National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA)
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National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA)

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National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA)

Why in News?:

Justice N.V. Ramana, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court and executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) underscored the need for giving legal assistance to the marginalized as early as when a person is called to a police station on suspicion. Justice Ramana nominated as the NALSA executive chairman with effect from November 27 has issued a vision document for NALSA for 2020.

Important highlights of ‘Vision 2020 document of NALSA’:

The plans outlined by him include a novel ‘Legal Aid Defence Counsel System’ which will engage lawyers on a full-time basis, an online portal for centralizing information about prisoners, providing legal assistance to the needy at pre-arrest, arrest and remand stages, and convening of legal services clinic in jails.  

He further highlighted the need to establish a “target-oriented mechanism”, wherein resources can be invested after identifying specific problem areas.

Justice Ramana said that one of the biggest problems hindering the success of legal aid was the lack of continuity, focus, and accountability.  

Provision for legal aid can be arranged by assigning the cases from the beginning to advocates whose sole attention will be on legal aid cases, and whose performance will therefore be more effectively reviewed.

The project on the ‘Legal Aid Defence Counsel System’ will be implemented in sixteen districts across the country on a pilot basis for two years.  

The online portal project is intended at creating a unified platform to integrate data about legal services provided to prisoners at all levels.

NALSA also plans to establish a specialized wing to provide fast action to persons affected by cyber offenses, a “victim assistance mechanism” to protect the victim in cases where the police are “negligent, non-responsive and partisan” in taking action on the grievances of a complainant. 

About the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987:

This Act constitutes legal services authorities at the National and respective State level to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.

It ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities by following Article 39A of the Indian Constitution which mentions about providing free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society.

The Act also authorizes to organize Lok Adalats and other Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms to provide quick, inexpensive, and effective resolution of disputes and promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity as per Article 14.  

The Act ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities. Hence, settling disputes at ground level helps in minimizing a load of adjudication on the overburdened judiciary.

The Act authorizes the formation of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee, and Taluk Legal Services Committee.  

Composition of NALSA:

National Legal Services Authority shall consist of

a. the Chief Justice of India who shall be the Patron-in-Chief  

b. a serving or retired Judge of the   Supreme Court to be nominated by the President, in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, who shall be the Executive Chairman and

c. A such number of other members, possessing such experience and qualifications, as may be prescribed by the Central Government, to be nominated in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

d. The Central Government shall, in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, appoint a person to be the Member Secretary of the Central Authority to exercise such powers and perform such duties under the Executive Chairman of the Central Authority. 

Functions of NALSA:

Frame the most effective and economical schemes to make legal services available to the weaker sections of the society.

Take necessary steps by way of social justice litigation about consumer protection, environmental protection, or any other matter of special concern to the weaker sections of the society and train the social workers in legal skills for the promotion of justice.

Undertake and promote research in the field of legal services with special reference to the need for such services among the poor.

To do all things necessary for ensuring commitment to the fundamental duties of citizens enshrined under Part IVA of the Indian Constitution. 

Monitor and evaluate the implementation of the legal aid programs and schemes at periodic intervals and also provide for their independent evaluation. It also provides grants-in-aid for specific schemes to various voluntary social service institutions and the State and District Authorities.

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 clinics in universities, law colleges, and other institutions.  

Make special efforts to enlist the support of voluntary social welfare institutions working at the grass-root level, particularly among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, women, and rural and urban labor. 

Coordinate and monitor the functioning of State Authorities, District Authorities, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committees, Taluk Legal Services Committees, voluntary social service institutions, and other legal services organizations.  

Supreme Court Legal Services Committee:

The Central Authority shall constitute a committee to be called the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to exercise such powers and perform such functions as may be determined by regulations made by the Central Authority.

The members of the Committee shall be nominated by the Chief Justice of India. 

The Committee shall consist of:

a. a sitting Judge of the Supreme   Court who shall be the Chairman

b. such number of other members possessing such experience and qualifications as may be prescribed by the Central Government  

Composition of State Legal Services Authority 

State Legal Services Authority also called State Authority shall consist of  the Chief Justice of the High Court who shall be the Patron-In-Chief

a serving or retired Judge of the High Court, to be nominated by the Governor, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, who shall be the Executive Chairman; and  

c) a Such number of other members to be nominated by the respective State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court.

d)The State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, appoint a person belonging to the State Higher Judicial Service, not lower in rank than that of a District Judge, as the Member-Secretary of the State Authority, to exercise such powers and perform such duties under the Executive Chairman of the State Authority.  

