Fundamental right to free legal aid

P.N. Bhagwati said that the poor and illiterate should be able to approach court and their ignorance and poverty should not be hindrance in way of obtaining justice from courts.

Legal Aid means giving free legal assistance to needy, poor and weaker section of society who cannot afford the services of a lawyer in a legal proceeding before any court, tribunal, or before any other authority. Legal aid should be provided to any person seeking justice irrespective of race, caste, religion, gender. Right to Free legal aid is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens of the country under Article 21. Preamble of constitution of India provides for social, economic and political justice to all citizens of India so legal aid is one of the means which ensures that the opportunities for obtaining justice are not denied to any person by reason of being indigent. Ensuring Legal aid to everyone is necessary for ensuring equality and for this purpose Article 39A was added by forty-second amendment acts 1976 which deals with Equal Justice and Free legal aid. Legal service and authority act 1987 was also enacted by parliament to establish a uniform civil code for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker section of society; various authorities like NALSA, SLSA, and DLSA were constituted under the said act to ensure that no one is denied his right to free legal aid.


The primary duty of the state is to ensure justice to all by establishing effective administration of justice. There are several reasons which affect the administration of justice – delay, corruption, expensive litigation, less number of courts, judges and officials, staff, lengthy process and lack of legal aid and legal awareness to needy. Due to all these reasons concept of Legal aid evolved.


  • ARTICLE 14: Right to Equality – Article 14 states that it is the duty of the state to ensure that no citizen is denied of his Right of equality before law and equal protection from law residing within the territory of India. The aim of Article 14 is to secure justice. Justice will be meaningless if poor, illiterate and weak people cannot enforce their rights only because of poverty.
  • ARTICLE 21: Right to life and personal liberty: Article 21 states that No one should be deprived of his Right to life and personal liberty, every individual has a Right to protect their life. Right to free legal aid is also considered as a fundamental right under this provision.
  • ARTICLE 38(1): It states that it is the duty of the state to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting social, political and Economic justice.
  • ARTICLE 39A: This Article was inserted in Constitution by forty second amendment act1976 and it directs the state to ensure that legal system promotes justice by providing equal opportunities, it further directs state to provide free legal aid by legislation or under any scheme to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any person by reason of any economic disability.
  • ARTICLE 22(1): It provides that detained person should be given right to consult and defend themselves by a legal practitioner.


  • Legal Service Authority act 1987- It is the main statue of legal aid in India.

The objectives of this act are:

  1. To give statutory base to legal aid program through the country on a uniform pattern.
  2. It also ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.
  • This act aims to give free and competent legal services to the weaker section of society.
  1. To organize lok adalat to ensure that operation of legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunities.
  • Section 303 of crpc- It states that a person against whom proceedings have been initiated has a right to defend by a pleader.
  • Section 304 of crpc- It states that if accused does not have sufficient means to defend itself then it is the duty of the court to assign a pleader for his defense at states expense.
  • Section 436(1) of crpc- It states that if arrested person is unable to give bail within one week of arrest then court can presume that he is indigent person and discharge him from custody on executing a bond.
  • Order XXXIII crpc –This order provides for provision of indigent person. It states that if plaintiff is indigent person then he is not liable to pay courts fee.


  • In Hussainara khatoon v. state of Bihar, Most of the under trials have already gone punishment much more that what they would have got if they have been convicted without unnecessary delay. It was held that Article21 Right to life and personal liberty also includes right to free legal services and Article 39a states that free legal aid is an inalienable element of Reasonable, just and fair procedure.
  • In Khatri v. State of Bihar, it was held that state is duty bound to inform the accused of his right not only at the time of trial but also when they are bought before magistrate.
  • Sukhdas v. State of Bihar- this case talks about legal awareness to poor so that they can enforce their rights.


Justice should be given to those who are least, last and lost which possible only with the help of free legal aid. Our constitution grants this right to us. Concept of legal aid was first introduced in Magna Carta in 1215 which states that right to justice is inalienable which means that it cannot be sold, refused or delayed. Legal aid has its own history in International law. This concept has evolved since then only to protect the rights of individual whether it is poor or rich or a person of any caste, religion. It not only helps an individual to defend themselves but also protects from inhuman treatment.




Author: Pooja Rathore,
Delhi Metropolitian Education,3 year

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