Pro bono work restores faith in the legal system by providing access to justice to those who have financial and social constraints. Article 18 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 (B.S. 2072) provides equality before the law and equal protection of the law as a fundamental right. Similarly, Article 20 (2) of the Constitution states that any person arrested shall have the right to consult a legal practitioner of his or her choice from the time of arrest, and that the advice given by the legal practitioner shall remain confidential. Thus, providing access to justice and the principles of the rule of law – including the supremacy of the law and equality before law – are fundamental rights of the utmost value, enshrined by the Constitution of Nepal.
Legal aid in Nepal is available through stipendiary lawyers in the Supreme Court, High Court and District by virtue of Rule 13 of Supreme Court Regulation, 2017 (B.S. 2074), Rule 157 of High Court Regulation, 2016 (B.S.2073) and Rule 101 of the District Court Regulation, 2018 (B.S. 2075), Rule 101 respectively.
The Legal Aid Act, 1997 (B.S. 2054) was enacted with the purpose of the enforcing the right to access justice. According to the act, only a person earning less than 40,000 Nepalese Rupees (USD$340) annually is eligible for legal aid. Under the Legal Aid Act, a legal aid fund was established which includes money received from the government, individuals, associations, institutions and other sources as grants. In practice, legal aid is still at a nascent stage in Nepal. According to the Legal Aid Act, there should be a District Legal Aid Committee in each district, but in practice that is not the case. Similarly, if the concerned person comes into money after accessing Legal Aid then s/he is supposed to reimburse the expenses to the concerned committee, but there is no clarity on the procedure for determining the amount to be reimbursed.
Thus, even though the law recognises the importance of legal aid, in practice there is lack of infrastructure to grant it. This increases the importance of pro bono work in Nepal to impart to the masses their fundamental right to access justice.
Our firm has a culture of doing pro bono work, assisting on issues including gender-based issues, radio licensing and the broadcasting regime, and preparing a report for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies analysing laws providing shelter to disaster victims.