Article 39A of the Indian Constitution contains provisions for free legal aid to the weaker and poor sections of the society in order to ensure justice for all. Also, articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all. Therefore, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 for the provision of free legal services to the weaker sections of the society (defined under section 12 of the Act) and to organize Lok Adalats for speedy and amicable resolution of cases, in 1995. NALSA is also involved in monitoring & evaluating the implementation of legal aid programmes and laying down principles & policies for making legal services available under the Act.
To give effect to the directions of NALSA, State Legal Services Authority in every state, High Court Legal Services Authority in every High Court, Taluk Legal Services Authority in most of the Taluks and District Legal Services Authority in most of the Districts have been constituted. Supreme Court Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement and administer the legal services programme insofar as it relates to the Supreme Court. NALSA lays down guidelines, principles, policies and is involved in framing effective and economical schemes for the State Legal Services Authorities to execute the Legal Services Programmes throughout the country. Primarily, all these authorities have been constituted to discharge the following functions regularly:
- Provision of free and competent legal services to eligible persons.
- Organization of Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of cases in an amicable manner.
- Organization of legal awareness camps in rural areas.
Lok Adalats are alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution. They are organized in order to settle the civil & criminal compoundable cases in the pre-litigation stage and those cases which are pending in the courts in an amicable manner. They are organized under section 19 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 and are given statutory status under the Act. The Legal Services Authority Act has been amended in order to provide for a mandatory pre-litigation mechanism for the cases related to Public Utility Services, thereby establishing Permanent Lok Adalats with jurisdiction over Public Utility Services.