Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to court system. Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to fair trial.In Nigeria, legal aid is available to provide free legal services to indigent citizens.
Legal aid includes legal advice, assistance and representation for persons detained, arrested or imprisoned, suspected or accused of, or charged with a criminal offence and for victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process that is provided at no cost for those without sufficient means or when the interests of justice so require.
The legal aid system in Nigeria is guided by the Legal Aid Act of 2011. The Act establishes a Legal Aid Council responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Act are implemented and promoted.
Lawyers facilitated by the Legal Aid Council provide representation to indigent suspects, and are entitled to have access to suspects detained in prisons, police stations, or any other places of detention in Nigeria. Suspects are entitled to have such lawyers present during their interrogation in accordance with rights guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution.
A person whose income does not exceed the national minimum wage. However, in exceptional circumstances, a person whose earning exceeds the national minimum wage may be granted legal aid service.
Section 19(2) of the Legal Aid Act states that it shall be the duty of all police officers and courts to inform an accused person of their entitlement to the services of a legal practitioner from the moment of their arrest; and if such suspect cannot afford the services of a legal practitioner, to notify the Council of their desire to be represented.
A law clinic is a law office in a university managed by law students providing pro bono or voluntary services. A law or legal clinic provides free legal aid services to members of the public, thus, complementing access to justice.
By virtue of Section 17 of the Legal Aid Act, law clinics are authorised to provide legal aid or assistance to persons who are entitled to legal aid.
In order to increase access to justice, there are law clinics in Nigeria that offer legal assistance to pre-trial detainees and diverse services to the public and promoting community justice programmes. Their services include: client counselling and interview, assistance and rehabilitation of prisoners, observation and assessment of prison conditions, obtain data on prisoners’ welfare.