New Delhi, Aug. 10: The Supreme Court has directed that legal aid be provided at state expense to accused in all cases, at every stage of the trial, if they are unable to afford it on their own.
“…we are of the opinion that neither the Constitution nor the Legal Services Authorities Act makes any distinction between a trial and an appeal for the purpose of providing free legal aid to an accused or a person in custody,” a two-judge bench said yesterday.
The court said this while remitting a case of a rape accused — seven persons were accused of gang-raping a girl in December 1998 — back to Madhya Pradesh High Court for re-hearing.
All seven were convicted by the trial court and sentenced to 10 years in jail. They appealed to the high court, which, in September 2006, set aside the conviction of five.
Of the two whose convictions were upheld, one accepted it. The other, Rajoo, moved the top court. When his appeal came up for hearing, his lawyer argued that he was convicted as he never had a legal counsel, not even at the appellate stage.
The top court remitted the case back saying the high court, which was under obligation to ask the accused if he needed legal aid, had made no such attempt.
“We are also of the view that the high court was under an obligation to enquire from Rajoo whether he required legal assistance and if he did, it should have been provided to him at state expense.
“However, since the record of the case does not indicate any such endeavour… this case ought to be re-heard by the high court after providing Rajoo an opportunity of obtaining legal representation.”