“It is difficult to judge the success of reforms in legal aid provision as we lack agreement on the aims and objectives of a legal aid system”. Discuss.


Legal aid helps with the costs of legal advice for people who can’t afford it. If anyone needs help with the costs of legal advice, he can apply for legal aid. Whether he  will receive it depends on: the type of legal problem he has; his income (how much he earn) and how much capital (money, property, belongings) he has; whether there is a reasonable chance of winning his case and whether it is worth the time and money needed to win.

The legal aid scheme was set up after World War 2 by the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949[1] in UK. The Legal Aid system was mainly introduced to help people who otherwise would not be able to afford it, to gain access the courts. It therefore enabled them to get a fair hearing and resolve legal problems.

Legal Aid is central to a society based on social justice. It is there to help everyone who really needs it. And by reducing discrimination based on a person’s financial standing, it enables fair access for all to the courts. We have to remember that before Legal Aid was introduced, many people could not afford to get the protection of our legal system due to the high costs involved. Thus, the aim of the Legal Services Commission[2] is to make quality legal aid accessible to everyone thereby ensuring effective delivery of justice and legal advice. The aims and objectives of it are,

  • help people to resolve their legal problems as soon as possible
  • make it easier for people to get legal help especially if they belong to a disadvantaged group
  • help people find alternatives to going to court
  • Provide a high quality legal service.


Prior to Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999[3] in UK, legal aid service was based upon demand laid system. The system became increasingly expensive to run while catering for fewer and fewer people. In 1950, 80% of the community was covered by legal aid provision. In 1998, the provision of legal aid had fallen to less than 40%[4].

From the mid 1980s, various Lord Chancellor tried to reform the system. Their task was made acute by the fact that expenditure on legal aid doubled to £1.4 billion over a four year period to 1995. A variety of reforms were attempted. Payment systems were changed, eligibility criteria revised and control shifted from the Law Society to the Legal Aid Board (Legal Aid Act 1998)[5]. In 1997, Labour government suggested that there might be a change in the direction of legal aid policy[6]. A number of the changes have been made by the Children Act – 1989[7] and the Courts and Legal Services Act – 1990[8].

In 1993, two significant changes were made. Standard fees for criminal legal aid in the Magistrates Courts were introduced and the practice of franchising was initiated. However, over the past seven years, the cost of civil and family legal aid had tripled which meant; the taxpayers were paying more and getting less in return. The problem was not simply the rising costs. As fewer people were becoming eligible for legal aid, it would appear that expenditure was not accompanied by an increase in value for money. Therefore, in 1996, Lord Mackay capped the legal aid budget[9].


Following the Access to Justice (AJA) Act – 1999, there had been many changes in legal aid system in UK. Access to Justice (AJA) Act – 1999 established a Legal Service Commission[10] (LSC) to maintain and develop the Community Legal Service[11] (CLS), replaced of civil legal aid and Criminal Defense Service, replaced of criminal legal aid.

Section 5 of Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999[12] provides the budget for the Legal Service Commission (LSC) to maintain the Community Legal Service (CLS) fund. The Legal service Commission (LSC) funds these services by entering into contracts with solicitors by way of a franchise. The main aim for introducing the franchise scheme was to secure value for money. Therefore, if solicitors feel that there are few chances of success in a case, they are deterred from expending money given to them by the Legal Service Commission (LSC). Thus, this leads to effective fund management on the part of the solicitors.

Those who are ineligible for public funding, have to pay privately for legal services and this can be expensive. For this reason, the Lord Chancellor has developed the Conditional Fee Arrangement (CFA), which is a no win, no fee basis[13]. It was introduced by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and was extended recently by the Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999. However, it does not apply in criminal case, family case etc.

Under the Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999, not only the court can order a losing party to pay the costs and success fee to the winning party, but it is also possible, by virtue of Section 29, Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999[14], to ensure against losing a case, which if won, the court may order the losing party to pay the cost of the insurance premiums.

