This article has been written by Nikunj Arora of Amity Law School, Noida. This article provides a detailed analysis of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (as amended), along with the Act’s objectives, scope and structural organisation. This article also throws light on the legal aid services provided by the Act and the provisions of Lok Adalat.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by the Central Government of India pursuant to Article 39-A of the Constitution of India and the recommendations of its committees. The Legal Services Authority Act, of 1987 came into effect on 9th November 1995, following the Amendment Act of 1994, which introduced several amendments to the main Act. According to this Act, the economically weak, the backward, and the disabled are eligible to receive legal aid. In 1971, Justice P.N.Bhagawati introduced the legal aid scheme, which was overseen by the Legal Aid Committee. On 5th December 1995, the National Legal Services Authority was established by Justice R.N. Mishra, which was an important contribution to the implementation of the Act.

There are different levels of legal aid, including provisions for legal assistance to illiterate, poor, and physically challenged individuals who are unable to access the courts due to their ignorance of the law or financial limitations. Anyone who qualifies for legal aid under Section 12 of the Act, may obtain legal assistance under the Act. The National Legal Service Day (NLSD) was declared on November 9, 2009, the day the law came into force. As stated under the Act, the legal aid is to be provided by the State, District, and Taluk Legal Service Authorities/Commissions formed throughout the country in order to bring about a re-dedication to ensure equality of opportunity and fairness to all individuals. Through its various forms of legal assistance, the NLSD promotes equal opportunity and justice for all citizens.

The Act envisions that no one will be denied access to justice because of disability or economic reasons, and aims to educate the public about the law, offer free legal aid, and establish Lok Adalats. As a result of the creation of Lok Adalats, the process of dispensing justice has been revolutionized in the country. There remains a large number of pending cases in the courts of the country. A number of measures have already been taken by the government to reduce the number of pending cases. In addition to providing a supplementary forum for conciliatory settlements, the plan achieved success in providing an additional forum for litigants.

Analysis of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

Types of services under Legal Services Authority Act

The Act provides many types of legal services to the general public:

Free legal awareness

This Act is primarily intended for the public to make them aware of laws and schemes issued by public authorities. The Legal Service Authority teaches some portions of the rules of law to the individuals. Legal camps and legal aid centres are organized by authorities so that the general public can seek advice from the legal aid centres located near their homes or places of work. The legal guides and centres can help address the grievances of ordinary people as well.

Free legal aid counsel

A person who wants to defend or file a case in a court of law but does not have the means to hire an advocate can seek the assistance of a free legal aid attorney. The Act states that free legal aid counsel is available, and the Council is responsible for assisting needy individuals to obtain justice. By adopting and establishing this philosophy, the Indian Courts should be freed from the burden of adjudicating the cases.

A Lok Adalat was held for the first time in Gujarat on 14th March 1982 and succeeded in resolving many disputes pertaining to labour disputes, family disputes, and bank recoveries. Lok Adalats are the primary method by which the legal services authorities decide disputes. Our Indian courts have a huge backlog of cases, and it takes an extremely long time to resolve disputes under judicial supervision.

Lok Adalat was, thus, seen as an Alternative Dispute Redressal (ADR) mechanism that was reliable, efficient, and friendly in resolving disputes. Lok Adalats can be constituted by the legal services authorities at such spans and locations to exercise the authority of their jurisdiction in such areas as they think fit. There is a mix of lawyers and non-lawyers on the Lok Adalat bench in order for it to possess a superior understanding of the dispute and convince both parties to reach a mutually agreeable compromise.    

Objectives of Legal Services Authority Act

Under Article 39A of the Constitution of India, free legal aid and equal justice are provided to all citizens by appropriate legislation, schemes or other means to ensure that no citizen is denied access to justice on the basis of economic disadvantage or in any other way. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted as a consequence of this constitutional provision with the primary objective of providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society in the country.

