• Supreme Court judge Justice BR Gavai has been nominated as the Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC), replacing Justice Sanjiv Khanna – the senior most judge of the top court after the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • A notification issued by the Department of Justice on December 29, 2023, announced Justice Gavai’s nomination. 
  • The Supreme Court Legal Services Committee was constituted under Section 3A of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide “free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of society”, in cases falling under the top court’s jurisdiction.
  • Section 3A of the Act states that the Central Authority (the National Legal Services Authority or NALSA) shall constitute the committee. 
  • It consists of a sitting SC judge, who is the chairman, along with other members possessing the experience and qualifications prescribed by the Centre.
  • Both the chairman and other members will be nominated by the CJI. Further, the CJI can appoint the Secretary to the Committee.
  • As of date, the SCLSC consists of chairperson BR Gavai and nine members nominated by the CJI. The Committee, in turn, can appoint officers and other employees as prescribed by the Centre, in consultation with the CJI.
  • Besides this, Rule 10 of the NALSA Rules, 1995, entails the numbers, experience, and qualifications of the SCLSC members. Under Section 27 of the 1987 Act, the Centre is empowered to make rules in consultation with the CJI, by notification, to carry out the provisions of the Act.
  • The need for providing legal services has been underlined in many provisions of the Indian Constitution. Article 39A states, “The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
  • Moreover, Articles 14 (right to equality) and 22(1) (rights to be informed of grounds for arrest) also make it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before the law and a legal system that promotes justice based on equal opportunity.
  • Although the idea of a legal aid programme was earlier floated in the 1950s, it was in 1980 that a committee at the national level was established under the chairmanship of then SC judge Justice PN Bhagwati. The Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes started monitoring legal aid activities throughout India.

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