The Criminal Defense Service[15] (CDS) was established under Section 12 Access to Justice Act (AJA) – 1999[16] for the purpose of securing those individuals who are involved in criminal investigations or criminal proceedings. They have access to ‘such advice, assistance and representation as the interests of justice require’. It is funded in a similar way as Community Legal Service (CLS), by the issue of franchise contracts, grants or loans or through the establishing and maintaining of advice and assistance bodies. Moreover, a duty solicitor scheme, which is free, is available to those people who are arrested and held in custody at a police station.


However, despite the above, the legal aid service is still not very effective. There are lack of commitment and poor communication from the lawyers. Community centers and Law centers are more effective in providing help and assistance. There are lack of advisers in areas like social security, housing, disability discrimination, employment and immigration. There is a distinct problem of ‘Access to Justice’ in certain where there are no solicitors who do publicly-funded work. Even, those solicitors who do publicly-funded work cut back on the number of cases they take on due to low rates of pay. Beside, the statutory charge may mean that a claimant may have nothing left even though he/she has won the case.


In 2006, Lord Carter, in his review, drew attention to the need to continue reforming legal aid[17]. The review was concerned with the design of an efficient procurement system that also contained quality guarantees. Thus, it was based on the notion of an open and responsive market. The review argued that cost increases because of systematic weakness in the way legal aid services are procured and therefore, inefficiencies increases in the way the services are delivered. The Carter review recommended that fees should be paid on a fixed or graduated scale. However, fixed fees will impact negatively on advice, particularly in more complex cases. This will eventually result into work being done by para-legals and less qualified advice workers. Some research available to Carter Review suggested that whereas small firms could provide criminal legal aid in an efficient manner, larger firms were not able to do the same. This would suggest that further research would be required on the impact of reform as it might drive out of the market those very firms that were best suited to provide value for money in provision of legal service.


In an underdeveloped country, majority of the population are poor and illiterate which makes legal aid a necessity to uphold human rights and equality. The Government took formal initiative for enacting legal aid laws only in 1994. However, in 1996, the resolution of 1994 was repealed because it was found that only handful of litigants actually received legal aid from these governmental initiatives. It was in 2000 when the Government in assurance of financial cooperation by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) made an imitative to provide legal aid to indigent litigants. The Government passed the Aingoto Sohoyota Prodan Ain 2000 (Act No. VI of 2000)[18] which provides legal mechanism and access to legal aid throughout the country. The main aim of enacting the Act is to provide legal aid to the people who are unable to get the justice due to financial crisis or due to different socio-economic reasons.

The NGOs has played a crucial role in providing legal aid support to the aggrieved in Bangladesh[19]. Among these NGOs, Ain o Sailish Kendra (ASK)[20], Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST)[21], Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA)[22] and Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA)[23] are playing leading role in providing legal aid. Despite of the access to legal aid in Bangladesh, the Aingoto Sohoyota Prodan Ain 2000 has some flaws. They are,

  • The Act does not specify cases for which legal aid can be provided.
  • The process of consideration of application can be identified as a source of delay.
  • In comparison with the number of legal aid seekers, the number of meetings held to consider these application falls short of requirement.
  • The accountability of members of the Board and Committee are not ensured in the Act.
  • The procedure of the selection of the application is not clear in this Act.
  • In the Upazilla and Union committees, the inclusion of Chairman and
    14 other members makes the system more complex.
  • By section 26 of this Act, the govt. repealed the previous Legal Aid Committee formed under the Resolution 74-Law/1997[24] and seized all funds of that Committee but the fate of the applications and cases pending in the Courts have not been clarified.

NGOs as an organization with expertise in the delivery of legal services to the poor are in good position to give direction to the government’s effort. Therefore, the NGOs can play a proactive role in implementing the legal aid programme by,

  • Conducting as survey to assess and identity the specific areas of human right violation.
  • Make the government answerable to dire situation of poor who cannot access the law.
  • Bringing into notice the gap between the inadequacies of law and practice of the government legal aid and persuading the government to take remedial measures.
  • Putting pressure on government by public interest litigation where government fails to respond to the need of the poor for legal aid.
  • Making the poor aware of their rights which the law of the land guarantees.
  • Promoting social dialogues and literacy programme to uphold the importance of legal aid.
  • Assisting government programme by to providing expertise on concerned issues.


