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Legal Aid for Arbitration: Delhi HC asks Law Ministry to look into feasibility

Legal Aid for Arbitration: Delhi HC asks Law Ministry to look into feasibility

Aditya AK

The Delhi High Court yesterday asked the Centre to consider the feasibility of formulating a scheme for legal aid in arbitration matters.

When the matter was taken up today, the Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Harishankar asked counsel appearing for the Centre as to why such an essential service was not being extended to underprivileged parties appearing in arbitration matters. In response, the counsel sought time to take instructions.

Though no formal notice was issued in the matter, the Bench asked the Union Law Ministry to look into the matter and sort it out from its end.

The PIL filed by Advocate Rishabh Dheer states that the lack of a provision for extending legal aid and indigency provisions to the underprivileged sections of society in arbitration matters runs contrary to the Constitutional scheme of ensuring access to justice.

Despite the growing popularity of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism, no attempt has been made to extend legal aid to parties, it is contended.

It is further pointed out that most contracts today contain an arbitration clause, owing to which underprivileged persons who are parties to a dispute will be barred from approaching the courts.

The discrimination arising out of the lack of a legal aid scheme for arbitration matters runs contrary to Article 14 and Article 21 read with Article 39A of the Constitution of India, the petition states.

Thus, a prayer has been made to extend the benefit of legal aid under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to arbitration matters. Alternatively, it is prayed that the word ‘tribunal’ contained under Section 2(aaa) of the Legal Services Authorities Act include arbitral tribunals under the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996. An appropriate scheme providing for an indigency provision in matters falling under the Arbitration Act is also sought.

The matter has been listed for October 23.

The petition has been drawn by Rishabh Dheer and settled by Advocate Prachee Satija and Advocate Dr. Amit George appeared for the petitioner.

Advocate Jasmeet Singh appeared for the Union of India.