Is Legal Aid a Human Right?

by  Adv. Umapathi Natarajan  




2 mins


legal aid human rights


By virtue of being a Human, a person is entitled to Human rights. These inalienable rights are sometimes referred to as “natural rights”, because they are drawn from the divine rule of nature. Legal aid is a human right.

It is recognized in state law that legal aid is a human right. Civil and political rights are included in the Indian Constitution as Fundamental Rights, whereas economic, social, and cultural rights are enshrined as State Policy Directive Principles.

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Following points must be kept in mind:

  • Even people suspected of committing crimes are guaranteed basic human rights under our law and legal aid is a human right. The notion of ‘Due Process’ is central to the Indian criminal justice system, and it encompasses a wide range of rights for anyone facing criminal charges.
  • It is based on the adversarial system concept, in which the court plays the function of an impartial mediator between the prosecution and the defense. 
  • Our judicial system is shaped by the Anglo-American model, and our judicial process is guided by similar legal technology. These factors compel lawyers to work together to steer the wheels of equal justice under the law.
  • An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and accusations must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The principle of reasonability asserts that “it is preferable for 10 criminal people to go free than for one innocent person to suffer”. Legal aid is a human right and this can be said because of the principle on which our criminal law is based. 
  • Legal aid is a human right that is provided without regard to any legal proceedings in any court or tribunal. Its nature not only has the ability to heal, but it also has the ability to prevent. “The poor and uneducated should be allowed to approach the court, and their illiteracy and poverty should not be an obstacle to obtaining justice”, Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed.

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Legal Aid is a Human right- Provisions in the Indian Legal System

The origins of legal aid being a human right, a human right may be traced back to the British Empire. Our constitution’s founding fathers were also freedom warriors. 

  • They’d witnessed how the harsh Detention Law impacted civil freedoms. They had been detained in jail for a lengthier amount of time due to the policy of “no counsel, no hearing, and no appeal”.
  • Many of them were attorneys by profession, so they understood the value of having a lawyer on your side, especially in criminal matters. This is why, under Article 22(1) of the Indian Constitution, they have provided for legal aid. And because of the same reason, legal aid is a human right.
  • Legal aid is a human right and is another part of applying the “rule of law”. It is committed to the idea of equal justice for the poor; denying such a right to the poor would be a breach of the principle of equal protection under the law, resulting in a violation of Article 14.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees a quick trial and upholds that legal aid is a human right. The state has a legal obligation to provide a poor individual with representation and must pay the lawyer’s fees as determined by the court. Therefore, it can be said that legal aid is a human right. 
  • According to Sections 303, 304(1), and 41D of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, if the accused is not represented by a pleader in a trial before the Court of Sessions, the court shall appoint a pleader for his defense at the expense of the state if the accused lacks adequate resources. These provisions also indicate that legal aid is a human right.

However, there is a gap in these laws, which is that an illiterate accused’s entitlement to free legal consultation would be void unless the magistrate or session judge before whom he is brought advises him of this right. In order to overcome this constraint, the Court has used a pragmatic approach in its judicial decisions.

  • Legal aid being a human right should be provided to convicts at all phases of their sentence, including for the preparation of appeals, mercy petitions, and accessing judicial remedies once a mercy petition is denied. During the interrogation, the accused must have access to legal counsel. Therefore, it can be said that legal aid is a human right. 
  • In addition to trials and convicts, legal help should be provided to destitute individuals in police custody. The trial could be tainted if the appellant was not provided with adequate legal representation to defend himself, and if there were no alleged errors by defense counsel that caused prejudice, the court could independently reweigh the evidence, aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and not have sentenced the appellant to death. Article 21 makes it clear that legal aid is a human right as well as a fundamental right.

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With the addition of Art 21 to Article 39A, free legal help at the state’s expense has been elevated to the status of a fundamental right. Legal aid is a human right as stated in various judgments by the Supreme Court. Article 39A of the Constitution addresses the legislative and the executive branch, but it also includes the Court, which interprets statutes and participates in ‘Judicial Lawmaking’.

The goal is to increase public engagement by establishing legal consultation clinics around the country. It is high time to properly administer legal aid so that those who are in desperate need of assistance can receive it. Law must not only preach the right, but it must also act in a just manner.

Legal aid is a fundamental human right that is provided without regard to any legal proceedings in any court or tribunal. Talk to the lawyer and seek the right Legal assistance

Adv. Umapathi Natarajan

Adv. Umapathi Natarajan


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With 24 years of independent practice, Advocate Umapathi Natarajan has gained extensive experience in handling legal cases while providing legal consultancy and advisory services with a focus on achieving results in an ethical and professional manner. Advocate Umapathi Natarajan, who can speak English, Tamil, and Telugu, possesses excellent communication skills that enable him to articulate arguments persuasively in both written and verbal forms.

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