Legal Aid provides for state help to a poor person seeking relief in court. An indigent plaintiff is exempted from paying court fee for filing a civil suit if he is found to be a pauper by the court in a proceeding. In instituting and prosecuting as well as defending a legal proceeding, main cost is the fees of the lawyer and not the court fees unless the claim of the suit is very high. An effort for providing legal aid to the indigent litigants was first taken up by the government through a notification dated 18 January 1994. Under the notification, a legal aid committee was formed in every district with the district and sessions judge as its chairman. The committee after considering applications of the indigent litigants, allowed legal aid to the deserving persons by paying fees of the advocates of such applicants. Subsequently by another notification dated 19 March 1997 government formed a National Legal Aid Committee and also reconstituted district legal aid committees. Under the notification, the National Committee was entrusted with coordinating and supervising the functions of the district committees.
In the year 2000 Legal Aid Act was enacted to put the legal aid activities on a firm footing. The said Act provides for constitution of a National Legal Aid Authority to be run by a National Managing Board with the Minister in Charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs as chairman. Function of the National Managing Board is to formulate policy of the Authority, supervision of the activities of district committees and hearing appeals against rejection of applications of legal aid by the district committees. There is provision for constituting district committee in every district with district and sessions judge as chairman. Function of the district committee is to examine and approve applications for granting legal aid to indigent and insolvent litigants. There is also provision for granting legal aid committees at upazila and union levels.
National Managing Board prepares a panel of advocates for advising and conducting cases under the legal aid scheme in the Supreme Court from amongst advocates practicing in that court having at least seven years of experience in the profession. Similarly every district committee prepares a panel of lawyers for advising and conducting cases under the legal aid scheme in any court of the district from amongst advocates of at least five years experience in the profession in the district courts. National Managing Board or the District Committee, as the case may be, appoints an advocate from such panel for advising and/or conducting case of an indigent or insolvent litigant to whom legal aid has been granted. In spite of constraint of fund allocated by the Government for the purpose as per a report published on May 21, 2006 in the Daily Prothom Alo 22,000 persons got legal aid in criminal cases and 8000 persons in civil cases in the subordinate courts upto that date from the inception of the scheme in 1994, and most of the beneficiaries are poor women, children and old men, and in the Supreme Court 500 cases were disposed of with the help of legal aid scheme. As per Rule 2 of the Legal Aid Rules 2001 the following persons will be entitled to receive legal aid:
Any freedom fighter incapable of earning or partly incapable or jobless or whose yearly income is not more than taka 6000; Any person who is receiving old age benefit; Any helpless mother with VGD card; Any women or children who are victims of illegal trafficking; Any women or children who are victims of acid throwing; Any person who has been allotted a house or plot to any ideal village; Poor widow, any poor women deserted by her husband; Any handicapped person with earning incapability; Any person who is financially incapable to protect or defined his rights in the court; Any person who is arrested under preventive detention law and is financially incapable to defend his rights; Any person who has been considered by the court financially incapable or poor; Any person who has been considered or recommended by the Jail authority as financially incapable or poor; Any person considered by the Organisation from time to time financially incapable or poor for the purpose of the Legal Aid Act. [Kazi Ebadul Hoque]