Free Legal Aid through NALSA: Justice for all

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In India, National Legal Services Day is commemorated on November 09 every year as a token towards the adoption of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. This Act aims to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities. Also, it aims to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice based on equal opportunity. Concerning this, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted under the Act of 1987 which helps in providing free legal services to the weaker sections of the society. According to Article 39(A) of the Constitution of India, the state should ensure that its policies secure men and women equally especially legal aid services so that no citizen is deprived of it because of economic or other disabilities. Along with this, Articles 14 and 22 of the Indian Constitution make it necessary for the state to provide equal justice and promote equal opportunity to all.  In this article, we will explore a brief history of legal aid in India, NALSA, and the eligibility criteria for getting legal services.

History of Legal Aid in India

In 1952, the Government of India started to address the question of legal aid for the poor in multiple conferences of law Commissions and Law Ministers. Further, certain guidelines were drawn by the government for the legal aid scheme in 1960 and the scheme was floated to different states through Legal Aid Boards, Law Departments, and Societies. A committee was constituted, at the national level, to supervise legal aid programs throughout the country, in 1980, under the chairmanship of then Judge of the Supreme Court Justice P.N. Bhagwati. The committee was known as CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes). The CILAS started to monitor legal aid activities throughout the country. Following this, Lok Adalats was introduced, adding a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of the country. Moreover, it also succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the litigants for conciliatory settlement of their disputes. Further, an act was enacted in 1987, the Legal Services Authorities Act, that gives a statutory base to legal aid programs throughout the country on a uniform pattern. After certain amendments, the Amendment Act of 1994, the Act was enforced in 1995. With the introduction of the Legal Services Authorities Act, NALSA was constituted and first started by the Supreme Court of India with the primary objective of speedily resolving cases and reducing the burden of the judiciary. The Chief Justice of India is the Patron-in-chief of NALSA. 

Who is eligible for getting free legal services?

According to Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, members of Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe, a victim of human trafficking, a woman, a child, a disabled person, an industrial workman, a person in custody, victims of mass disaster, and a person with annual income less than 9000 rupees are entitled to legal services. It states that “Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under this Act it that person is-

  • a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe;
  • a victim of trafficking in human beings or begar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution;
  • a woman or a child;
  • a person with disability as defined in clause (i) of Section 2 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995;
  • a person under circumstances of underserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic, violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake, or industrial disaster;
  • an industrial workman;
  • in custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause (j) of Section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987; or
  • in receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Government, if the case is before a court other than the Supreme Court and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the Central Government, if the case is before the Supreme Court.”

All persons, as mentioned in Section 12, who are eligible for free legal services are also entitled to legal services as per Section 13 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Section 13(2) also states that “an affidavit made by a person as to his income may be regarded as sufficient for making him eligible to the entitlement of legal services under this Act unless the concerned Authority has reason to disbelieve such affidavit.” 

How to become a Legal Aid Advocate?

To become a legal aid advocate, a person should be enrolled as an Advocate in the Bar Council and have experience of up to 3 years in criminal law. One should have good oral and written communication skills with an ability to work effectively and efficiently with others. Moreover, he/she should have high proficiency in work using Information Technology.  


In the light of justice, the Supreme Court of India has delivered various judgments interpreting free legal aid as an important aspect of ensuring equal justice and enhancing the accessibility of legal assistance for weaker sections of society. This can be clarified efficiently in the Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Patna case which is widely regarded as a limestone in India’s Legal aid moment. In India, the Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill was proposed to increase access to legal aid as well as establish a National Legal Aid and Services Authority and State Legal Services Authorities to monitor legal aid and services at both national and state levels. 


For free legal advice online in either English or Hindi, one can also log in to our legal advice platform where you can ask free legal queries or legal advice.


1. Who is the Patron-in-Chief of the NALSA?
2. Which Section of the Legal Services Authority Act deals with eligibility criteria for getting free legal services?