Legal Aid and Legal Schools

By Yashu Bansal, Chanakya National Law University, Delhi

Editor’s Note: The concept of legal aid has been recognized as being of fundamental importance by the Indian judiciary. The right to legal aid has been espoused as a basic right. This paper examines the roots of the concept of legal aid as laid down in the Constitution and studies the development of legal aid in the modern times. The research in this paper is empirical and the researcher has examined the role of law schools in providing legal aid to the society. Information was collected from different national law schools about their legal aid initiatives and projects. The key findings have been recorded and common problems faced by law schools have been identified. Some solutions have been proposed to tackle these problems so that law schools can play a greater role in providing legal aid.”

Historical Background

The Indian Constitution is the ultimate rule-book in our country. It has articles and clauses for every activity of the country. Article 39 A of the Constitution of India says that the State shall secure that the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall provide free legal aid, in any way, to ensure that every individual is provided justice irrespective of the economic or social differences. Articles 14 and 22(1) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which gives justice to all its subjects. Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society.[i]

The evolution of the idea of legal aid came up in France during the year 1851 when the government there introduced an act to provide legal help to the needy. In India, the concept of legal aid started in 1952 when the Government asked for the legal help to the poor in various Law Conferences. In 1980, a Committee was formed to supervise legal aid programs throughout the country under the Chairmanship of Hon. Mr. Justice P.N. Bhagwati, then a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. It came to be known as CILAS -Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes and it started working to provide legal help to the ones in need throughout the country. The setting up of Lok adalats was another achievement in the field of legal aid for the citizens of India. These courts speeded up the trial process in our country and thus justice was given faster.

In 1987, Legal Services Authority Act was enacted so that the concept of legal aid cells gain a statutory base and uniformity. Being not so perfect, this act was finally enforced in 1995 by Hon. Mr. Justice R.N. Mishra mainly and came into use. The National Legal Services Authority was constituted in 1995 and Hon. Dr. Justice A.S. Anand, Judge, Supreme Court of India took over as the Executive Chairman. A nationwide network was set up and the apex body being the National Legal Services Authority. They mainly promoted that every individual should get justice and for that, it laid down principles and policies so that as per the Constitution, legal service is available to all.

Certain measures were taken up so that the main motive of legal aid cells would fulfill. The following are some of the measures which were implemented by the Central Authority:

  • Disposal of cases by the  lok adalats
  • Publicity to Legal Aid Schemes and programs to make people aware about legal aid facilities[ii]
  • Legal aid facilities in jails
  • Accrediting NGOs and organizations for spreading legal awareness

“Whatever standards a man chooses to set for himself, be they religious, moral, social or purely rational in origin, it is the law which prescribes and governs his rights and duties towards the other members of the community. This somewhat arbitrary collection of principles he has very largely to take as he finds and in a modern society it tends to be so diverse and complex that the help of an expert is often essential not merely to enforce or defend legal rights but to recognize, identify and define them.” -Mathews and Outton.[iii]

Therefore we can see how the concept of legal aid cells took birth and how it started gaining more and more importance after every stage.

Need For Legal Aid

There has been a great change in the minds of the people of the nation towards the concept of legal aid from a responsibility of the accused to find a lawyer and seek help to a fundamental right of an accused to seek free legal aid. Even after all the efforts of the statute to make the concept of legal aid flourish in our state, the set goals have not yet been achieved. There are many obstacles to the successful application of legal aid in the country.

People are still not aware of their basic rights due to which the legal aid movement has not achieved its goal yet. It is the absence of legal awareness which leads to exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits of the poor. Thus it is the need of the hour that the poor illiterate people should be imparted with legal knowledge and should be educated on their basic rights which should be done from the grass root level of the country.[iv] The poor people, who are not that fit socially and economically do not know about their legal rights and the legal procedures to solve disputes. They either just give up on their rights or end up solving them on the streets or to worsen the situation, they use their muscle power. This kills the legal system of the country and the citizens lose faith in the administration of the law of the country.