Implementation of legal aid act in both developed and underdeveloped countries indicates government’s willingness to serve the poor. However, the government must also ensure that the act is regularly reviewed to address loopholes. The Government should follow a strategy of continuous improvement. In order to judge the success of reforms in legal aid provision, it is necessary to first establish a set of criteria against which it will be evaluated. These criteria should be set by the Government officials, Judges, and Legal Aid experts. Few criteria that could be used to evaluate the system are given below.

  • Administrative efficiency with focus on the procedural aspects of legal aid applications.
  • Easy access to the courts irrespective of claimant’s or defendant’s financial means.
  • Initiative to create awareness in rural areas, especially in under-developed countries.
  • Effect of legal aid on tax payers.

It is also essential to have accessible legal aid services beyond the government organizations. An active partnership between and NGO and a government agency can play a very significant role in social service delivery. They compensate for each other’s weaknesses and deficiencies. However, the government has to balance the needs for legal aid with the pressuring needs of other social services such as healthcare and education.


Primary Sources

§         Access to Justice Act (AJA) 1999,

Available online: http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/docs/stat_and_guidance/AJA_R05.pdf

§         Aingoto Sohoyota Prodan Ain 2000

Available online: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/bangla_pdf_part.php?id=834

Secondary Sources – Online Articles

§         Carter, L. (2006). ‘Legal Aid: A market-based approach to reform’ in Lord Carter’s Review of Legal Aid Procurement, House of Lords. Available online: http://www.legalaidprocurementreview.gov.uk/publications.htm

§         The Labour Party Manifesto (2005), Backing the victim. Available online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/13_04_05_labour_manifesto.pdf

§         Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 c.41 Part III Section 58, ‘Conditional fee Agreements’, The National Archives London. Available online: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/41/section/58/enacted

§         Legal Aid Review (2009). ‘Improving the Legal Aid System: A public discussion paper’, Ministry of Justice, New Zealand

§         Islam, M. S. (2009). ‘Access to Justice through Legal Aid’, Department of law, Southern University Bangladesh, Article published in http://www.articlesbase.com/law-articles/access-to-justice-through-legal-aid-1431939.html

§         Husain, S. J. R. M. (2005). ‘Judicial Reforms And Legal Aid Service: Experience In Bangladesh’ Presented during the International Conference and Showcase on Judicial Reforms held at the Shangri-la Hotel, Makati City, Philippines on 28-30 November 2005.

Available online: http://jrn21.judiciary.gov.ph/forum_icsjr/ICSJR_Bangladesh%20(S%20Husain).pdf

Published Books

§         Gearey, A., Morrison, W. and Jago, R. (2009). ‘The Politics of The Common Law: Perspectives, Rights, Processes, Institutions’, Routledge Cavendish

§         Slapper, G. and Kelly, D (2004). ‘English Legal System’, Routledge Cavendish; 7th Revised edition

§         Goriely, T. ‘Rushcliffe fifty years on: the changing role of civil legal aid within the welfare state’, Journal of Law and Society 21 1994, 546-556

§         Cass, M. & Western. J. S. (1980). ‘Legal Aid and Legal Need’, Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission.

§         Ali, T and Alim, M, (2005). ‘A Study on Traditional and BRAC Legal Aid Shalish’, BRAC Research and Evaluation Division

§         Halim, A. (2004). ‘The Legal System of Bangladesh, C. C. B. foundation , Dhaka

§         Siddiqui, K, 2000, Local Governance in Bangladesh: Leading Issues and Challenges’, Dhaka, UPL.

§         Muralidhar, S. (2004). ‘Law, Poverty and Legal Aid’, LexisNexis Butterworth, 2004 . lxv, 454 p.

