As far back as in the year 1944, in England, a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Rushcliffe was appointed to enquire what facilities at present exist in England and Wales for giving legal advice and assistance to poor persons and to make such recommendations as appeared to be desirable for the purpose of securing that poor persons need legal advice, may have such facilities at their disposal and for modifying and improving so far as seems expedient, the existing system whereby legal aid is available to persons in the conduct or litigation in which they are concerned whether in civil and criminal courts. The Committee submitted its recommendations in a report in 1945 which were accepted by the British Parliament, and the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949 came into existence.
In India, after submission of Rushcliffe Committee recommendation to the British parliament, suggestions were made by the Bombay Legal Aid Society in 1945 that a committee be set up in India to examine the question of legal aid to the poor. In 1949 ,under the Chairmanship of late Justice N.H.Bhagvati,the then a judge of the Bombay high court," The committee on legal aid and legal advice in Bombay." was set up to consider the question of grant of legal aid to person of limited means or of backward classes in civil and criminal litigations. This committee made a detailed report in October ,1949 and suggested therein that legal aid was governmental responsibility. The same year, the government of west Bengal set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Arthur Trevol Harries, then the Chief Justice of Calcutta high court, to examine this question and the said committee strongly emphasized the need for rendering legal aid to the poor litigants.
The Law Commission of India in its 14th report. on 'reform of Judicial Administration' published in 1958, strongly advocated the need for rendering legal aid to poor litigants and categorically stated that' the rendering of legal aid to the poor litigants is not a minor problem of procedural law but a question of fundamental character'.
The committee under the Chairmanship of Hon'ble Mr Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, then a Member of the Law Commission, constituted by the Government of India Order dated 27th October, 1972 to consider the question of making available to the weaker sections of the community and persons of limited means in general and citizens belonging to the socially and educationally backward class in particular, facilities for
- legal advice so as to make them aware of their constitutional and legal rights and obligations;
- legal aid in proceedings before Civil, Criminal and Revenue Courts so as to make justice more easily available to all sections of the community.
With a view to implement the report of the Bhagwati Committee and in fulfillment of its constitutional obligations under Article 39-A, a committee known as the aCommittee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS) was being constituted by the Government of India at the very beginning under the Chairmanship of Honuble Mr. Justice P.N.Bhagwati. This Committee formulated a broad pattern of the legal aid programme to be set up in the country. It gave stress on preventive legal aid programme with a view to creating legal awareness amongst the people. It also suggested dynamic and activist programmes to carry legal services to the doorsteps of the rural population, to promote community mobilization and rights enforcement through public interest litigations and other statutes. The Committee also framed a model scheme for establishment of State Legal Aid and Advice Boards, as also, Committees at the High Court, District and Tahasil levels to cater legal services to the people at large.
In the year 1987 the Legal Services Authorities Act was promulgated by the parliament with a view to provide free and competent legal services and to ensure opportunity for securing justice to the downtrodden class of the society.
After enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act, many States have enacted legislation or adopted Schemes for organizing Legal Aid in civil and criminal proceedings. The Central Legal Services Authority, funded by the Union Government comprising of members of all States provided adequate financial aid for the said purpose. The State Legal Services Authority funded by the State Government and functioning under a Judge of the respective High Court, nominated by the Chief Justice. District and Taluq Committees have also been set up to organize legal aid through appropriate Committees and panels.