State Legal Aid still unequipped to deal with undertrials

BHAVINI MISHRA

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority (TNSLSA) used to provide free legal aid to people who have not been granted bail but now it has stopped because of problems with the police, says C. Vijayalakshmi, panel advocate for the TNSLSA.

More than 50% of the prisoners in Tamil Nadu are undertrials, according to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau for the year 2016. Section 436-A of CrPC says that undertrial prisoners, who suffered detention “during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial” for one-half of their maximum imprisonment, should be released by the court on personal bond with or without sureties.

According to Article 39(a), a person who is economically backward (salary less than 1 lakh an annum), differently abled, women, children and people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes should be provided free legal aid by the State.  There are three wings in the legal services authority. The first is the District Legal services authority which overlooks cases in the district; the TNSLSA overlooks cases in Chennai and around the State and the High Court overlooks cases that are under the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court. “People find out about legal aid from newspapers, magazines and local news channels,” Justice Thiru T. Sundaramoorthy, TNSLSA says.

The reasons for the undertrials languishing in jails are lack of free legal aid, over burdened judiciary and incompetent police, according to Vijayalakshmi. She says that while the TNSLSA provides counseling to people on all kinds of matters, they provide legal assistance for only family matters now. “We don’t assist in criminal matters because the police are uncooperative and don’t like us there. We’ve had few run in with the police over the years. The police machinery is this state is corrupted.”

Talking about a recent case she filed for a woman who was forced into prostitution, Vijayalakshmi says that the police did not even mention the correct sections in the FIR. “The police station where she had to go and sign for the bail granted to her was not even mentioned. If we hadn’t intervened her bail would have been denied.”

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