Structural Organization under Legal Services Authority Act

As a result of the Legal Services Act, a National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was established as the apex body for regulating the legal aid provisions. State Legal Services Authority (SALSA) handles the implementation of NALSA’s powers at the state level, which delegates further to a number of organizations. NALSA is considered to be an alliance between the State, Social Action Groups, individuals, and non-profit organizations that have their presence from the grassroots level to the state level.


In response to Section 4 of the Act, NALSA has been established to provide free legal aid to all citizens of the country. The body has been established by the government. It is headed by the Chief Justice of India, patron-in-chief. The executive chairman of the organisation is a retired or serving judge of the Supreme Court of India. The nominees are selected by the president after consultation with the Chief Justice of India. An advisory committee referred to as the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee is formed by the central authority.  A significant objective of the NALSA is to ensure that justice is equally distributed among citizens, regardless of economic or other factors. The main responsibilities of NALSA are the following:

  • Through legal aid camps, the organization promotes legal aid in slums, rural and labour colonies, as well as disadvantaged areas. It plays an important role in providing education about the rights and needs of the people who live in such areas. Lok Adalats are also formed by the authority to settle disputes between these people.
  • Amongst other things, it is primarily concerned with providing legal services through clinics in law colleges, universities, etc.
  • Arbitration, mediation, and conciliation are all methods that are used by these organizations to settle disputes.
  • The organisation provides grant aid to institutions that provide social services at the grassroots level to marginalised communities from various parts of the country.
  • Research activities are also conducted to improve legal services for the poor.
  • Ensures that citizens commit to the fundamental duties they have been entrusted with.
  • As part of the proper implementation of the schemes and programmes, they tend to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken for the legal aid problems at specific intervals so that the correct functions are being performed.
  • Through the policy and scheme they laid down, the body ensures that the legal services could be made available to the general public. Through these schemes, the body is able to provide the most economical and effective legal services
  • Financial matters are handled by this body, and the funds allocated by it are allocated to respective district and state legal services authorities.

In NALSA v. Union of India (2014) the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) filed this case to recognize those who are outside the binary gender distinction, including individuals who identify as “third gender”. There was a question that the Court had to address regarding the recognition of people who do not fit into the male/female binary as “third gender” individuals. During the discussion, the panel deliberated whether ignoring non-binary gender identities constitutes an infringement of Indian Constitutional rights. For developing its judgment, the panel referred to an “Expert Committee on Transgender Issues” established under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

There is no doubt that this was a landmark decision because the Supreme Court of India recognised the identity of ‘third gender’ and transgender persons for the first time. In its judgment, the Court recognized that third-gender individuals had fundamental rights under the Constitution and the International Covenant. As a result, the government of the state was directed to develop mechanisms for the realization of the rights of “third gender”/transgender individuals.

According to the Court, the concept of ‘dignity’ under Article 21 of the Constitution includes all forms of self-expression, which permits a person to live a dignified life. The rights to dignity under Article 21 include the right to gender identity.

The Apex Court stated that Article 14 and Article 19(1)(a) were framed in gender-neutral terms, and thus, the right to equality and freedom of expression would extend to transgender persons also. Transgender persons all over society are subject to “extreme discrimination” which is a violation of their right to equality, which is illustrated by the fact that they are treated as second-class citizens. Furthermore, under the freedom of expression, it was indicated by the Court that the right to express one’s gender was included by dressing, speaking, acting, or acting in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

Thus, Articles 14, 15, 16, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution confer fundamental rights on transgender individuals. The Court also relied on the Yogyakarta Principles and core international human rights treaties while recognizing the human rights of transgender people. To reduce the stigma against transgender communities, public awareness programs were held to be necessary by the Court.

State Legal Services Authority

Each state has a legal service authority, which provides free legal advice to those who cannot afford it. This is covered under Section 6 of the Act. They provide preventative and strategic legal assistance programs. Lok Adalat sessions are also conducted by the authorities to assist clients. Among their main duties is to implement the policies and schemes as directed by NALSA. The respective High Court’s chief justices serve as patrons-in-chief. These bodies are supervised by an executive chairman who is a retired or serving judge. A high court legal service committee is usually formed by the state authority. This body is headed by a sitting High Court judge, who is the chairman and is administered by the Chief Justice of the respective High Court.

