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Report No. 14

Appendix IV

Voluntary Organisations for free Legal Aid to Poor Persons

In the States of Assam, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh no voluntary legal aid organisations exist for grant of free legal aid. The position in the other States is set out below:

Bombay

The non-official agencies for rendering legal aid and service in the State of Bombay are the Bombay Legal Aid Society and similar legal aid societies in Poona, Ahmednagar and Nasik.

The Bombay Legal Aid Society deserves particular mention for its pioneering work in this field. It was registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1869 in the year 1924 with the following objects.-

(a) to undertake, promote and develop legal aid work, to encourage the formation of new legal aid organisations and to co-operate with the judiciary, the Bar and all organisations interested in the administration of justice so as to make justice accessible to the poor and to reduce the costs of litigation; to render legal aid gratuitously, if necessary, to all who may appear worthy thereof and who are unable to procure assistance elsewhere;

(b) to provide lawyers to the poor in cases lawyers are necessary and procure proper representation of their cases before the court or other authority;

(c) to make provision for payment of court fees and other charges on behalf of poor litigants to whom aid is granted;

(d) to do all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects or any of them.

The membership of the Society for which there is a nominal fee of Rs. 2 per name is open to lawyers and laymen. The society has on its rolls several advocates of the Original Side, Attorneys-at-law and lawyers practising in the Presidency Small Cause Courts and Magistrates Courts in the Bombay City as also several laymen. The Society has been rendering legal aid service to poor citizens without making any charge for legal aid or advice. The tests applied for eligibility of legal aid are--(1) whether the applicant has a bona fide case or defence, and (2) whether the applicant is too poor to pay the fee of the lawyer. If the applicant is too poor to pay the court fee, he is assisted in making a petition to the court to be allowed to sue or defend in forma pauperis.

The Society has handled all types of cases in all the courts in Bombay. Since its registration, it has received more than 2000 applications from poor persons requiring legal aid and has been consulted by and given free legal advice to a very large number of applicants from all parts of the State. It also m4intains contact with other social service organizations in Bombay. All persons requiring legal aid and advice are referred to the Society by Government, the High Court, other courts and the municipal and port trust authorities and social service agencies. If the matter in which a poor litigant in Bombay is concerned is in a court outside Bombay, the Society endeavours to put the applicant in touch with a local practising lawyer who is willing to act for the applicant without charging any fees.

The Society has published a pamphlet styled "Justice and Poor" which is a factual study of the incidence of costs of litigation in the State of Bombay. Under its auspices a provincial legal aid conference was held in Bombay in 1949 and presided over by the Hon'ble Mr. Justice J.C. Shah of the Bombay High Court. The proceedings of the conference have been published in a book form by the Society and in this way it has strived to keep alive the interest of the legal profession and the public in the legal aid movement in Bombay.

In August 1955 the Society held a legal aid week in Bombay and in the legal aid conference held during the week resolutions were adopted calling upon the Bar and the general public to lend their full support to the movement.

In addition to providing free legal aid and advice to poor litigants the Society has from time to time moved both the courts and the Government for making amendments in the practice and the procedure of the courts, and amending such provisions as tend to cause hardship to poor litigants. The Society receives an annual grant-in-aid of Rs. 12,000 only from Government of Bombay and donations from some of the Presidency Magistrates from the poor boxes maintained in their courts and an annual grant of Rs. 300 made by Sir Ness Wadia.

In the moffusil, legal aid organisations with more or less similar aims and objects exist in Poona, Ahmednagar and Nasik. Their work has, however, not been, as extensive as the work of the Bombay Society.

Madras

Pursuant to a resolution passed at the ninth session of the Madras State Lawyers conference held under the auspices of the Madras State Bar Federation in December 1954, a Legal Aid Committee was constituted at Madras and a number of lawyers expressed their willingness to serve gratuitously in cases entrusted to them. The assistance of counsel was also made available in respect of a few cases in courts and legal advice was given in some others. But due to several difficulties experienced in the working of the scheme it was felt that unless there was a regular organisation with the necessary staff the scheme could not properly function.

West Bengal

In 1952, a legal aid and advice society of West Bengal was formed and registered under the Societies Registration Act in May 1953. It was established for making legal aid and advice readily available to persons of small and moderate means. Under its scheme it has given legal aid and advice to all persons irrespective of their nationality and in all courts and tribunals in the State and in all jurisdictions. It gives such aid in all deserving cases without making any charges. If a litigant is able to make any financial contributions to the Society's funds it is accepted for meeting the actual cost of the litigation.

The scope of the legal aid consists in drawing up pleadings or petitions and replies, appearance in court by competent lawyers at all stages of litigation including appeals and also the securing of expert evidence or the reports or opinions of experts in medical and technical matters. If any costs are recovered from the opposite party, the society retain such costs to replenish its funds and for payment to lawyers upto 75 per cent of the actual lees or provides costs taxed by the court. In such a case, all contributions made by the poor party are refunded to him. The Society has on its panel Barristers, Solicitors and Pleaders of the lower courts who ungrudgingly render their services in the cause of free legal aid. The tests which an applicant must satisfy are:-

(1) His financial incapacity:

(2) Justice of the case;

(3) Legal merits of the case.

No help is given to cases of speculative litigation. Before starting litigation on behalf of the poor litigant the Society sends out a letter of request to the other party for negotiation and amicable settlement and sometimes a dispute is settled by this process, even though it means long correspondence and interviews. The Society also takes up cases which are recommended to it by the High Court Judges and other distinguished persons.

The Society has received help and support from distinguished persons. It receives the free gift of a law library from Sri Sambunath Bannerji Ex-Judge of the Calcutta High Court and office accommodation from Dr. B.C. Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal. The West Bengal Government has also contributed more than ten thousand rupees to the Society for carrying on its work but in view of the over-growing demand for its services the Society stands in need of more funds.

In 1956, the Society gave legal advice to 131 parties who sought legal advice from the Society. The Society conducted more than forty suits and proceedings in different courts of law. More than half a dozen legal disputes were settled during the year through the intervention of the Society without recourse to litigation. The Society helped about a dozen parties in realising their dues from the Government or other public bodies.

Uttar Pradesh

There is a legal aid society in Uttar Pradesh functioning since 1952. It is trying to give legal aid to deserving persons but finds great difficulty in its work without the co­operation of Government. The Society requested Government for a vacant building for its office but it was not granted. In short, for lack of proper co-operation from the High Court the Government and the Bar, the Society has been able to do very little work since its inception. Its aims and objects are to give legal aid and advice to the poor and to secure representation in courts on their behalf, to set up boards of conciliation for amicable settlement, to help junior lawyers become useful members of their profession and to enlist their services for the Society etc.

Andhra Pradesh

It was learnt from the Bar Association of Guntur that the members of the local cultural association styled the Jyotsana Samiti have resolved to arrange for free legal aid to poor litigants through the lawyer members.

Mysore

The Bangalore Legal Aid Society provides assistance to poor persons in criminal appeals in the High Court. There are also legal aid societies in Dharwar and Bijapur on the same lines as those found in the moffusil of Bombay like Poona and Nasik.

Bihar

There is a Legal Aid Society in Bhagalpur which is a voluntary organisation of lawyers who render assistance gratis to accused persons in criminal cases.

Orissa

There is a Legal Aid and Advice Society in Balasore.



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