that has better financial resources can secure more able legal assistance. These poor and weaker sections must not remain under the impression that they are getting comparatively inferior legal assistance. Panel advocates have to be encouraged to render effective legal assistance to aided persons.

Therefore, it is the duty of the Legal Services Authorities to give legal service to persons, conduct Lok and e-Lok Adalats, undertake preventive and strategic legal aid programmes. They must organize seminars/webinars for the capacity building of panel lawyers and legal awareness of the masses. They must provide effective legal representation to arrested persons. Convicts have to be provided legal assistance in filing appeals. Legal assistance and advice have to be given to the victims of domestic violence and cruelty. Cases have to be settled through Mediation. The Legal Services Authorities have to reach out to people who require legal services so that the object of the Act can be achieved effectively.


Muneeb Rashid Malik is an Advocate practicing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and he is the Legal Advisor to Kashmir Uzma. He tweets @muneebmalikrash.


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