Thus legal aid to the poor and weak person is compulsory for the preservation of the rule of law which is necessary for the existence of the society. The poor and the unaware people being kept in the dark and not given justice are equal to the law and rights being unfair to all the citizens. As per the Legal Services Authority Act, anyone who fits into the following criteria is entitled to free legal aid.[v]

  • A member of the scheduled class or tribes
  • A poor person- one whose annual income is not more than 50000 for cases in the Supreme Court and 25000 for other courts
  • A victim of human trafficking or a beggar
  • Mentally or physically disabled people
  • A woman or a child
  • A victim of any disaster or unwanted accident
  • An industrial workman
  • One in custody, including protective custody
  • A person facing a charge which may result in imprisonment
  • Anyone who is not able to hire a lawyer for reasons like poverty

Even today, there are many people who suffer injustice just because they are unaware of their rights. It is not only in the rural parts of the country but also in the urban. There are many educated people who are either too last to start the legal procedures or are simply unaware of their legal rights and thus suffer. In some cases, the fault lies on the individual who doesn’t take up any action even after knowing his legal rights and how he can be rewarded justice but in some cases, there are people who are totally unaware of their legal rights. They have no idea that there are rules framed in their country for every injustice or violence of their rights. These are the people who are in real need of awakening and need to be enlightened.

Thus the need of the hour is that we need to focus on effective and proper implementation of the laws which we already possess instead of passing new legislations to make legal aid in the country a reality instead of just a myth in the minds of the countrymen.[vi]

Role Of Legal Schools

Legal schools are the major colleges where undergraduate law courses are offered. These institutions are an exception in the field of education. They make the law makers and counselors for the country; they make lawyers for the country, for the successful application of the law in the country. In India, there are many legal schools. There are in total 14 national law schools India. National law schools have a brand name in providing legal education in India. These law schools have all taken up the initiative to spread awareness about the Indian law and provide legal aid to the needy. These legal schools have taken up the duty of spreading legal awareness all around the country. Creating bodies, finding out the ones in need and helping them by providing them legal advice, funds and guiding them are the major tasks of these legal aid cells in legal school.

The primary obligation to provide legal services to the poor resides with the government and a little with the people practicing law as a profession. It is not much the work of law schools. Nevertheless, law schools do have some obligation to contribute to the solution of the crisis in access to justice, and it seems obvious that the obligation is best accomplished by the legal aid clinics of the law schools by assisting low-income individuals and communities that are unaware or have particular difficulty obtaining lawyers because of the nature of their legal problems.[vii]

The legal profession is expected to play a dynamic role in the administration of justice. Law Schools being the recruiting grounds for the legal profession, there is a need to inject new spirit into the content of legal education to make lawyers and legal professionals socially relevant and professionally competent to secure the constitutional mandate of access to justice.[viii] In 1997, the Bar Council of India has made the study of legal aid an important and compulsory subject in the academic topics of the law schools in India. However, this measure has not been implemented to a satisfactory level of performance even after more than 15 years of the introduction of the rule.

All the law schools are playing some or the other role to enhance the role of legal aid in India. Though some are not at all satisfactory, there are some who if given a little more support, may become a great help to the society. The law schools can be of a great help to the society. Being students, they will gain experience and they will have all resources like time and a nominal amount of money to invest in doing good deeds like this. Setting up seminars, going to the masses, visiting the jails and doing other activities can help to bring a change in the society.

The researcher gathered information about certain law schools in India and engaged in a conversation with the students of these universities; students who were the participants of the legal aid cells. The scope of the research has been limited to the following legal schools.

  • National Law School of India University, Bangalore- Legal Services Clinic
  • Chanakya National Law University, Patna- CNLU Legal Aid Society
  • National Law University, Jodhpur- Centre for Legal Aid and Support Services
  • National Law University, Delhi- Community Service and Legal Aid
  • Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar- GNLU Legal Service Committee
  • West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata- NUJS Legal Aid Society
  • Nalsar Law University, Hyderabad- Nalsar Legal Aid Cell

The Status Quo

This research is about the role of the legal schools in providing legal aid to the society and specifically to the ones in need and to find out how much the role is being fulfilled. A very small number of universities have been taken into consideration for this project.

