Justice Gavai Nominated as Chairman of SC Legal Services Committee

Justice Gavai Nominated as Chairman of SC Legal Services Committee

Supreme Court Justice BR Gavai has been appointed as the new Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC), succeeding Justice Sanjiv Khanna, the most senior judge on the top court after the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

In a notification released by the Department of Justice on December 29, 2023, Justice Gavai’s nomination was announced. The SCLSC, established under Section 3A of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, is mandated to offer “free and proficient legal services to the weaker sections of society” in cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

According to Section 3A of the Act, the Central Authority, represented by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), is responsible for constituting the committee. The chairman, a sitting Supreme Court judge, and other members meeting the criteria set by the Central Authority are appointed by the CJI. Additionally, the CJI has the authority to appoint the Secretary to the Committee.

As of now, the SCLSC is comprised of Chairman BR Gavai and nine members nominated by the CJI. The Committee has the authority to appoint officers and other personnel as specified by the Centre, in consultation with the CJI.

Rule 10 of the NALSA Rules, 1995, outlines the composition, experience, and qualifications of SCLSC members. The Centre, in collaboration with the CJI, can make rules by notification under Section 27 of the 1987 Act to facilitate the implementation of the Act.

The importance of offering legal services is emphasized in various provisions of the Indian Constitution. Article 39A emphasizes the state’s duty to ensure a legal system that promotes justice and provides free legal aid to citizens, particularly those facing economic or other disabilities.

Articles 14 (right to equality) and 22(1) (rights to be informed of grounds for arrest) also impose an obligation on the State to guarantee equality before the law and a legal system that fosters justice based on equal opportunity.

The concept of a legal aid program was initially proposed in the 1950s, but it was only in 1980 that a national-level committee, chaired by then Supreme Court judge Justice PN Bhagwati, was established. The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 was enacted to give a statutory foundation to legal aid programs, aiming to provide free and competent legal services to eligible groups.

Under the Act, NALSA was formed in 1995 to oversee and assess the implementation of legal aid programs and establish policies for making legal services accessible. State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) were subsequently established in each state, headed by the Chief Justice of the respective High Court, to implement NALSA’s policies, provide free legal services, and conduct Lok Adalats.

District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) and Taluk Legal Services Committees were also established to organize legal awareness camps, offer free legal services, and handle various legal functions at the district and taluk levels. The hierarchical structure ensures coordinated efforts in delivering legal aid and assistance across the country.