Lok Adalat : A new chapter to The Justice Dispensation System

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lok adalat

The concept of Lok Adalat is an innovative Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence. The introduction of Lok Adalat added a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of this country and succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the victims for a satisfactory settlement of their disputes. This system is based on Gandhian principles. It is one of the components of ADR systems. In ancient times the disputes were used to be referred to“panchayat” which were established at the village level. Panchayat used to resolve the dispute through arbitration. It has proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation. This very concept of the settlement of the dispute through mediation, negotiation or through an arbitral process known as the decision of “Nyaya-Panchayat” is conceptualized and institutionalized in the philosophy of Lok Adalat. It involves people who are directly or indirectly affected by dispute resolution.

Meaning

The institution of Lok Adalat in India, as the very name suggests, means People’s Court.”Lok”stands for”people “and the term”Adalat”means court. India has a long tradition and history of such methods being practised in the society at the grassroots level.

Origin

The concept of Lok Adalats was pushed back into oblivion in last few centuries before independence and particularly during the British regime. Now, this concept has, once again, been rejuvenated. It has, once again, become very popular and familiar amongst litigants. This is the system which has deep roots in Indian legal history and its close allegiance to the culture and perception of justice in Indian ethos. Experience has shown that it is one of the very efficient and important ADRs and most suited to the Indian environment, culture and societal interests.Camps of Lok Adalats were started initially in Gujarat in March 1982 and now it has been extended throughout the Country.

The evolution of this movement was a part of the strategy to relieve heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice. The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982, at Junagarh in Gujarat the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Maharashtra commenced the Lok Nyayalaya in 1984. Lok Adalats have been very successful in settlement of motor accident claim cases, matrimonial/family disputes, labour disputes, disputes  relating to public services such as telephone, electricity, bank recovery cases and so on.

Some statistics may give us a feeling of tremendous satisfaction and encouragement.Upto the middle of last year (2004), more than 200,000 Lok Adalats  have been held and there in more than 16 million cases have been settled, half of which were motor accident claim cases. More than one billion US dollars were distributed by way of compensation to those who had suffered accidents. 6.7 million persons have benefited through legal aid and advice.

Scope and Object

The advent of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats, pursuant to the constitutional mandate in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, contains various provisions for the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat. It is an Act to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity. Even before the enforcement of the Act, the concept of Lok Adalat has been getting wide acceptance as People’s Courts as the very name signifies. Settlement of disputes at the hands of Panchayat Heads or tribal heads was invogues in ancient times. When statutory recognition had been given to Lok Adalat, it was specifically provided that the award passed by the Lok Adalat formulating the terms of compromise will have the force of decree of a court which can be executed as a civil court decree. The evolution of movement called Lok Adalat was a part of the strategy to relieve heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice.

It is an Act to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.

Cases Suitable for Lok Adalat

Lok Adalats have the competence to deal with a number of cases like:

  • Compoundable civil, revenue and criminal cases.
  • Motor accident compensation claims cases
  • Partition Claims
  • Damages Cases
  • Matrimonial and family disputes
  • Mutation of lands case
  • Land Pattas cases
  • Bonded Labour cases
  • Land acquisition disputes
  • Bank’s unpaid loan cases
  • Arrears of retirement benefits cases
  • Family Court cases
  • Cases which are not sub-judice

Need for Lok Adalat

As Justice Ramaswamy said: “Resolving disputes through Lok Adalat not only minimizes litigation expenditure, it saves valuable time of the parties and their witnesses and also facilitates inexpensive and prompt remedy appropriately to the satisfaction of both the parties

Law Courts in India face mainly four problems:

  • The number of courts and judges in all grades are alarmingly inadequate.
  • Increase in the flow of cases in recent years due to multifarious Acts enacted by the Central and State Governments.
  • The high cost involved in prosecuting or defending a case in a court of law,due to heavy court fee, lawyer’s fee and incidental charges.
  • Delay in disposal of cases resulting in huge pendency in all the courts.

Jurisdiction of Lok Adalat

A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of:

  1. any case pending before;or
  2. any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised.

The Lok Adalat can compromise and settle even criminal cases, which are compoundable under the relevant laws.

Organisation of Lok Adalat

The State Authority and District Authority, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee and Taluk Legal Services Committee (mentioned in Section 19 of the Act) can organize Lok Adalats at such intervals and Permanent Lok Adalats as may be deemed fit.

Every Lok Adalat so organized shall consist of:

  1. Serving or retired judicial officers,
  2. Other persons, as may be specified.

The experience and qualification of “other persons” in a Lok Adalat conducted by Supreme Court Legal Services Committee shall be prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. At present, Rule 13 of the National Legal Services Authorities Rules, 1995 prescribes such experience and qualifications as:

  1. A member of the legal profession;or
  2. A person of repute who is especially interested in the implementation of the Legal Services Schemes and Programmes;or
  3. An eminent social worker who is engaged in the upliftment of weaker sections of people, including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women, children, rural and urban labour.