Functions of the State Legal Services Authority:

a. State Authority shall implement the policy and directions of the Central Authority.

b. Give legal service to persons belonging to the weaker section of the society.

c. Conduct Lok Adalats including Lok Adalats for High Court cases.

d. Undertake preventive and strategic legal aid programs.

High Court Legal Services Committee:

The State Authority shall constitute a Committee to be called the High Court Legal Services Committee for every High Court, to exercise such powers and perform such functions as prescribed.

The members of the Committee shall be nominated by the Chief Justice of respective High Courts. The Committee shall consist of:  

a. A sitting Judge of the High Court who shall be the Chairman

b. Such number of other members possessing such experience and qualifications as may be determined by regulations made by the State Authority.

c. The Chief Justice of the High Court shall appoint a Secretary to the Committee  

District Legal Services Authority:

The State Government shall, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, constitute a body to be called the District Legal Services Authority for every District in the State to exercise the powers and perform the functions conferred on them. A District Authority shall consist of 

A. the District Judge who shall be its Chairman;

B. such number of other members,  possessing such  experience and qualifications, to be nominated by that Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court;

C. The State Authority shall, in consultation with the Chairman of the District Authority, appoint a person belonging to the State Judicial Service not lower in rank than that of a Subordinate Judge or Civil Judge posted at the seat of the District Judiciary as Secretary of the District Authority to exercise such powers and perform such duties under the Chairman of that Committee.  

Functions of District Authority:

It shall be the duty of every District Authority to perform such of the functions of the State Authority in the District as may be delegated to it from time to

A. Coordinate the activities of the Taluk Legal Services Committee and other legal services in the District and  

B. To organize Lok Adalats within the     District.

District Authority shall, wherever appropriate, act in coordination with other governmental and non-governmental institutions, universities and others engaged in the work of promoting the cause of legal services to the poor and shall also be guided by such directions as the Central Authority or the State Authority.

Taluk Legal Services Authority:

The State Authority may constitute a Taluk Legal Services Committee, for each Taluk or Mandal or a group of taluks or manuals. The Committee shall consist of

A. The senior-most Judicial Officer operating within the jurisdiction of the Committee who shall be the ex officio Chairman, and

B. Such several other members, as may be prescribed by the State Government to be nominated by that Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court. 

The Taluk Legal Services Committee may perform all or any of the following functions, namely

a. coordinate the activities of legal services in the taluk

b. organize Lok Adalats within the taluk

c. perform other functions as assigned by the District Authority

Related Information: Lok Adalats: 

Every State Authority or District Authority or Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or, Taluk Legal Services Committee may organize Lok Adalats.

Every Lok Adalat organized for an area shall consist of a such number of serving or retired judicial officers and other members as may be prescribed by any of the respective Authorities.  

A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of

a. any case pending before or

b. any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized 

Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offense not compoundable under any law.  

Non-compoundable cases are serious criminal cases that cannot be quashed and compromise is not allowed between the parties. It is always registered in the name of the state. Eg. State of Karnataka vs XYZD.

Under Non-Compoundable offenses, a full trial is held which ends with the acquittal or conviction of the offender, based on the evidence presented in a Court of Law.

Functions of Lok Adalat:

Lok Adalat while hearing a case can summon and enforce the attendance of any witness and examine him/her on oath, can discover documents, can receive evidence, can ask for requisitioning of any public record or document or copy of such record or document from any court or office.

Lok Adalat can specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute. All the proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings.

Awards of Lok Adalat:

Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at.

Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.  

Criteria for giving legal services

Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act if that person is

a) a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;

b) a victim of trafficking in human  beings or begar as referred to in article 23 of the Constitution;

c)  a woman or a child; 

d) a person with a disability;

e) a person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic, violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster;

f) an industrial workman;

g) in custody, including custody in a protective home or a juvenile home or a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home.