Legal Aid under Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

In 1971, Justice P.N. Bhagwati formed the Legal Aid Committee to introduce the Legal Aid scheme. In his opinion, the legal aid system is aimed at making the missionary of administration of justice easily available to the people able to enforce their legal rights. The poor and the illiterate will be able to approach the courts and as a result, they will get justice faster from the courts.  

Poor and illiterate people should have access to legal aid. An individual does not have to be a litigant in order to obtain legal aid. According to Article 39A of the Indian Constitution, it is the duty of the State to ensure that the legal system operates on the basis of equality and that in particular, it must ensure the provision of free legal aid to ensure that citizens of every economic category have access to justice. Furthermore, Articles 14 and 22(1) make it mandatory for the State to ensure equality under the law and a legal system that promotes justice from an equal opportunity standpoint. It is the aim of legal aid to ensure that the law is enforced in its letter and spirit, and equally just treatment is provided to the weakest, poorest, and most downtrodden sections of society.

The concept of legal aid can be traced back to the year 1851 when in France, enactments were passed to provide legal assistance to those in need. As far back as 1944, England and Wales had also supported the provision of legal advice to the poor and needy as part of its organized efforts to provide legal services to the poor. The Rushcliffe Committee was appointed by the Lord Chancellor, Viscount Simon, to look into the current facilities available to provide legal advice to the poor and to recommend any measures that appear relevant to ensuring that the needs of these individuals are met. As per the Act, the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, the High Court Legal Services Committee, the State Legal Services Authority, the District Legal Services Authority, and the Taluk Legal Services Committee have been entrusted with the responsibility of organizing all Lok-Adalats in India.

Eligibility criteria for free legal aid

There was even an item on the committee’s (headed by Justice PN Bhagwati) agenda on the eligibility criteria for the people to qualify for free legal aid, which has been also mentioned in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 under Section 304 to provide free and competent legal assistance to a marginalised member of the society at the expense of the state. As established in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979), legal aid will be provided at the expense and cost of the state to marginalised groups within society, and the state is required to make such assistance available to the accused.

In a similar vein, the Supreme Court has also ruled in Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh (1986) that an accused who cannot afford legal aid may have his or her conviction set aside on socio-economic grounds.

The following are the people eligible for free legal aid under Section 12 of the Act:

Lok Adalat under Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

Section 19 of the Act provides for the establishment of Lok Adalats. Legal service authorities at all levels, including the central, state, and district levels, shall hold Lok Adalats. Lok Adalats serve as an alternate dispute resolution system. Their purpose is to settle cases that are pending or that have not been heard in the courts. It consists of judicial officers or an authorized person under the jurisdiction of the state, central government, or local government. Following the conciliation of disputes between the parties and the agreement of the parties, the award is handed down by conciliators in accordance with Section 21 of the Act. The award has the same legal effect as a court decision.

Scope of Lok Adalat

Unlike the Supreme Court, Lok Adalat is extremely broad to incorporate most of the cases pending before it as well as new cases that will be filed in the near future to be settled. The Lok Adalat does not have jurisdiction over cases relating to offences that cannot be compounded under any law. The Lok Sabha does not refer such matters to committees without giving the other party a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The Lok Adalat proceeds to resolve any case referred to it and tries to negotiate a mutually acceptable outcome between the parties involved with the case. Whenever a Lok Adalat decides a case before it, it adopts the most extreme efforts for a trade-off or settlement. The following points elaborate on the scope of Lok Adalats:

  • If no settlement or compromise is reached by the parties after the Lok Adalat passes, no order is given. 
  • A reference will be sent automatically to the Court that drew up the reference for disposition. Those involved in the dispute are urged to seek redressal in courts. 
  • If the terms proposed by the bench do not satisfy the parties, the Lok Adalat cannot be forced to compromise or reach a settlement. Orders from Lok Adalats are definitive and restrict the parties. 
  • An order passed by a judge is a satisfactory means of stopping the proceedings that demand justice. 
  • Lok Adalats have enough powers under the Act to make justice without compromising the quality of their awards. The Lok Adalat’s final order is considered judicial since it is given the status of a decree. 
  • A Civil Court recognizes it as a form of evidence and is given the power to summon, discover, and get an affirmation.

