The role of legal aid in promoting access to justice

Author :Dhanvi Choubey, Bennett University

It has been appointed by a very important political philosopher Charles de Montesquieu that in a state all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this state of equality, the society make them to lose it and it can only be recovered through a positive action of state.


Legal aid plays a crucial role in promoting access to justice, particularly for marginalized and economically disadvantaged groups. This article examines the importance of legal aid, exploring its historical evolution, its impact on society, and the challenges it faces. We delve into various models of legal aid delivery, analyse its benefits, and consider the barriers hindering its effectiveness. The article concludes by offering solutions to enhance the provision of legal aid and addresses frequently asked questions to clarify common concerns about legal aid services.


Access to justice is a fundamental human right, essential for the protection of all other rights. Legal aid, which provides legal assistance to those who cannot afford it, is a cornerstone of this principle. By ensuring that everyone, regardless of their financial status, has the opportunity to seek and obtain legal assistance, legal aid helps to uphold the rule of law and promote social justice.

1. Historical Evolution of Legal Aid and Models of Legal Aid Delivery

The concept of legal aid dates to ancient civilizations where rulers provided free legal assistance to the poor. Modern legal aid systems began to take shape in the early 20th century, with significant developments occurring post-World War II. The establishment of legal aid services became more structured and widespread, especially with the influence of international human rights frameworks emphasizing access to justice.

Legal aid systems vary widely across different jurisdictions. The three primary models are:

-Judicare Model: In this system, the government pays private lawyers to represent indigent clients. This model is prevalent in countries like Canada and Germany.

– Public Defender Model: Here, the state employs full-time lawyers to provide legal assistance to those in need. This model is commonly seen in the United States and some Latin American countries.

– Mixed Model: A combination of the judicare and public defender models, where both private lawyers and public defenders are used to provide legal aid. Many countries, including the UK and Australia, adopt this mixed approach.

 2.The Impact of Legal Aid on Society and Challenges Facing Legal Aid

Legal aid is essential for ensuring equality before the law. Without it, individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds would be disproportionately disadvantaged, unable to navigate the complexities of the legal system or defend their rights effectively. By providing legal representation to those who cannot afford it, legal

aid strengthens the rule of law. It ensures that laws are applied fairly and consistently, and that everyone has a chance to be heard in court, thus preventing miscarriages of justice. Further Access to legal aid has broader social benefits. It can help reduce poverty and inequality, improve public health outcomes by addressing legal issues that affect well-being, and enhance social stability by resolving disputes through legal channels rather than through conflict. One of the biggest challenges is inadequate funding. Legal aid programs often struggle with limited budgets, which restricts their ability to serve all those in need and can lead to long wait times and lower quality of service. Many people are unaware of their rights or the availability of legal aid services. Even when they are aware, accessing these services can be challenging due to geographic, linguistic, or bureaucratic barriers. Ensuring high-quality legal representation is another significant challenge. Overburdened legal aid lawyers might not be able to dedicate sufficient time and resources to each case, potentially compromising the quality of their advocacy.

3. Solutions to Enhance Legal Aid

Increased Funding-Governments and private sectors need to increase funding for legal aid services. Innovative funding mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships and dedicated legal aid levies, could help in this regard.

 Legal Education and Awareness Campaigns-Raising awareness about legal rights and the availability of legal aid through public education campaigns can ensure that more people seek and benefit from these services.

Technological Integration-Utilizing technology, such as online legal resources, virtual consultations, and automated legal advice platforms, can make legal aid more accessible and efficient.

 Training and Support for Legal Aid Providers-Providing continuous professional development and support for legal aid lawyers can improve the quality of representation. This includes training in specialized areas of law and providing access to necessary resources and tools.

Case laws

Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra

The court issued directions on the need to provide legal assistance to all prisoners lodged in jails in Maharashtra and reiterated the constitutional imperative of providing legal aid to poor accused. It emphasized to protect rights of prisoners against torture and ill- treatment and especially when their incarceration may prevent access to legal assistance. To ensure that prisoners have access to legal aid, the court directed the Maharashtra prisons to send a list of all under trial prisoners to the Legal Aid Committee of the district and to facilitate interactions between lawyers nominated by these Legal Aid Committees and prisoners who desire legal assistance.

Ramakant & Ors. v. State of M.P.

The court, in this case, noted that an eligible person is entitled to free legal aid at any stage of the proceedings. The court highlighted that The Constitution of India, 1950 or the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 doesn’t make any distinction between a trial and an appeal to provide free legal aid to an accused or a person in custody.

Mumtaz v. State Govt. of Delhi

The Court observed the importance of providing legal aid to those who come from the underprivileged background of society and who are not able to get legal assistance on their own. According to Article 39A of the Constitution, citizens are entitled to free legal aid and equal justice. The court also held that the person should be provided with experienced legal aid counsel who would work effectively and help the person in the best possible manner. Also, it was observed that the sessions court failed to protect the rights which have been guaranteed under Article 21.

AI Statutory Corporation v. Labor Union

The court held that to make rights enriched the shift of judicial orientation from private law principles to public law interpretation harmoniously fusing the interest of the individual entrepreneur and the paramount interest of the community is essential. Article 39-A furnishes beacon light that justice be done based on equal opportunity and no one be denied justice because of economic or other disabilities. Courts are sentinel on the qui vive of the rights of the people, particularly the poor.


Legal aid is indispensable for promoting access to justice. While it faces numerous challenges, strategic improvements in funding, awareness, technology, and lawyer support can enhance its effectiveness. By ensuring that everyone, regardless of their financial status, has access to legal representation, we uphold the principles of equality and the rule of law, fostering a more just and equitable society.


Q1: What is legal aid?

A: Legal aid is a service that provides free or low-cost legal assistance to individuals who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. It ensures that everyone has access to legal representation, regardless of their financial situation.

Q2: Who is eligible for legal aid?

A: Eligibility for legal aid varies by jurisdiction but generally includes individuals with low income, those facing serious legal issues, or vulnerable groups such as victims of domestic violence, refugees, and the elderly.

Q3: How can I apply for legal aid?

A: To apply for legal aid, you typically need to contact your local legal aid office or organization. The process may involve filling out an application form and providing documentation to prove your financial situation and the nature of your legal issue.

Q4: How is legal aid funded?

A: Legal aid is primarily funded by the government, but funding can also come from private donations, grants, and special levies or taxes. Some countries have legal aid funds supported by interest on lawyers’ trust accounts or court fees.

Q5: Can legal aid be used for appeals?

A: In many cases, legal aid can be used for appeals, but this depends on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. You would need to check with your local legal aid office to determine eligibility for appellate representation.

Q6: Are there alternatives to traditional legal aid?

A: Yes, there are alternatives such as pro bono services from private lawyers, legal clinics, and non-profit organizations that offer free legal assistance. Additionally, some jurisdictions have community legal advisors or paralegals who can provide support.

Q7: How can I support legal aid services?

A: You can support legal aid services by donating to legal aid organizations, volunteering your time if you are a legal professional, advocating for increased funding and awareness, and participating in public education campaigns about the importance of access to justice.

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