National Law School Of India University, Bangalore- Legal Services Clinic

One of the avowed objectives of the National Law School of India University is to promote legal education and research. In pursuance of the same the Legal Services Clinic offers legal and paralegal services by the faculty and the students. It not only provides a Centre for practical professional training for students of law, but more importantly, provides free legal services to the socially and the economically backward sections of the society who have difficulty accessing the judicial system. In the past, LSC has also directly been in charge of coordinating and organizing competitions aimed at popularizing the practice of techniques of Alternate Dispute Resolution among the students, such as client counseling and negotiation competitions for law students. [ix]

The University began this clinic in August 2005 and today it conducts legal literary programs, conferences, seminars and research projects. It has tie ups with the Karnataka Legal Service Authority and many other NGOs in and around Bangalore. It has its centre open for the ones in need of legal help and an online helpline available for the people who want any kind of legal advice or help from the institution.

Chanakya National Law University, Patna- CNLU Legal Aid Society

The University itself being very young has not yet achieved wonders in this field yet. However, it has started tremendously with meetings and seminars on legal awareness. CNLU Legal Aid Society is a mechanism which by providing Legal Aid and Awareness, has ensured social progress. As an integral part of University, CNLU Legal Aid Society has worked not only in Patna but also in other districts of Bihar. Active participation of the students has been seen and if nourished well, the real motive may be fulfilled. The IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Awareness), even though it is a national initiative it closely works with the Committee. It undertook the task of creating awareness about CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) among students. The society aims for a better society in which every individual is well acquainted with his rights and is not kept in the darkness ever.

National Law University, Jodhpur- Centre For Legal Aid And Support Services

Having been conceived as a Clinic in the initial years, a number of legal aid activities were undertaken in the form of providing advice to the common man and spreading legal awareness. Being elevated to the status of a ‘Centre for Research’, Centre for Legal Aid and Support Service (CLASS) aims at undertaking training programs involving District/State/ National Legal Services Authorities; undertaking focused field enabling the organization of ‘purposive’ Legal Aid Camps/Programs; visits organization of legal awareness programs; and importantly, periodical paralegal volunteer trainings. The Centre also aims at establishing linkages with established lawyers across the State of Rajasthan so as to expand the scope of legal aid services and consultancy.[x] Being an old institution and serving the society since years, this legal cell is well established. Though reports say that with time, the cell has been delaying its works and it needs the help of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) as it was very much more functional then with its participation. (REFER TO ANNEXURE D).

National Law University, Delhi- Community Service And Legal Aid

This University is a young university as well but its fast speed and active participation of the students have helped it to do wonders in the field of legal aid. Insaaf- this project tries to provide for an intermediary level of legal aid services for those detained in various homes/ jails in Delhi towards improving the quality of legal aid. Students will deliver these intermediary legal aid services and help improve the quality of legal aid received by the detainees while helping legal aid lawyers better represent their clients. The process of providing legal aid is made more holistic with the involvement of students from social work schools. This Project involves current students of the University being guided by eminent social activists, jurists and faculty members.[xi] Aaghaaz, is an entirely student run society, working since 9 October 2009, at NLU, Delhi to implement the social justice mission of legal education. The aim of ‘Aaghaaz’ is to inculcate a sense of social and civic responsibility sensitive to the grass-root realities of the society and shape students as agents of social change.

Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar- Legal Service Committee

The legal service committee here has been set up by way of Section 4(k) of the Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987 which reads as-“develop, in consultation with the Bar Council of India, programs for clinical legal education and promote guidance and supervise the establishment and working of legal services clinic in universities, law colleges and other institutions.” [xii]The motto of the LSC stands to be “Assertion Awareness Action”. It has fully utilized methods like skits, plays, workshops, surveys, research to gain its objective; which is clearly stated in its motto. A Mediation and Conciliation Training Workshop was conducted which provided valuable insight and knowledge into the area of alternative dispute resolution. In collaboration with Centre for Justice, the LSC embarked on a project to create a comprehensive policy for HIV/ AIDS affected individuals. The IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Awareness), even though it is a national initiative it closely works with the Committee. It undertook the task of creating awareness about CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) among students belonging to schools in Gandhinagar area, especially those in proximity to GNLU.

