720 Applicants at the SC Received Free Legal Aid in 2020
In 2020, 720 litigants were granted free legal aid and 572 cases were filed through the SCLSC.
The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) was established in 1996 to provide free and competent legal services to litigants. Like the National Legal Services Authority, it aims to serve the weaker sections of society, but restricts itself to cases at the Supreme Court (SC).
The SCLSC, constituted under Section 3A of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (the Act), is headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court (currently, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar). It consists of nine other members, including advocates and Union government ministers, nominated by the Chief Justice of India. Currently, the SCSLC consists of four ex-officio members, including the Attorney General of India and the Secretary General of the Supreme Court and five other members.
As per Section 12 of the Act, the Committee provides free legal aid to economically disadvantaged litigants, women, children, persons with disabilities, members of the SC/ST communities and workmen involved in industrial disputes.
The SCSLC’s Screening Committee scrutinises applications for legal aid. It rejects applications if it considers the applicant unqualified for legal aid as per Section 12 or the matter is unfit for filing before the Court. Advocates volunteer to serve on the SCLSC’s roll and are assigned cases accepted by the Screening Committee. All matters receiving legal aid are filed through the SCLSC.
Figure 1 depicts the total number of applications received, accepted and rejected by the SCLSC. In 2020, the Supreme Court received a total of 1,907 new applications for legal aid. No applications were received in the month of April as the SCLSC offices were closed from March 23rd 2019 to May 3rd 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SCSLC served 720 of the 1907 new applicants in 2020. On the other hand, 1,269 applications were rejected in 2020. The sum of the total applications accepted and rejected gives 1,989—82 applications in excess of the total applications received in the same year. This suggests that the available data includes arrears from previous year(s).
Figure 2 depicts the distribution of cases filed and disposed in 2020. A total of 572 cases were filed in 2020 while 367 cases were disposed of in the same year. This also suggests that an unknown proportion of the cases filed in this period are yet to be disposed of. It must be remembered that not all cases filed in a year are disposed (seen to their end) in the same year.
25,897 cases were instituted in 2020—cases filed through the SCLSC account for 2.21% of the total cases filed in the year. 20,670 cases were disposed of in 2020—1.76% of the total cases disposed of in the year were matters represented through the SCLSC.
While the COVID-19 pandemic had a detrimental impact on the functioning of the Court, 51 advocates and 37 Senior Advocates are empaneled in the SCLSC—suggesting that a sufficient number of advocates are available to represent legal aid matters.