In the case of P.T. Thomas v. Thomas Job (2005), the Apex Court specifically explained what Lok Adalat is. According to the Court, Lok Adalat is an ancient form of adjudicating system that once predominated in India, and its validity has not been questioned even today. According to Gandhian principles, the term Lok Adalat means “People’s Court”. It is an essential component of alternative dispute resolution. If the dispute is resolved at Lok Adala, there is no court fee, and if it is already paid, the fee will be refunded.

According to the case of B.P. Moideen Sevamandir and others v. AM Kutty Hassan (2008), the parties can communicate directly through their attorneys, which is far more convenient than speaking in a regular courtroom. Because Lok Adalats are dynamic, they are able to balance the interests of both parties and pass orders that both sides find acceptable.

Functions of Lok Adalat

The following are the functions of Lok Adalat:

  • Lok Adalat members should be impartial and fair to the parties.
  • Lok Adalat is responsible for handling pending cases in court. In the case of a Lok Adalat settlement, the court fee paid to the court on the petition will be reimbursed
  • When filing a dispute with Lok Adalat, you do not have to pay a court fee.

Types of Lok Adalat

Lok Adalats can take the following forms:

National level Lok Adalat

The Lok Adalat held at the national level is held regularly throughout the country at the Supreme Court level and taluk level, where thousands of cases are disposed of. Every month a different topic is discussed in this Adalat.

Permanent Lok Adalat

The body is governed by Section 22B of the Act. There is a mandatory pre-litigation mechanism in Permanent Lok Adalat that settles disputes concerning public utilities such as transport, telegraph, postal service, etc. As a result of the case Abdul Hasan and National Legal Services Authority v. Delhi Vidyut Board and other (1999), the courts directed that permanent Lok Adalats be established.

Permanent Lok Adalats are charged with resolving public utility disputes quickly. Therefore, if parties neglect to show up at the settlement or compromise, then it has a further advantage of choosing the dispute based on merit. In this way, the possibility of postponement in the resolution of questions is eliminated. Rather than following the formal procedure for resolving disputes, it is bound to follow the principle of natural justice in order to save time.

Thus, the establishment of the Permanent Lok Adalat is fundamental to settling disputes with public utility administrations in a quick and amicable manner. The awards of the Permanent Lok Adalat made under this Act are conclusive and binding. In no case will it be included as a defence in an original suit, application, or execution proceeding. Such actions are considered announcements by a civil court. In case the Permanent Lok Adalat makes an award, that award will be communicated to a civil court having nearby jurisdiction, which will then execute the order as if it were a decree made by the particular court.

Permanent Lok Adalats and Lok Adalats are indistinguishable in their essential features. There have, however, been some differences. The fundamental difference is that a common Lok Adalat must convene periodically and not consistently whereas a Permanent Lok Adalat is a setup that functions like any other court or tribunal.

Despite the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which set up the Lok Adalats, the permanent Lok Adalats were not established right away. Through the Amendment Act of 2002, the foundation of the Permanent Lok Adalat was enabled. 

Mobile Lok Adalat

Mobile Lok Adalat is a method of settling disputes that travels from place to place. Over 15.14 lakh Lok Adalats have been held in the country as of 30th September 2015, and over 8.25 crore cases have been settled.

Mega Lok Adalat

The Mega Lok Adalat is an ad hoc body that is constituted at the state level on a single day in all courts.

Daily Lok Adalat

On a daily basis, these Lok Adalats are held.

