Allahabad High Court: In a bail application filed by the applicant for committing offence under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860 Ajay Bhanot, J. has held that the instances of “undeserved want” depicted in Section 12(e) of the Legal Services Authorities (‘LSA’) Act, 1987, is not a fixed concept but an evolutionary exercise. Further, the State Legal Services Authority is mandated to enquire whether the circumstances of a person being considered for legal aid fall within the sweep of “undeserved want” and directed the SLSA to devise certain schemes for providing legal aid to prisoners and for timely filing of bail application.
The applicant submitted that he has been in jail since 06.12.2017 and his bail application was rejected by the Trial Court in 2019. Further, two more criminal cases were registered against the applicant while he was in jail; however, he was falsely implicated in the aforesaid case when he raised his voice against the excesses of jail authorities and demanded legal aid. Further, the petitioner reiterated that the denial of legal aid caused this prolonged imprisonment.
The Court observed that the LSA Act, 1987 is a welfare legislation, that creates enforceable rights in favour of the recipient and enhances efficacy of the schemes for legal aid. Further, under the Act, the Legal Services Authorities must suo motu initiate the process of identifying classes of persons who face circumstances of “undeserved want” and educate them on their right to legal aid, frame schemes, determine the nature of legal services required in the case, and give them requisite legal services.
The Court observed that the eligibility criteria for giving legal services under Section 12(e) is broad based, and under the provision, persons facing circumstances of “undeserved want” become entitled for legal services. Further, the phrase “undeserved want” is generic in nature and the instances under it are illustrative and not exhaustive in nature.
The Court viewed that the persons who cannot file bail applications before the competent court due to lack of resources; abandoned by friends and family after their incarceration; do not have any pairokar (pleader); or have not been educated of their right to move a bail application without delay; are victims within the scope of “undeserved want” and such class of persons are entitled to legal services, the nature of which must be decided by the statutory authorities.
The Court cited Rajoo v. State of M.P., (2012) 8 SCC 553, wherein it was held that “eligible persons are entitled to legal services at any stage of proceedings (whether pretrial, trial or appeal or revisional) which he or she is prosecuting or defending”, and observed that for the grant of legal aid, the legislature has made no distinction between persons who are imprisoned for heinous offences or non-heinous crimes.
Similarly, there are persons who fail to file bail applications before the trial court in a timely manner after their detention, or do not expeditiously approach the High Court for bail after the rejection of their bail applications by the trial court. The said cases prima facie falls within the ambit of “undeserved want”, subject to enquiry by the State Legal Services Authority or the District Legal Services Authority.
The Court observed that “legal aid is a catalyst to redeem the preamble’s promise of justice and remains a bulwark for protection of fundamental rights”. Further, the rights to file a bail without delay, and access to legal aid of an eligible prisoner are intertwined and cannot be separated. It also observed that the right of moving a bail application becomes illusory and personal liberty remains a distant dream, if the right to legal aid of an entitled prisoner is not effectuated.
Moreover, the Court observed that the anonymity of a prisoner imposed by isolation cannot suppress the identity of a citizen created by the Constitution. Further, the fundamental rights of prisoners paired with statutory duties of the State Legal Services Authority cast an obligation on the SLSA to devise a scheme:
To identify prisoners who are undertrial for various crimes including heinous offences and have not applied for bail before the trial court in a timely manner after their imprisonment or have failed to file bail applications before the High Court in an expeditious time frame after rejection of their bail application by the trial court.
To identify prisoners who are unable to effectively prosecute their pending bail applications in various offences including heinous crimes causing delays in hearing.
To ascertain whether the inability of the said prisoners to expeditiously file or effectively prosecute bail application is caused by factors comprehended under Section 12 read with Section 13 of the Legal Services Authorities Act.
To approach prisoners who qualify for legal aid, educate them on their rights of filing bail applications without delay, and determine the nature of legal aid needed by them.
To provide legal aid and facilitate filing of bail applications of such. prisoners in a timely manner before the competent courts.
To facilitate counsel in getting necessary instructions, relevant documents, office support for filing the bail applications.
To facilitate effective prosecution of bail applications by the counsels who should take out measures for listing of bails and hearing of matters.
The Court further directed the district legal services authorities to undertake on a continuous basis and without any break the exercise of identification of prisoners, determination of their eligibility for legal aid and giving legal aid should be an established procedure in jails. Further, directed the jail officials to prevent undue long detention of prisoners as stated in Regulation 439(a) of the U.P. Jail Manual.
The Court observed that the State could not satisfactorily dispute the submissions and further, the applicant was granted interim bail on 18.08.2022 by this Court. Thus, released the applicant on bail subject to certain conditions.
[Anil Gaur v. State of UP, 2022 SCC OnLine All 623, decided on 12.09.2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
Counsel for Applicant: – Nanhe Lal Tripathi
Counsel for Opposite Party: – Government Advocate