In other word, no one should be deprived of his right to move a court of law because of poverty or any other social disability. Historical Background: The origin of the concept of legal aid can be tracked back to the historic Magnacarta of 1215. Thereafter with the subsequent socio-economic development, may welfare schemes were introduce. Free legal aid to poor and down trodden to provide them access to justice was also one of the social services oriented schemes which received attention of legal luminaries. The resolution was passed by the Human Rights Conference held in Teheran in 1968 under the auspices of the United Nations which emphasised the need for free legal aid and assistance to poor and indigent for protection of their human rights and safeguarding their fundamental freedoms.
The legislation for free legal aid and assistance to poor and indigent persons also existed in United Kingdom as early as 1948. In India the beginning of the legal aid movement an be tracked back to the appointment of justice Bhagwati committee by the Government of Bombay in 1949 to examine the feasibility of providing free legal aid to indigent and socially disabled persons. The Committee made important recommendations and pointed out that the provisions relating to pauper suit contained in order 33, Rule 1 were inadequate to meet the requirements of the poor litigants as they only provided exemption from the court fees and not the other legal expenses in a suit. The Government of India, in 1952 directed all the state Governments to provide aid and assistance to all those under rails whose offences were punishable with imprisonment exceeding five years. In view of the apathy shown by the state Governments, the center issued similar directives again in 1958.
The Law commission in its 14 Report emphasised the need for setting up legal aid agencies all over the country to redress the economies inequalities and provide assistance to indigent litigants. On the basis of this report, an elaborate Legal Aid scheme was drafted in 1960 and was sent to the states for their consideration. The States however, expressed their inability to adopt the scheme for financial reasons. The matter was raised in the conference of the Law ministers of the States in 1962 but to do no avail. The scheme therefore remained in cold the next eight years.
The National Legal Aid Conference held on March 1950 drew attention towards the pressing need for implementation of a comprehensive scheme of legal Aid in India. Mr. Justice V.R. Krishna lyer, the chairman of the Legal Aid committee prepared a blue print of the scheme putting forth the philosophy underlying this social welfare measures to ensure effective and cheaper justice to the Indian masses.
The beneficiaries of the Legal Aid scheme are weaker sections of the society. For instance, members of the scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, backward classes. Rural agriculture and Industrial Labour and workers, women, Harijans, Juvenile, under trials and geographically deprived depressed classes. The Legal Services Authorities act, 1987, is intended to avoid laws delays and enable people’s participation in judicial administration through Lok Adalats which in a sense is an expansion of public interest legation in rural areas. It has helped speedy disposal of family disputes, divorce cases, motor accident claims, insurance cases in shortest possible time.
The role of legal fraternity, particularly those of lawyers, in implementation of the legal aid and assistance scheme in its true spirit hardly needs to be emphasised. It would be worthwhile the quote the observation made by the noted American Jurist H.L.A. Hart in this regard who said, “Useful function of lawyers is not only to conduct litigation, but to avoid it, wherever possible, by achieving settlement or withholding suit.” Beside legal practitioners, the academic lawyers and law-teachers can also play a significant role in ameliorating the sufferings of neglected sections of the community by their active participation in Legal Aid Schemes. Legal Literacy Programmes and Lok Adalats.
Which have now been accepted as indispensable appendages of the Indian Justice system.