Pro Bono Legal Aid

By Anmol Vashist, Assistant Editor, For the Sake of Argument

Posted : April 6th,2015

With nearly 27 crore people below poverty line (Planning Commission, 2012), the economic State of affairs of India poses a challenge to rendering effective legal services. When a large Section of the population finds it difficult to possess even sufficient means to live, it is unfair to expect them to cater to lawyers’ fees. It is equally unjust for lawyers to demand fees not Commensurate with the economic status of their clients.

“Pro Bono Legal services” refers to the practice of giving legal assistance to those unable to represent them for want of money. Those in genuine need of legal help are represented by lawyers for free or at a minimal cost. The lawyer recognizes his duty to further societal interests and works selflessly in favour of the needy.

Legal Aid as Part of Right to Fair Trial

 A reasonable, fair and just trial involves free legal services to the poor ( Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, AIR 1369 SC 1979). A trial conducted in the absence of due legal representation to the economically disabled stands vitiated (Suk Das & Anr. v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, AIR 991 SC 1986). The right to free legal aid has been recognized as part of the right to life and personal liberty (Article 21). Article 39 A directs the State to ensure that justice is not denied to those unable to seek its recourse for want of economic means.

 Lawyer’s Obligation to Render Pro Bono Services

 Though the primary obligation to provide legal aid lies with the State, lawyers, as part of the civil society, are under a moral obligation to render their services to those in genuine need and distress. Rule 46 of the “Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette”, Bar Council of India Rules states: “Every advocate shall in the practice of the profession of law bear in mind that any one genuinely in need of a lawyer is entitled to legal assistance even though he cannot pay for it fully or adequately and that within the limits of an Advocate’s economic condition, free legal assistance to the indigent and oppressed is one of the highest obligations an advocate owes to society.” The rule recognizes the primary duty of an advocate: to safeguard the poor and the needy. The wise words of Justice Krishna Iyer still ring true:

“Judicial justice, with procedural intricacies, legal submissions and critical examination of evidence, leans upon professional expertise; and a failure of equal justice under the law is on the cards where such supportive skill is absent for one side. Our judicature… compel the collaboration of lawyer-power or steering the wheels of equal justice under the law. Free legal services to the needy is part of the English criminal justice system.” (M.H. Hoskat v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1548 SC 1978) As custodians of law, lawyers are obliged to effectively extend assistance and broaden the horizons of legal-reach to those in wanting—for only when law reaches the poor can an advocate claim justice.