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India high court rules defendants entitled to legal aid at all levels of the judiciary

The Supreme Court of India [official website] ruled [opinion] Thursday that persons accused of crimes are entitled to free legal representation in all courts, not just at the trial level. The statute in question was the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987, which declares that all persons who must defend a case are entitled to free legal services. In its ruling the Indian high court held that the language of the statute made it clear that accused persons should be granted free assistance at all legal proceedings:

It is important to note in this context that Sections 12 and 13 of the [Legal Services Authorities Act] do not make any distinction between the trial stage and the appellate stage for providing legal services. In other words, an eligible person is entitled to legal services at any stage of the proceedings which he or she is prosecuting or defending. In fact the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee provides legal assistance to eligible persons in this Court. This makes it abundantly clear that legal services shall be provided to an eligible person at all stages of the proceedings, trial as well as appellate.
The case involved a criminal defendant whose conviction for rape was upheld in an appeals court even though the defendant did not have legal representation. The high court ordered the appellate court to re-hear his appeal.

The right to counsel has been the subject of numerous court cases worldwide in recent years. In February 2011, the Supreme Court of India ruled [JURIST report] that criminal defendants have a right to counsel under the Indian Constitution. In October 2010 the UK Supreme Court ruled that Scottish police could no longer question a suspect in custody [JURIST report] without the presence of a lawyer. A week earlier the French Court of Cassation ruled that all persons in custody of French law enforcement, including terrorism suspects, are entitled to consult with lawyers [JURIST report] from the outset of criminal proceedings. Also that month the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians do not have the right to have counsel [JURIST report] present during custodial interrogations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. In May 2009 the US Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] does not require police to cease interrogations [JURIST report] after a suspect had invoked his right to counsel, ruling that the Fifth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] provides adequate protection.

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