Author: O. M. Atoyebi S.A.N FCIArb. (U.K.)., Contributor: BETSEABASI ASUQUO
The Legal Aid Council since its inauguration in 1974 has steadily strived to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots with legal representation, advice, and support with a vision statement: “To build a Nigerian nation where there is equal access to justice for all irrespective of means and where all rights are respected, protected and defended”.
With justice at the centre of its ethics, the council is committed to ensuring access to justice for all, serving as a beacon of hope for the underprivileged and marginalized members of society, and offering them a chance to assert their rights and seek redress within the legal system.
This article explains who the legal council is, the types of legal services rendered, the impact the Nigerian Legal Aid Council plays in promoting legal practice in Nigeria, a brief comparison of the Nigerian legal aid council with the legal aid model in the United Kingdom, and a few recommendations.
WHO ARE THE LEGAL AID COUNCIL OF NIGERIA
The Nigerian Legal Aid Council is a body corporate established by the Legal Aid Council which is saddled with the responsibility of providing legal aid, advice, and access to justice for persons entitled to it. The Council was first promulgated in 1976, by the Legal Aid Decree No. 56 to enhance the Rule of Law through the provision of free legal assistance, representation, and advice to poor litigants.
TYPES OF LEGAL SERVICES
The Council provides assistance on cases that come within the purview of Section 2 of the Act, including:
a. Proceedings in a court or tribunal in respect of crimes of murder of any degree, manslaughter, malicious or willful grievous hurt, assault occasioning bodily harm, common assault, affray, stealing, rape, armed robbery; and equivalent offences under the Penal Code;
b. Aiding and abetting, or counselling or procuring the commission of, or being an accessory before or after the fact to, or attempting or conspiring to commit, any of the offences in (a);
c. Civil claims in respect of accidents, including employee’s compensation claims under the Employee’s Compensation Act;
d. Civil claims to cover breach of fundamental rights guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended);
e. Civil claims arising from criminal activities against persons who are qualified for Legal Aid.
BENEFACTORS OF THE LEGAL AID COUNCIL
The Council provides legal aid to persons without income or whose income does not exceed the national minimum wage. This aid can also be granted on a contributory basis to any person(s) whose income exceeds the National minimum wage, on approval of the Governing Board of the Council.
IMPACT OF THE NIGERIAN LEGAL AID COUNCIL ON ACCESS TO JUSTICE
The Nigerian Legal Aid Council plays a crucial role in improving access to justice for indigent and vulnerable individuals in Nigeria. Its impact on access to justice can be seen in several ways:
BRIEF COMPARISON OF THE NIGERIAN LEGAL AID COUNCIL WITH THE LEGAL AID MODEL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
The Nigerian Legal Aid Council and the legal aid system in the United Kingdom share some common principles and objectives, but they also have notable differences due to variations in legal systems and socio-economic contexts. Here’s a brief comparative study:
In summary, both the Nigerian Legal Aid Council and the legal aid system in the United Kingdom strive to improve access to justice for those who cannot afford legal representation.
RECOMMENDATION ON INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO EXPAND THE REACH OF THE LEGAL AID COUNCIL
To expand the reach of the Legal Aid Council and enhance access to justice for more indigent and vulnerable individuals, some new approaches can be considered. These approaches aim to leverage technology, partnerships, and community engagement to overcome traditional barriers and increase the council’s impact. Examples of these innovative strategies include:
By adopting these innovative approaches, the Nigerian Legal Aid Council may be able to overcome some of the traditional challenges it faces and reach a wider audience in need of legal aid. These strategies can complement existing efforts and enhance the council’s ability to fulfil its mission of providing access to justice for all.
In conclusion, the Nigerian Legal Aid Council stands as an unwavering advocate for the vulnerable and disenfranchised in the pursuit of a fair and equitable legal system. The Council has played a significant role in fostering the advancement of legal practice in Nigeria. By providing legal aid, representation, and guidance to those who would otherwise have been excluded from the system, the Council has contributed to a more inclusive and just society.
In the ongoing journey towards a more equitable future, the Nigerian Legal Aid Council remains a pivotal force in fostering a society where justice is accessible to all, and where legal practice continues to progress for the betterment of the nation.
 Section 1 (1-3) of the Legal Aid Act 2011
 This was repealed by the Legal Aid Act
 Section 10(1) of the Legal Aid Act
 Section 10(3) of the Legal Aid Act