Legal aid must not be viewed as extraneous to the legal system. It is neither a charitable sentiment, nor a Utopian project, and should be considered a normal function of the justice system.The basic features of the Legal Aid Act, 2000 have been discussed as follows:
Composition of National Legal Aid Organisation
The Legal Aid Act 2000 provides for an Organization named “National Legal Aid Organization” which will organise and monitor proper functioning of this Act. The Act requires the organization to be formed by notification in official Gazette.
National Management Board
The Act provides that the management and administration of the National Legal Aid Organisation will be vested on a National Management Board.41 The head office shall be in Dhaka and the management board will be headed by a Chairman who is the Minister, Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs.
This Board includes people from all walks of the society starting from MP’s nominated by the Speaker, Attorney General, Secretary of Law, Home and Social Welfare, Inspector General of Police and Prison, Vice-Chairman of the Bar Council, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, the Chairman of the National Women Commission, three representatives of any NGO’s nominated by the
Government working for human rights and legal aid which have activities in Districts, with the Director of the Board acting as member secretary.
These members will be appointed for 2 years term. Provided that the government may remove any of the members from the post without showing any reason.
Institutional Framework and Functions of the National Board
Under the provisions of the Legal Aid Act, 2000, National Legal Aid Board will mainly act as policy-making authority and will formulate rules and policies to select a person and to provide legal aid to the people who are unable to get justice due to financial crisis and due to different socio-economic reasons, frame the schedule to provide legal aid, take initiative to organize research and educational activities to provide legal aid, telecast different programs in order to create awareness among general people about the availability of legal aid in different print and electronic media, review the application rejected by the District Committee, monitor the I activities of the District Committee, publish different books, leaflet, pamphlets etc. for making people aware of getting legal aid, and any other activities necessary for the performance of the above mentioned activities.
Director of National Legal Aid Organisation
It is provided in the Legal Aid Act, 2000 that the National Legal Aid Organisation will have a director who will be appointed by government of Bangladesh and will be responsible for implementation of the decisions of the organisation; and he discharge his functions in accordance with the direction of the Board.
However, the director will appoint employees and staff with prior permission of the Government or the Organisation.
District Legal Aid Committee
The District Legal Aid Committee is solely responsible to provide legal aid at grass root level subject to the availability of fund from the Government. The committee shall invite application from the seeker of legal aid, screen the applications, determine criterion for provision of legal aid and finally provide legal aid.
Constitution of the District Legal Aid Committee
According to the provision of the Act, the District Committee shall consist of 13 members, including District and Session Judge as Chairman, the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of the District, the District Jail Super, an official of the District Social Welfare, if any, the District Women’s and Children’s officer if any, the Chairman of the District Women’s Federation or his nominee, the President of the District Lawyers Associations, Government Pleader of the District, the Public Prosecutor in the District, Inspector of the District Civil Jail, if any available, one representative from any Charitable Society (NGO) in the District nominated by the Chairman of the District Committee, elected General Secretary of the District Lawyer Association, who will also be member-secretary of the Committee, and also the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and Metropolitan Police Commissioner if the district is in any Metropolitan City.
The tenure of the nominated members of both the National and District Committee shall be for two maximum years and may be removed without reason by the government during the tenure.
Functions of the District Committee
As per the provisions of the Legal Aid Act, 2000, the District Legal Aid Committee is responsible to provide legal aid to the people who satisfy the criteria as set up by the Board of Governors and who are unable to get justice due to financial crisis or due to different socio-economic reasons; to set up the conditions on which a successful applicant will get the legal aid; to make initiatives to make the people aware of availability of legal aid; to perform the duty invested by the Board; and any other activities necessary for the performance of these activities.
Upazilla and Union Committee
The Upazilla Committee and Union Committee will consist of one chairman and 14 other members. All issues relating to the Committee will be set up by the subsequent rules.
Fund of the Board
The Act provides for establishment of a legal aid fund for both national and district level. The fund of the Board will come from government, foreign donation, local bodies, any other source such as any organisation or companies etc.
The amount of fund will be deposited in a government bank in the name of the Board. The amount can be drawn up by the joint signature of the Chairman and the member Secretary of the Board. In cases where necessary the District Committee will get found from this fund. The board will meet all types expenses from this fund. The Board will be able to invest this fund in any if the government authorized project.