West Bengal National University Of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata- Nujs Legal Aid Society

The aim of the NUJS Legal Aid Society is to spread legal awareness among students and people at large. They seek to do this through public speaking, awareness camps, seminars, legal counseling, poster making and street plays. To further the cause the institution plays an active role in the Coordinating Committee for Intra-State Networking of Law Schools, a program conceptualized by them, for law colleges in and around West Bengal. This program presently has members from 13 law colleges across the State. [xiii]The University has done great works till the present time and its major activities include client counseling, conducting legal awareness camps in legal and rural areas, conducting field survey, conducting street plays on social-legal issues and so on. The students play a vital role here. They contact lawyers, go the NGOs, conduct seminars and workshops, doing research work and maintaining relationships with other law colleges and the faculty plays an advisory role in the working of the legal aid cell.

Nalsar Law University, Hyderabad- Nalsar Legal Aid Cell

The University has been working for the legal aid to the society since the year 2009. With the students taking an active part in the process of dispensing legal aid to the community, through the wealth of knowledge accumulated in their term of study in NALSAR University of law.[xiv] The legal aid cell of the University has programs like teach India, Legal Literacy and Legal Awareness, Rehabilitation and Conciliation Centre, Prison Reforms and Implementation of Government schemes. The formal panel consists of 8 faculty members and 10 students of the student body 2011. However, there is less participation of the new batches. The main role is played by the passed out students and the students of the 4th and 5th years are active in it. the faculty has a nominal role to be played in the cell.

Findings and Suggestions

Today, there are many law schools in India which are doing their part of their duty towards the nation. Being law institutions, their responsibility increases manifold. However, the research has not given the optimum satisfaction after knowing how seriously the law schools are performing in providing legal help to the society. Though the policies and guidelines have been laid down well, the required participation was not felt in all the law schools. Some of the major problems which are being faced by the institutions can be summed up as follows:

  • Lack of participation of the students. The students are failing to take up the responsibility and the initiative to work for the good cause of providing legal help to the ones who are in need of it. The students are unaware of the events happening in their universities and even if they are aware, in some universities, they are not allowed to participate much into the legal aid cell.
  • The institutions, knowing the importance of the legal aid cells should play a great role in motivating their students. This motivation lacks in many law schools. Lack of appropriate funds, disinterest in guiding the students and helping the students when required is a major problem in some institutions.
  • Lack of importance given to the concept of legal aid cells. Legal aid is very important for the development of a nation. The legal institutions can play a great role in helping the ones who need legal help. However, they fail to realize the change they can bring in the society.

These are some basic problems, which if dealt with care and responsibility can easily be   removed from the legal schools. They don’t need much effort but just a willing mindset which would take up initiatives to work for the society. Where problems exist, there definitely are some solutions which if followed correctly may bring out a better society in which every individual will be given justice and will be aware of the legal rights. Some of the solutions given could be:

