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The Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DLSA) has informed the Delhi High Court that it is ready to provide legal aid to parties in arbitration proceedings in accordance with the law.
The statement was made before a Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar while it was hearing a public interest petition seeking the extension of the benefit of legal aid under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to arbitration matters.
Alternatively, the PIL prays that the word ‘tribunal’ contained under Section 2(aaa) of the Legal Services Authorities Act must 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.
Last month, the Court had directed the Central Government to consider the feasibility of formulating a scheme for legal aid in arbitration matters. The Court had questioned the Central Government as to why such an essential service was not being extended to underprivileged parties appearing in arbitration matters.
The Central Government is yet to clarify its stand on the issue.
The PIL by petitioner in person 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.
The petitioner was represented by Advocates Dr. Amit George, Prachee Satija and Bharat Rayadurgam.
DLSA was represented by Sarfaraz Khan.
Central Government Standing Counsel Jasmeet Singh appeared for the Centre.
The matter would be heard next on November 4.
Read the Order: