Free legal aid means providing legal services, free of cost, to certain sections of the society. To ask for legal aid, you have to be eligible to apply for it.
The purpose of providing legal aid is to ensure that no person is deprived of legal services and justice due to lack of money. You can get free legal aid when:
- You cannot afford to pay1 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 sentence2, or if you are appearing in front of the Magistrate for the first time3 etc.
- 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 and fundamental right to legal aid4, 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, etc. 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 constraints5. 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, and the procedure varies across states.2
- FAQs, National Legal Service Authority, https://nalsa.gov.in/faqs.
- Madav Hayavadanrao Hoskot Vs. State of Maharastra (1978)3 SCC 544
- Khatri II Vs. State of Bihar, (1981) 1SCC; 1981 SCC (Cri) 228; 1981 Cri. LJ 470
- Article 22, 39-A, Constitution of India, 1950; Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar [(1980) 1 SCC 98]
- Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar [(1980) 1 SCC 98]