BENGALURU: Ideally any person brought before the court for a criminal offence has the right to free legal aid from the state, irrespective of his or her background. As things go, most of the accused do not avail this service because they simply do not know it exists.
A study by the Center for Law and Policy Research (CLPR), based on observation of first production cases in 10 criminal courts in Bengaluru, has some stark findings on state legal aid. CLPR is a city-based non-profit organisation.
In 144 out of the 288 cases the centre observed, between April 17 to May 27 this year for the study, the accused were not informed about legal aid at all. Jayna Kothari, director of CLPR, says, “Whenever an accused is brought before the magistrate, it is his/her obligation to inform the person concerned about the provision of legal aid. Even if the accused already has hired the services of a private lawyer, they should know what their rights and provisions to legal aid are. In fact when a person is arrested they should be informed about legal aid then and there itself, even by the police. This sadly does not happen.”
In 83 cases of the 288, it was not known whether or not the people concerned were informed about legal aid. Only in 61 cases were the accused informed of legal aid.
Kept in the dark, most of the accused hire services of private lawyers despite coming from economically weak backgrounds.
The study points out that in 225 cases, the accused hired private lawyers. In only, three cases did people seek the state’s legal aid.Take the case of Dileep Tijori (name changed) who was an accused in a cheating case. “I did not know about legal aid at all. Neither did anyone tell me that there is such a thing. The most natural thing for me to do was hire a private lawyer. I paid around `15,000, but it was total waste,” says Dileep, who was lodged in Parapanna Agrahara for many months. Dileep added that his private lawyer was not interested or cooperative at all. In 60 of the 288 cases observed, there were either no lawyers for the accused or no information about the cases, the study says.Jayna says, “Although we have not done a precise income analysis of the accused in the 288 cases, it can definitely be said that over 50 per cent of the accused are from low-income groups.”
Serving time, unable to afford lawyer fee
Shoaib Akbar (name changed) a former undertrial at the Central Prison comes from a fairly well-to-do family but he says, “I am an educated person but I had no clue what legal aid was. I hired a private lawyer, but while in prison for a brief time, I met many who preferred to serve their full sentence rather than pay `15,000 or `30,000 for a private lawyer,” says Shoaib.
Jayna says that the ideal situation to provide legal aid to those in need is to ensure that legal aid lawyers are present in the court. “Most of the time there are no legal-aid lawyers in court at all. There is also a general impression about government lawyers not being good,” she adds.
The study is a preliminary report and is part of a larger study involving other districts in the state, that is
still in progress.
No mechanism for legal aid
Robin Christopher J, a lawyer at the Karnataka High Court, says, that there
is no mechanism to ensure legal aid for the accused in need. For example, the compensation and fee for legal aid lawyers is very low, “The fee given for legal aid lawyers is a pittance at only `500 per bail application. Why would private lawyers represent any cases as legal aid lawyers is such a situation,” he asks.