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[1] History of the legal aid system, introduction of public funding, the Access to Justice Act 1999 and further reforms, Halsbury’s Laws of England (found in lexisnexis)

[2] The Legal Services Commission (LSC) works in partnership with solicitors and not-for-profit organisations to help more than 2 million people each year access legal advice, information and help (available online: http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/)

[3] Access to Justice Act 1999  Chapter 22, UK Parliament Acts (found in lexisnexis)

[4] The Reform of Legal Aid, Oxford Review Economic Policy (1994) 10(1): 51-67

[5] An Act to make new provision for the administration of, and to revise the law relating to, legal aid, advice and assistance, Legal Aid Act 1988 CHAPTER 34, UK Parliament Acts

[6] The Labour Party manifesto 2005 (available online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/13_04_05_labour_manifesto.pdf)

[7] The Legal Aid Act 1988 (Children Act 1989) Order 1991 (No. 1924) (available online: http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk)

[8] Conditional Fees was first introduced under section 58 of Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, (available online: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/41/section/58/enacted). This has been substituted by Section 27 of Access to Justice Act 1999.

[9] FOCUS: LEGAL SERVICES REFORMS – Legal services reforms – will the Lord Chancellor’s proposals empower the middle classes or ruin a system created in 1949 and envied by the world? – (1997) Law Society Gazette 29 Oct, 94 (17) (found in lexisnexis)

[10] The Legal Services Commission (LSC) works in partnership with solicitors and not-for-profit organisations to help more than 2 million people each year access legal advice, information and help (available online: http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/)

[11] The Community Legal Service (CLS) is a network of organisations that funds, provides and promotes civil legal services. The CLS helps with problems such as family breakdown, debt and housing (available online: http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/

[12] Access to Justice Act 1999 (1999 c 22), section 5(1) refers to funding of services, (p.6 of  http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/docs/stat_and_guidance/AJA_R05.pdf)

[13] Conditional Fees was first introduced under section 58 of Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, (available online: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/41/section/58/enacted). This has been substituted by Section 27 of Access to Justice Act 1999.

[14] Access to Justice Act 1999 (1999 c 22) section 29 refers to Recovery of insurance premiums by way of costs (p.23 of http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/docs/stat_and_guidance/AJA_R05.pdf)

[15] The Criminal Defence Service (CDS) guarantees that people under police investigation or facing criminal charges get legal advice and representation (available online: http://www.legalservices.gov.uk)

[16] Access to Justice Act 1999 (1999 c 22) section 12(1) Criminal Defence Service (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/22/section/12)

[17] Lord Carter of Coles, Legal Aid: A market-based approach to reform, Lord Carter’s Review of Legal Aid Procurement, July 2006 (available online: http://www. legalaidprocurementreview.gov.uk/publications.htm)

[18] Also known as Legal Aid Act 2000 (available online: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/bangla_pdf_part.php?id=834)

[19] See, ‘The Legal system in Bangladesh’ by Abdul Halim and N.E Siddiki ,page 357

[20] Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK), is a legal aid and human rights resource centre. It provides free legal aid to the poor- women, workers and child workers. It has a special consultative status with UNECOSOC.

[21] BLAST’s mission is to make the legal system accessible to the poor and the marginalized. BLAST envisions a society based on the rule of law in which every individual particularly the poor, the marginalized and excluded, in particular women, as well as children, peoples with disabilities, adivasis, and dalits have access to justice and their human rights are respected and protected.

[22] A small group of dedicated volunteers & social workers, initially working in Madaripur, took initiative to offer free legal assistance to the formal judicial systems. Their efforts proved successful that inspired the group to formally establish the Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA) in March 1978.

[23] The programs and service provisions of BNWLA are particularly targeted at the poorest and most disadvantaged areas of the country where comprehensive legal service delivery program along with others preventive and protective supports in establishing human rights and resisting violence against woman and child is most needed.

[24] Aingoto Sohoyota Prodan Ain 2000 (The Legal Aid Act 2000), Section 26: Rohitokoron o Hefajot, sub-section 2B (available online: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/bangla_pdf_part.php?id=834)