The Legal Aid Counsel program, designed and implemented by His Lordship the Honourable Justice A.S. Anand when His Lordship was Executive Chair, has been well received across the country. Legal assistance has been provided in most of the country`s courts of first instance to provide immediate legal assistance to prisoners who are unable to hire their own lawyer. The first movement of legal aid seems to date back to 1851, when legislation was introduced in France to provide legal assistance to those in need. In Britain, the history of organised state efforts to provide legal services to the poor and needy dates back to 1944, when Lord Chancellor Viscount Simon set up the Rushcliffe Committee to examine existing facilities in England and Wales to obtain legal advice to the poor and to make desirable recommendations to ensure that people in need of legal advice from the state. Since 1952, the Indian government has also addressed the issue of legal aid for the poor in various conferences of justice ministers and legal commissions. In 1960, certain guidelines for legal aid plans were developed by the government. Legal aid programmes have been established in various countries through legal aid committees, companies and legal services. In 1980, a committee was formed at the national level to oversee and supervise legal aid programmes throughout the country under the chairmanship of the Honourable Justice P.N. Bhagwati was then a Justice of the Supreme Court of India. This committee became known as CILAS (Committee for the Implementation of Legal Aid Schemes) and began overseeing legal aid throughout the country.
The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the country`s judicial system and succeeded in providing litigants with a complementary forum for the conciliatory settlement of their differences. In 1987, the Law on Legal Aid Bodies was promulgated in order to provide a legal basis for legal aid programmes throughout the country in a uniform pattern. The Act finally entered into force on 9 November 1995, after some amendments introduced by the 1994 Amending Act. The Honourable Justice R.N. Mishra, then Chief Justice of India, played a key role in enforcing the law. Judge S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman of NALSA, stressed at the working session of the Second Annual Meeting of State Legal Services Authorities in Hyderabad that counseling and mediation centers should be established in all districts of the country to reach a negotiated solution to disputes between the parties. All State legal services are taking steps to establish such centres, which would be extremely useful in resolving pre-litigation disputes and would also assist legal officials in determining whether or not a person who comes to them has prima facie grounds in their favour, which is a prerequisite for the granting of legal aid. Hon. The Executive Chairman has repeatedly stressed that legal aid should not be provided systematically and that frivolous cases should not be taken over by legal aid authorities.
Taluk legal committees are also formed for each taluk or mandal or for groups of taluk or mandals to coordinate the activities of the taluk legal services and organize lok adalats. Each member of the Taluk Legal Advisory Committee is headed by a senior civilian judge who works within the scope of the Committee`s duties and is its ex officio chair. Permanent and continuous Lok Adalats are established in all districts of the country. NALSA has provided funding to state legal aid agencies to implement legal aid programs and programs and will continue to do so, but the infrastructure must be provided by state governments. Separate permanent and continuous locomotive adalats in ministries aim to settle pending cases amicably as well as cases in the pre-litigation phase between ministries and the public, thus reducing the flow of disputes before the ordinary courts. In so many government bodies of these locomotives, the Adalats became functional. In Delhi, permanent locomotive adalats have been established at the Delhi Vidyut Board, Delhi Development Authority, Municipal Corpn. of Delhi, MTNL and General Insurance Corpn. These locomotive adalats are becoming more and more popular day by day, and it is expected that very soon a large number of disputes between public and judicial authorities will be resolved in the pre-litigation phase itself, in order to spare the parties unnecessary costs and contentious inconveniences.
In other states, state legal services agencies have also taken steps to sue state governments. and legal bodies, etc., to establish separate permanent locomotive adalats for the amicable settlement of their disputes. In his letter published in “Nyaya Deep” and in his keynote address to the meeting of member secretaries held on 19.2.2000 at the NALSA office, Judge S.P. Bharucha, Executive Chairman of NALSA, stressed the need to improve the quality of legal aid provided by lawyers. His Lordship noted that millions of people in this country, living below the poverty line in backward and remote tribal areas, turn to legal services authorities for help and assistance in resolving their legal problems. When they are involved in litigation, they very often feel that they are fighting an unequal battle in which the party with better financial resources can get more competent legal assistance. His Lordship believes that these poor and weaker strata should not give the impression that they receive comparatively inferior legal assistance. His Lordship has asked the legal services authorities to revise the remuneration schedule for Legal Aid Board lawyers and tighten them up so that the lawyers of the Unit receive more work and better remuneration from the legal aid authorities and thus be encouraged to provide effective legal assistance to those supported.
Attorneys work at the taluk, district, high court and high court levels to deal with mutual legal assistance cases. The Act provides for the establishment of a national legal aid and legal aid network. The National Legal Services Authority is the governing body responsible for establishing guidelines and principles for the provision of legal services in accordance with the provisions of the law and for developing the most efficient and cost-effective systems for legal services. In addition, funds and grants are provided to public legal services and NGOs for the implementation of mutual legal assistance programmes and programmes. The first annual meeting of the State Legal Services Authority was held on 12 September 1998 in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, under the chairmanship of His Lordship Justice A.S. Anand, then Executive Chairman of NALSA. His Lordship Mr. Judge S.B. Majmudar, Justice of the Supreme Court of India and Chairman of the Legal Services Committee of the Supreme Court, members of the Central Authority and Executive Presidents and Secretaries of the State Legal Service attended the meeting. The meeting reviewed the status of ongoing NALSA programmes and took far-reaching decisions to strengthen and streamline legal aid programmes in the country.