Mapping of Legal Aid Mechanisms in Sindh

by Sindh Human Rights Commisssion

This policy brief, titled “Mapping of Legal Aid Mechanisms in Sindh Province,” conducted by the Sindh Human Rights Commission, presents an exhaustive analysis of legal aid services in Sindh, Pakistan. The primary objective is to offer a holistic perspective on the legal aid landscape within both the provincial, national and international legal framework.

The report underscores the constitutional significance of free legal aid in Pakistan, highlighting its essential role as a fundamental right for ensuring equitable access to justice, as enshrined in Articles 4, 9, 10-A, 25, and 37(d) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The report also examines the international framework, rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the obligations arising from Pakistan’s ratification of key human rights treaties. These international commitments stress the state’s duty to provide free legal aid and assistance, even though they are not directly enforceable in domestic law. In conclusion, the report reiterates that free legal aid is pivotal in upholding principles of fairness, equality, and human rights within the justice system.

The legal aid framework in Pakistan operates at multiple administrative levels, including federal, provincial, divisional, and district levels, guided by national and provincial legislation, policies, and executive orders.

In Sindh Province, several legal aid mechanisms/procedures/windows have been established at the provincial, divisional and district level. However, three main and functioning committees have been formed to provide the citizens with free legal aid and assistance by the Sindh Government. A Steering Committee for legal aid and assistance to the vulnerable and marginalised segments of the society in Sindh Province has been formed under the Human Rights Department (HRD), Government of Sindh. Additionally, two committees have been formed under the Home Department for free legal aid and assistance: The Provincial Subcommittee on Diyat, Arsh and Daman (a federal government led initiative) and the Committee for the Welfare of Prisoners (CWP), a Sindh provincial government led initiative.

The Pakistan Bar Council Free Legal Aid Rules 1999 provide legal assistance to various categories, including the poor, destitute, orphans, widows, and other deserving litigants. These rules encompass a wide range of cases, from accidents and family laws to illegal detentions and public interest litigation. They establish Free Legal Aid Committees at different levels, including provincial and district committees, to facilitate legal aid provision.

Suits by paupers are governed by Rule 33 of the Code of Civil Procedure, ensuring that individuals who cannot pay court fees can pursue their cases. Section 161A of the Code of Criminal Procedure grants legal representation to victims of specific offenses, such as rape, with the police obliged to inform them of this right.

The Sindh High Court (Appellate Side) Rules 2012 empower the High Court to provide counsel at government expense in cases beyond poverty, guaranteeing accessible legal representation.

The Destitute Litigant Fund Rules 1974 enable destitute individuals to access legal aid in constitutional matters. These rules define a structured process for applying and require an investigation before assistance is granted.

The Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act 1996 aimed to provide financial and legal assistance to women in distress or detention but was later repealed under the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Act 2020 (LAJA).

The LAJA, enacted in 2020, aims to safeguard access to justice for the poor and vulnerable, covering criminal cases and providing legal, financial, and other assistance through the Legal Aid and Justice Authority.

The Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 ensures that every juvenile or child victim of an offense has the right to legal assistance at the expense of the State.

At the district level, the District Legal Empowerment Committee (DLEC) holds a crucial role. Established under the DLEC Rules 2011, the committee identifies “deserving litigants” who lack financial means for legal assistance. Chaired by the District & Sessions Judge, the committee encompasses various members, including representatives from the District Bar Association and civil society. The DLEC extends legal aid in areas like lawyer fees, court fees, copying charges, process fees, and more.

In addition to these legal aid mechanisms, institutional protection mechanisms operate at the district level to enhance access to justice. These mechanisms include the Human Rights Cell of the Sindh Police, Minority Facilitation Centers, and the Sindh Legal Advisory Call Centre, offering free legal advice on various issues.

In conclusion, diverse legal aid mechanisms are scatted across the province of Sindh for individuals unable to afford legal representation. Therefore, this study provides key recommendations for the effective utilization of the legal aid mechanisms for coordination among the various mechanisms and increased awareness of their existence and functions. One of the key recommendations is to establish a Provincial Legal Aid Agency/Authority to ensure a well-coordinated and efficient free legal aid mechanism in the province of Sindh.


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