Fund of District Committee will be a fund of District Legal Aid Committee consisting of government donation, donation from the local authority, company or person, donation from the foreign organization and any other fund obtained by the Committee from any other sources.
According to the provision of the Legal Aid Act, 2000, financial assistance is to : provided to the underprivileged based on the fees they incur; for example, lawyer’s court fees and other expenses. The committee that has been formed is responsible to utilise the funds, including criteria for eligibility. Funds are to come from national revenue but the officials responsible believe that external support will be necessary to get the programme up and running.
Panel of Lawyers
The provisions as to panel lawyers under the Legal Aid Act, 2000 are as follows:
For the Supreme Court panel would include a group of lawyers who have practice experience not less than 7 years in the High Court Division; for District Court panel would include a group of lawyers who have practice experience not less then 5 years; once an application for legal aid is granted, the Board or committee shall appoint a lawyer from among those in the panel provided that in such appointment will be considered as far as possible.
Supply of Papers and Documents
The legal aid lawyers and the court to whom the applicant is seeking redress will all necessary papers and documents related to the case concerned free of cost except the court fees.
Persons eligible for Legal Aid
In the Legal Aid Act 2000, there is no reference as to the eligibility criteria to get legal aid. Subsequently, the Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary affairs formulated guidelines and rules under section 24 of the Act to carry out the objectives of the Act.52 As per Legal Aid Rules, 2001, the freedom fighter who is incapable of earning or partially incapable of earning or who is without any employment or whose annual is below six thousand taka; the person who is receiving old age honorarium; women who is holder of VGF Card; women and children who are victim of trafficking; women and Children who are acid-burnt by miscreants; any person who has been allocated land or house in Model/Ideal villages, poor window, women deserted by her husband; physically or mentally handicapped persona who is incapable of earning and without means of subsistence; person who is unable to establish his/her right to defend him/her in a court of law due to financial crisis; any person who has been detained without trial and is in capable of defend himself due to financial crisis; any person who is considered by the court as poor or helpless; any person who is recommended by the jail authority as financially helpless or poor; any other person who are considered by the Legal Aid Board from time to time due to the financial crisis or any other socio-economic reasons or disaster are eligible for availing legal aid.
In this guideline, the phrase “poor and financially poor person” will be used to mean person whose annual income is not above three thousand taka.
Application Procedure for Legal Aid
All applications for getting legal aid must be submitted to the National Board of Legal Aid or in appropriate cases to the District Legal Aid Committee. If an application is rejected by the District Committee and the person feels aggrieved by that decision, than the applicant may prefer an appeal to the National Legal Aid Board within 60 days of the pronouncement of the decision of the District Committee.
Apart from the previously mentioned provisions, the Legal Aid Rules: 2000 provides for the following for how to make an applicant for Legal Aid.
The candidate shall apply, along with his Full name & address and the underlying causes for his applicant, in a white paper. If the applicant is made for legal aid for any matter in the Supreme Court, it is to be submitted to the Chairman of the organization, on the other hand, if it is for legal aid in any contract, it is to be made to the chairman of the chairman of the Committee.
The application accepted by the committee is considered in its next meeting. If it is not possible for the committee to take decision based on the submitted information, then the committee may require for further information, and once any application considered to have been accepted, the applicant litigant shall be informed in the prescribed manner.
Fees of Legal Aid
As per the Legal Aid Rules, 2001 for conducting legal aid cases legal aid lawyers will get maximum of taka 1000.00 for drafting a plaint or memo of appeal; maximum of taka 1000.00 for drafting of a written statement; maximum of taka 600.00 for preparing an application or written statement of any miscellaneous case; maximum of taka 500.00 for any interlocutory applications or any reply of thereof; maximum of taka 100.00 for any time petition; maximum of taka 500.00 for final hearing of a family matter; taka 800.00 for hearing of a civil suit; taka 500.00 for argument of a criminal case; and taka 200.00 for any urgent application paid out of the legal aid fund.
To conduct criminal cases hi courts other than High Court Division the panel lawyers will get paid as per the rate the Assistant Public Prosecutors are paid and for conducting a case in the Supreme Court, maximum of taka 2000.00.