  • A great positive change in the approach to the legal aid cells can be seen if the institutions decide to make “LEGAL AID” a compulsory subject for at least the first two years in the 5 year integrated course of law. In the first two years, the fresh law students have the resources like interest and time to work for such organizations and being a subject with credits will make it mandatory for all to participate. I feel that the participation of all the batches is necessary since every year, the students learn something new which can be utilized well by the legal aid cell. However, the ratio of participation by the first two year batches should be more than that of the next three years. Within these two years, there will be some students who will develop real interest in the legal aid clinic of their college and thus they will be the ones working for it in the remaining three years of their course willingly. Inclusion of the subject in the academic curriculum may help a lot as the participation of the students will increase to a great extent.
  • Motivation from the institution can be a great way to increase the participation of the students in working for the legal aid cells. Rewarding the students, giving them facilities like proper transportation and attendance on visits regarding the legal aid cells will motivate the students. There should be a particular panel of faculty as well who should be approachable by the students very easily. They should motivate their students and even accompany them at times. The faculty should have a nominal role to play and should not take the entire control into their hands. Authority should be delegated to the students as with authority comes responsibility and once the students feel that that they are working for their nation, their institution and for themselves, their dedication will increase. The universities should fund the society well as this is for a very great cause and it is mainly the participation of the students which will help the cells to attain its goals. The monetary help given by the institutions will bring life into the legal aid cells.
  • Another new idea which may help in the better functioning of the legal aid cells is that if all the national law schools work together in a single legal aid clinic in which the participation of the institutions will be mandatory by the CLAT committee, there will be a great change in the approach to the legal aid in India. This will enhance the participation of the institutions as the cell will under the CLAT committee and the fever of competition against the students of other law schools will increase the activities of the cell, thus benefiting the nation as more and more activities will take place on a regular basis. This will help attaining the goals of the legal aid cells increasing the efficiency and effectiveness.

Therefore, these are the basic solutions to the basic problems as to why some of the legal aid cells in the legal schools of India are not functioning up to the satisfaction level. If taken into consideration, these solutions may help in the development of the legal aid cells in our country. It will increase the access to the legal systems in India by the poor and the unaware citizens who are not even aware of their rights.

Conclusion

Legal aid is the simple concept of providing justice to all the citizens of a nation. It is meant especially for the ones who cannot afford to hire lawyers and fight for justice or for them who are not even aware of their legal rights. In our country, Legal Services Authority Act makes it a compulsion for all the legal schools to participate in providing legal aid to the society. There are several law schools in India which have their own legal aid clinics. Legal schools are the major colleges where undergraduate law courses are offered. These institutions are an exception in the field of education. They make the law makers and counselors for the country; they make lawyers for the country, for the successful application of the law in the country.

These law schools participate in the deliverance of legal aid to the citizens. These institutions and the participation of the students can play a great role if their efforts are placed into the right direction. All the law schools are playing some or the other role to enhance the role of legal aid in India. Though some are not at all satisfactory, there are some who if given a little more support may become a great help to the society. The law students can be of  great help to the society. Being students, they will gain experience and they will have all resources like time and a nominal amount of money to invest in doing good deeds like this. Setting up seminars, going to the masses, visiting the jails and doing other activities can help to bring a change in the society.

Edited by Kudrat Agrawal

[i] Introduction and history of NALSA, available at- http://nalsa.gov.in

[ii] Introduction and history of NALSA, available at- http://nalsa.gov.in

[iii] Legal aid in India, available at- http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l340-Legal-Aid-In-India.html

[iv] Legal aid in India, available at-http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l340-Legal-Aid-In-India.html

[v] Human Rights Initiative, available at-http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/police/legal.pdf

[vi] Legal aid in India, available at http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l340-Legal-Aid-In-India.html

[vii] Jane H. Aiken and Stephen Wizner, Teaching and Doing: The Role of Law School

Clinics in Enhancing Access to Justice, available at-http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1296&context=facpub/

[viii] A study of law school based legal service clinic, available at-http://www.undp.org/content/india/en/home/library/democratic_governance/a_study_of_law_schoolbasedlegalservicesclinics /19/10/2013/

[ix] National Law School of India University, Bangalore- Legal Services Clinic, available at-http://www.nls.ac.in/resources/oldsiteresources/students_committees_legalservices.html

[x] Centre For Legal Aid And Support Services, available at -http://www.nlujodhpur.ac.in/class.php/

[xi] Community Service and legal aid, available at-http://www.nludelhi.ac.in/?page_id=808/#CommunityServiceandLegalAid

[xii] Legal Service Committee, available at-http://www.gnlu.ac.in/legalservicecommittee.php

[xiii] NUJS Legal Aid Society, available at -http://www.nujs.edu/nujs-legal-aid-society-contact.html

[xiv] NALSAR LEGAL AID CELL, available at-http://www.nalsar.ac.in/Legal%20Aid%20Cell/programs.htm

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