“It is the law that makes its way to the people, not the people who make their way to the law.”
People face grave threats to their lives, their land, and their belief systems, and millions in this country have to turn to the law to protect their rights daily. The Indian Constitution guarantees equal treatment before the law for all its citizens. Article 39A of the Indian Constitution provides that the state must provide free legal assistance to ensure that no citizen is denied access to justice due to economic or other barriers. In the words of Justice P.N. Bhagwati, “Legal Aid means providing an arrangement in the society so that the mission of administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who have to resort to it for enforcement… the poor and illiterate should be able to approach the courts, and their ignorance and poverty should not be an impediment in the way of their obtaining justice from the courts. Legal aid should be available to the poor and illiterate, who don’t have access to courts. One need not be a litigant to seek aid by means of legal aid.” In practice, however, injustice is rampant throughout the country, and the marginalized are unable to seek justice because they bear the brunt of a broken system on multiple levels. Since the inception of this article in 1987, it has been 34 years but still, free legal aid has proven to be ineffective in India. The Government has constituted many committees, introduced many schemes but the question should be asked why it is lagging in making its reach to the grassroots level?
Despite the fact that free legal aid is widely regarded as an essential component of the rule of law, the legal aid movement has yet to achieve its goal. There is a significant difference between the goals established and the goals achieved. There are possibly 5 reasons why Article 39A doesn’t met with the goal for which it was being commenced.
1. There is a limited understanding of legal aid’s availability.
2. In general, lawyers are uninterested in delivering adequate legal counsel
owing to financial restrictions.
3. There is a widespread belief that providing free service is incompatible with providing high-quality service.
4. The legal services authorities are unable to provide enough lawyers.
5. Poor condition of the lower courts.
By using delay tactics, some lawyers hired by legal aid committees hold their clients’ cases for ransom. These lawyers force their clients, many of whom are innocent, to pay them additional fees despite the fact that they are meant to get their fees from the legal aid committee. One aspect that must be contributing to this is that the legal aid committee’s remuneration for lawyers is extremely low, barely covering the lawyer’s incidental expenses.
More than half of the population, regardless of financial circumstances, has access to free legal services, which is something a developing country like us should be proud of. However, the majority of residents are unaware of the terms under which they are entitled to free legal assistance and when people are not aware of their legal rights, they are exploited and ultimately deprived of the rights and benefits provided to them by the law.
The provisions of this act aim to provide justice in a more informal and casual manner, but they have failed to do so in the past because cases are heard and decided in a “hurried” manner because judges in the subordinate courts are also under pressure from the High Courts to dispose of more and more cases in order to meet the targets set for them. In order to meet the targets for the number of cases to be resolved, I believe that the quality of justice must not be sacrificed. Lawyers should receive professional training in the statutes governing free legal aid as well as court procedures. Equality before the law in a true democracy is a matter of right, it cannot be a matter of charity or of favor or of grace or of discretion.
THE PATH TO TAKE
Legal aid is not a charity or a gift; it is a state obligation and a citizen’s right. People are still unaware of their basic rights, which is why the legal aid movement has yet to achieve its goal. The lack of legal awareness leads to exploitation and deprivation of the poor’s rights and benefits. Successful legal aid delivery in India requires the government to embark on a campaign to inform and educate the public of its right to free legal aid. “Legal dispensaries” or clinics, inspired by the model of free medical aid in medical colleges, were established to make free legal aid services more effective. Poor folks can come here for free counsel and consultation. In India, free legal help is far too ineffective, more lawyers should be encouraged to practice. Article 39A is backed up by Article 14 and Article 21 also, in the procedural law of our country, the provisions of legal aid have been laid down under section 304 of Cr.P.C[i] which states that if the accused does not have sufficient means to engage a lawyer, the court must provide one for the defense of the accused at the expense of the State, providing more statutory effectiveness. In a democratic society, an impartial, independent judiciary is thus the defender of individual rights. All residents must have access to the courts when they are needed in order for citizens to have faith in their legal system. “The Poor man looks upon the law as an enemy, not as a friend. For him the law is always taking something away”, the day we change this mindset, the milestone of Article 39A will be achieved.
Author’s Name: Apeksha Mishra (National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi)
 INDIA CONSTI. Art. 39, amended by the Constitution (Forty second Amendment) Act, 1987
 An introduction to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987: Legal Aid scheme
was first introduced by Justice P.N. Bhagwati under the Legal Aid Committee
formed in 1971
 INDIA CONSTI. art. 14
 INDIA CONSTI. art. 21
 The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, section 304
[i] The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, section 304