The Legal Aid Bureau was established in September 1970. It's primary objective is to provide legal aid and advisory service to the indigent on legal issues commonly associated with them. The Legal Aid Bureau was contemplated way back in 1954, but the first positive step was only taken in 1960. This was as a result of a letter written by an 'orthopaedic almoner' of the General Hospital, Kuala Lumpur who requested that free legal advice should be made available to patients suffering from serious residual disabilities where compensation could be awarded if they are given legal representation.
Meanwhile certain woman's organization also urged the Government to take action to provide assistance to women and their children in their maintenance claims against their husband and the children's guardian.
At that time, legal advice and assistance given were only confined to -
- Government servants in cases of legal proceedings relating to their official duty (vide the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) (General Orders Chapter D) Regulations 1969)
- Poor persons in 'forma pauperis' (vide the Rules of Supreme Court 1957)
- Persons charged with criminal offences involving capital punishment (vide the Criminal Procedure Code).
In October 1969 the issue was referred to the Attorney - General and the then Attorney - General supported the proposals. Subsequently it was referred to the Ministry of Justice which later sought the advice of the Bar Council who also supported the scheme.
A committee was formed to study the matter following which a pilot project was launched in September 1970 providing legal aid relating to advice only. A sum of RM100,000 was allocated for the purpose. Due to the limited fund it was therefore found necessary to confine its jurisdiction to certain specific proceedings. Priority was given to family matters since it was found to be the bulk of the cases requiring immediate assistance such as maintenance claim, enforcement of maintenance orders and etc.
At the beginning, the Bureau was placed under the Attorney - General's Chambers and following the setting up of the Ministry of Law in 1985 it was placed under the Ministry until May 1995. It now comes under the wings of the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister's Department.
With effect from 16 January 2010, the name of the Legal Aid Bureau has been changed to the Legal Aid Department.