India Criminal Defense Manual - The Role And Responsibility of a Legal Aid Lawyer

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Importance of a Legal Aid Lawyer in the Criminal Justice System

The prosecutor's role is to argue the side of the state that seeks to prove that the accused is guilty of the crimes charged. The legal aid lawyer's role is to argue on behalf of the accused. The criminal justice system recognizes that in a criminal proceeding the state is asserting its ultimate authority over a single civilian. The use of this authority is carefully watched and different safeguards are in place to prevent abuse of the state's power.

  • The state bears the highest burden of proof in the Indian legal system, and must show that an accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes he is charged with. Subject to certain exertions wherein the law provides the burden of proof is on the accused.[1]
  • No burden is placed on the accused in almost all types of Criminal Cases. He need not present any evidence and he may not testify or give his own version of events. In such circumstances his failure to give evidence shall not be made the subject of any comment by any of the parties or the court or give rise to any presumption against himself or any person charged together with him at the same trial.[2]
  • Many procedures are in place related to the investigation and the arrest of the accused to ensure all evidence is accurate and that the correct person is charged with a crime.
  • The accused possesses rights to ensure that he is treated fairly and given an opportunity to argue his own case.
  • The legal aid lawyer presents all evidence to rebut the prosecutor's arguments and challenges all questionable assertions of facts by the prosecutor to ensure the high burden of proof is met.
  • The legal aid lawyer challenges procedural errors and may have charges dismissed or reduced because of unreliable evidence and testimony.

It is the responsibility of a legal aid lawyer to inform the accused about his legal rights and defends those rights if they have been violated.

The Legal Aid Lawyer as the First Line of Defense

It is important for an accused to obtain the help of a legal aid lawyer as early as possible. There are many actions that a legal aid lawyer should to take to protect and aid an accused at an early stage of the trial which may not be possible as the case progresse

  • The legal aid lawyer should inform the accused of his rights in the beginning (such as the right to remain silen
  • The legal aid lawyer should seek the temporary release of the accused through bail, thereby enabling the accused to better assist in the preparation of a defens
  • The legal aid lawyer should address arguments on the charges before the court and argue before the trial court to get them droped or reduced.

In addition, the legal aid lawyer must counsel the accused on different strategies and arguments that can be used in the case as well as the benefits and drawbacks for each on

  • The legal aid lawyer works with the accused and defense witnesses to understand the accused's version of events and to determine an appropriate defense (e.g. alibi, self-defense, unsoundness of mind and intoxication and misidentificatio
  • The legal aid lawyer may provide advice on what plea to enter, whether to accept a plea agreement, and whether the accused should testify on his own behal
  • The legal aid lawyer must examine evidence and plea before the trial court to call witnesses on behalf of the defense, as well as cross- examination of prosecution witnesses. In case of appealing convictions the legal aid lawyer must examine the judgment given by the trial court based on the evidence and testimony before it. Legal aid lawyers are societies last line of defence against the incursion of the state against a clients civil liberties and constitutional rights. The legal aid lawyer must do everything possible within their ethical and legal obligations to defend their client, including advocating on behalf of the accused and challenging procedural irregularities and inconsistencies.

Ethics and Professional Responsibility

The legal aid lawyer has several basic duties to his client and his role as a legal aid lawyer.

  • The legal aid lawyer serves as the counsellor and advocate for the accuse
  • The legal aid lawyer should seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice and seek to correct inadequacies or injustices in the substantive or procedural la
  • The legal aid lawyer should act with diligence and promptness when representing the accuse
  • The legal aid lawyer should conduct a prompt investigation into the facts relevant to the case and the penalty in the event of conviction, including securing information in the possession of the prosecution and law enforcement authorities
  • The legal aid lawyer's duty to represent the accused's interests is balanced by his duty to act in an ethical and professional manne
  • The legal aid lawyer does not have to follow any instructions from the accused that would be illegal or unethica
  • The legal aid lawyer must avoid conflicts of interests with the accused and all other parties involved in the case. This also means that the legal aid lawyer may not represent co-accused if their defenses will be adverse to one another.


It is important for the legal aid lawyer to act in a professional manner at all times when dealing with the judge and the prosecutor. The legal aid lawyer has a duty to provide effective representation to the accused at all times. Unscrupulous or unethical behavior damages the reputation and credibility of the legal aid lawyer. As the representative of the accused, such acts also damage the reputation and credibility of the accused.

See India Criminal Defense Manual


  1. For example Section 139 of Negotiable Instrument Act, Narcotics Drugs & Psychotropic substances Act, 1985, Section 304B of Indian Penal Code 1860, Section 113 A & Section 113 B of Evidence Act
  2. Section 315 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.