Continuous Lok Adalat

It is held continuously for a specific number of days.

Jurisdiction of Lok Adalats

Lok Adalats fall under the jurisdiction of the courts which organize them, thus, they cover any cases heard by that Court under its jurisdiction. This jurisdiction does not apply to cases regarding offences which are not compoundable by law and the Lok Adalats cannot resolve these cases. The respective courts may accept cases presented to them by parties concurring that the dispute should be referred to the Lok Adalat. The Courts may accept such cases in situations where one party makes an application to the court for the referral of the case to the Lok Adalat and the court might consider that there is a possibility of compromise through the Act. 

Limitations of Legal Services Authority Act

The Government should not only establish the four-tiered Legal Services Authority but also establish an independent body to oversee the workings of these tiers and actively work to promote coordination between the Taluka, District, State, and National Legal Services Authority. When establishing the independent monitoring body, the government should recruit young legal professionals who hold no other judicial posts, so that they will exclusively serve the interests of the independent monitoring body. An institutional network of legal services is constituted by the Legal Services Authority at the Central, State, District, and Taluk levels have some limitations in relation to the manner in which they are constituted, the composition, etc.

Major limitations under Legal Services Authority Act

Section 3

The National Legal Services Authority is established under Section 3 of the Act. The organization chart of the body reveals, however, that the members are all already overcharged with the assigned duties of their primary work; therefore, a light modification of Section 3 is needed. As the government builds up the National Legal Services Authority, it should emphasize the importance of recruiting young legal professionals who do not hold other legal positions so they can devote as much time to the purpose of the Act as possible.

Section 3-A

As set forth in Section 3-A of the Act, there is a requirement that the chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee shall be a judge of the Supreme Court. Now, in this case, the respective judge is already overburdened with his entrusted duties of day-to-day litigation. As a result, there is the possibility that the office may not be able to achieve the expected results in providing legal services in the future if such an overburdened person is again given the functions of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee. Therefore, if Section 3-A of the Act is to be implemented properly, then it will be essential to amend this section.

Section 6

A State Legal Services Authority is established by Section 6 of the Act. Although the organization of the body appears to be fairly straightforward at first glance, a closer look at it reveals that each of the members is to a certain extent occupied with duties outside the body, and therefore, a minor alteration of Section 6 is required. It is important for the government to emphasize when establishing the State Legal Services Authority that it will be recruiting young qualified legal professionals who have the zeal to work in the field with utmost devotion to achieve the core objective stated in the Act.

As a consequence of Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India and Others (1988), it has been held that the normal rule should be that the Chairman of the State Legal Services Authority should be a sitting judge and retired judges were only to be appointed under exceptional circumstances.


As everyone knows, the Indian constitution stresses equality. All individuals are equal under the law in a democracy. Regardless of one’s economic status, race, creed, gender, sex, or any other social condition, each citizen has the right to equal access to law and equal opportunities to obtain legal services. The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 was passed by our government to address these needs. The act ensures equality of opportunity in the pursuit of justice.  The Act has ensured that its officials tasked with executing its provisions have adequate abilities. Recognition as a community servants has been granted to them, along with the assurance that anything they do in good faith will be protected. This Act’s provisions supersede different Acts, which provide for the execution of its provisions with a minimum of disruption. Even if such disruption occurs regardless of its superseding impact, the national and state legislatures will be able to develop rules and guidelines for the effective implementation of these provisions. Such guidelines and principles must pass a rigorous approval process which eliminates any possibility of defiling, wrongdoing, or other forms of neglect 

Lok Adalats have become an integral part of the Indian legal system, providing opportunities for the poor and discouraged to access justice. The organization has overcome all obstacles to lawful aid, although there are specific areas for improvement that could make it more effective. Although they are overcoming any barriers to access to justice, they should also provide genuine admittance to equity for aggrieved parties. There is more activity than was expected, which could make Lok Adalats a better mechanism to deal with cases that are on the rise. 



Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.

LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here