January 5, 2024
Justice Gavai: New Chairman of SC Legal Services Committee
Mandate of the Committee
- The appointment of Justice BR Gavai as Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC), succeeding Justice Sanjiv Khanna, was announced by the Department of Justice on December 29, 2023. The SCLSC operates under Section 3A of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, with the primary objective of providing free and competent legal services to marginalized sections within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Composition and Nominations
- As per the Act, the Central Authority (National Legal Services Authority – NALSA) establishes the committee. The committee, chaired by a sitting SC judge, comprises members nominated by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), alongside a Secretary appointed by the CJI.
- Presently, the SCLSC includes Chairperson BR Gavai and nine members nominated by the CJI. The committee also holds the authority to appoint officers and staff, following guidelines set forth by the Center and in consultation with the CJI.
Legal Services: The Need and Dispensation
- The necessity for legal services finds basis in several provisions of the Indian Constitution. Article 39A emphasizes the state’s responsibility to ensure justice through the legal system, particularly by offering free legal aid to eliminate barriers faced due to economic or other disadvantages.
- Articles 14 and 22(1) further accentuate the state’s obligation to provide equality before the law and ensure justice based on equal opportunities.
Evolution of Legal Aid
- While the notion of legal aid emerged in the 1950s, significant strides occurred in 1980 with the establishment of a national committee chaired by Justice PN Bhagwati, dedicated to implementing legal aid schemes across India.
- The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 provided the statutory framework for legal aid programs. It targets eligible groups, including women, children, marginalized categories like SC/ST and EWS, industrial workers, disabled persons, and others.
Implementation and Structure
- Under this Act, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was formed in 1995 to oversee and set policies for executing legal aid programs. State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) and District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) were subsequently established, each playing a role in providing free legal services, conducting Lok Adalats, and enhancing legal awareness.
- The Legal Services Authorities Act, along with its subsequent establishment of NALSA and various subsidiary bodies, institutionalizes the provision of free legal aid and assistance, ensuring access to justice for all strata of society. Justice Gavai’s appointment further fortifies the commitment to this fundamental principle of equitable legal assistance.