About Pro Bono Legal Service
'Pro bono legal service implies free legal service by lawyers. In a country like India that is overwhelmed by poor and underprivileged undertrials, pro bono legal services can immensely contribute to the fast disposal of cases and reduce the burden of pendency from the judiciary.
The expression ‘pro bono’ is derived from the Latin expression pro bono public which means ‘for the public good’. The pro bono services' beneficiaries need not pay their lawyers professional fees.. Article 39A of the Constitution directs the State to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of society to facilitate justice based on equal opportunities. Additionally, Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals underlines the obligation of the Member States to ensure equal opportunities of justice to all without discrimination. The concept of pro bono legal consultation was formally given a statutory shape under the Legal Sevices Authority Act, 1987, and the wings of the Legal Services Authority were set up with a three-tier system i.e the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in New Delhi along with State and District Legal Services Authority in each state and districts respectively. The Chief Justice of India is the ex-officio patron-in-chief of NALSA while the second seniormost judge serves as its ex-officio executive chairman.
Objectives of the Pro Bono Legal Services
The motto of this program is to promote the pro bono culture of legal consultation and it seeks to develop the institutional structure for the same. The program serves dual objectives, firstly, it seeks to address the legal needs of the underprivileged and deprived section of the society, and secondly, it duly acknowledges and recognizes the lawyers who volunteer for this program and invest their time and effort. This initiative aims to expand the accessibility of justice to the last man standing in the queue. This initiative provides a platform for the lawyers to demonstrate their social awareness abilities, enhance their network, promote professional development, and ensure publicity for the volunteer lawyers.
The major objectives include:
- Encouraging lawyers and legal professionals to render pro bono legal services for society.
- Recognizing and appreciating pro bono legal work by lawyers and legal professionals.
- Creation of a database to maintain a bank of lawyers and legal professionals for appropriate positions in the relevant field.
Additionally, the Department has launched a Pro Bono Club Scheme, to strengthen the pro bono scheme, by including law schools and students under its domain. This initiative aims to enhance the quality of pro bono legal services by assisting pro bono advocates by selected law students. The selected law students, known as ‘Pro Bono Associates’ become a part of the Pro Bono Club and the Legal Aid Society of their law school.
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Eligibility to apply for legal help
The government has specifically launched a Nyaya Bandhu Application and this Application serves as a connecting link between the needy and the experts, i.e the Applicants and the Advocates. Any person intending to benefit from the Nyaya Bandhu initiative must be covered under Section 12 of the NALSA Act, 1987. It lays down the eligibility criteria for availing of the benefits of this scheme. Marginalised sections of the society can also avail of free legal aid.
Registration for the Applicants
Any applicant aspiring to become a beneficiary of this scheme and get free legal advice can register themselves on the UMANG portal, Nyaya Bandhu App, or the Nyaya Bandhu web portal. The Applicants need to complete their profile and add the relevant details of their case on the portal. Once the details of the case are uploaded, any advocate from the database is randomly allotted that case, subject to the satisfaction of two parameters, first, the area of practice of the advocate and the jurisdiction in which the case is pending or is to be heard.
Thereafter, the Applicant is, either navigated to ‘Assign Advocate’ page with a list of advocates shortlisted as per the case details, or sometimes, the Applicant is directly notified that an advocate will be assigned to the case by the Department itself. When an advocate accepts a case, that case shifts to ‘Ongoing Cases’. It also facilitates the exchange of information between the Applicant and the Advocate. Lastly, the Advocate can mark the case as closed if he is satisfied with the court's final judgment.
Eligibility for lawyers and legal professionals to register for the service
The lawyers and advocates intending to provide pro bono services must be enrolled with any Bar Council of the country. He/She must be a practicing advocate. This scheme does not create any age limit for the advocates willing to contribute and enrich the pro bono culture in the legal practice. However, advocates aged 44-54 years are provided the opportunity to serve in different capacities for which they need to provide additional details.
The advocates must be registered with ‘Service Plus’, a government portal, and have a ‘Service Plus’ ID. The lawyers must log in through their ‘Service Plus’ ID, register themselves, and create their profile for pro bono services by furnishing the required details. The registered advocates are then included in the database and are notified of any requirement when requested by the registered Applicants.