Free legal aid still a foreign concept despite the attempts of NALSA to spread awareness about it.
Underprivileged people are still unaware of free legal aid, despite the efforts by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to spread literacy about their legal rights.
Chandrakala Yadav, a shop owner in Golahalli, said that she has spent approximately Rs. 80,000 on a property dispute in the city civil court for 20 years now. She hired two advocates whom she paid Rs. 40,000 each. She had to sell her jewellery to pay them, but all of this was of no use, she said. She has a family of four and has to run it on about Rs. 20,000 per month.
Purushottam, member-secretary of District Legal Service Authority (DLSA), Urban Bengaluru, said that they have been providing legal education to people and spreading awareness about it, but people do not approach them. The DLSA has a panel of 150 advocates, who are appointed for a term of two years, to take up pro-bono cases. It is a mandate for legal service authorities to provide underprivileged people with free legal services. The advocates are paid Rs. 5000 for pro-bono cases by the government or the DSLA, he added.
Any advocate taking any money from the party, he is usually removed from the case, Purushottam said.
Chandrakala’s case is still pending in the court as the advocate has refused to work on it, leaving the family financially stressed. Had she known about free-legal aid services, she would have opted for it and saved the money spent on the lawyers, she said.
Chandrashekar P., an advocate in the city civil court, explained that not everyone gets selected to handle pro bono cases. They should have been practicing law for seven years, he explained.
There is no income limit for women, children, people from Scheduled Caste (SC), and Schedule Tribe (ST) for seeking free legal aid. However, men should have an income below Rs. 3,00,000 per annum for seeking free legal aid, he said.
Chandrashekar said, “Clients feel that if they pay a certain amount then only the advocate will plead their case properly and if they are taking up cases for free then they would not give their best in the case.”Moreover, pro-bono in India is not institutionalized as there is no mandate for law firms to take up pro-bono cases, he added.
He said that law firms cannot take pro-bono cases as it is a collection of advocates and lawyers, which includes those with only one to two years of experience. Only individual legal practitioners can take pro-bono cases if they are registered with the DSLA, he added.
The Chief Justice of India, Justice N.V. Ramana had criticized law firms for not taking pro-bono cases. Purshottam said that DSLA has contacted law firms regarding the same. “Twenty six people have agreed to take up five pro-bono cases each annually,” he said. Although currently they are in negotiation stage regarding the same but he has said that by January these law firms would start taking pro-bono cases along with other litigation suits.