The experience and qualification of “other persons” mentioned in clause (b) shall be prescribed by the State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of High Court.

Cognizance of Pending Cases and Determination

  1. On Application:

    • When all the parties to the case agree for referring the case to Lok Adalat,or
    • Whenoneoftheparties tothecasemakesanapplicationto the court,prayingtorefer the case to Lok Adalat and the court is prima facie satisfied that there are chances for a settlement
  2. Suo Moto:

    • Where the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of, by the Lok Adalat, then the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat, after giving a reasonable opportunity for hearing to all the parties. Further, the Authority or Committee organising Lok Adalat may, on application from any party to a dispute, refer the said dispute to Lok Adalat, after giving a reasonable opportunity for hearing to all  the parties.
    • It shall be guided by principles of law, justice, equity and fair Permanent Lok Adalat. It shall yearn to reach a settlement or compromise between parties.
    • When no compromise or settlement is accomplished, the case is to be returned to the court which referred it. Then the case will proceed in the court from the stage immediately before the reference.

Passing the Award

  • Every award of Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court.
  • Every award shall be signed by all the parties to the dispute and the panel constituting the Lok Adalat.
  • Every award shall form part of the judicial records.
  • Every award shall be categorical and lucid.
  • Every award shall be in the regional language or in English.
  • A certified copy of the award will be given free of cost, to all the parties.
  • Every award made by Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.
  • If a pending case is settled at Lok Adalat, any court fee already paid will be refunded as provided by the Court Fees Act,1870.

Powers of Lok Adalat

  1. The Lok Adalat shall have the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, while trying a suit, in respect of the following matters:-
    1. Power to summon and enforce the attendance of any witness and to examine him/her on oath.
    2. Power to enforce the discovery and production of any document.
    3. Power to receive evidence on affidavits,
    4. Power for requisitioning of any public record or document or copy thereof or from any court.
    5. Such other matters as may be prescribed.
  2. Every Lok Adalat shall have the power to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
  3. All proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193, 219 and 228 of IPC.
  4. Every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the purpose of Sec 195 and Chapter XXVI of Cr.P.C.

Permanent Lok Adalat

In 2002, Parliament brought about certain amendments to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The said amendment introduced Chapter VI – A with the caption PRE LITIGATION CONCILIATION AND SETTLEMENT. Section 22 – B envisages the establishment of “PERMANENT LOK ADALATS (PLA)” at different places for considering the cases in respect of Public Utility Services (PUS). The Central or State Authorities may establish by notification, Permanent Lok Adalats at any Permanent Lok Adalats, for determining issues in connection to Public Utility Services.

Public Utility Services include:

  1. Transport service,
  2. Postal, telegraph or telephoneservices,
  3. Supply of power, light and water topublic,
  4. The system of public conservancy orsanitation,
  5. InsuranceservicesandsuchotherservicesasnotifiedbytheCentralorState Governments.

PERMANENT LOK ADALAT’s have the same powers that are vested on the Lok-Adalats, mentioned under Section 22(1) of the Act.

Organisational Structure of Permanent Lok Adalat

Chairman

A person who is or has been a District Judge or Additional District Judge or has held a judicial office higher in rank than that of a District Judge shall be the Chairman.

Members

Two other persons having adequate experience in Public Utility Service to be nominated by Central Government on the recommendation of Central Authority and by the State Government on the recommendation of the State Authority.

Cognizance of Pending Cases by Lok Adalat

  1. Any party to a dispute can apply to PERMANENT LOK ADALAT for settlement of a dispute in respect of a public utility service, which is not pending before any court.
  2. PERMANENT LOK ADALAT does not have jurisdiction to entertain disputes involving offences which are not compoundable.
  3. PERMANENT LOK ADALAT does not have jurisdiction to entertain a matter where the value of the property involved exceeds ten lakhs, which limit can be enhanced as provided for.
  4. Once, an application is preferred to PERMANENT LOK ADALAT for determination of a dispute, no party to such application can invoke the jurisdiction of any court in the same dispute.

Procedure by Permanent Lok Adalats For Determination

Where the PERMANENT LOK ADALAT receives an application for determination of a dispute,

  • The PERMANENT LOK ADALAT should direct each party to file before it a written statement stating therein, all the facts and the nature of the dispute, points or issues and the grounds in support or opposition. PERMANENT LOK ADALAT may require the parties to file additional statements at any stage.The party may also file any document or such other evidence, in proof of such facts and ground surged.
  • The copy of the written statement and the documents or such other evidence filed has to be sent to the other parties to the application.
  • When the statement and additional statement and reply if any are filed, PERMANENT LOK ADALAT shall conduct the conciliation process between parties to the application, as it thinks fit, considering the circumstances of the dispute.
  • PERMANENT LOK ADALAT should assist the parties in their attempt to reach an amicable settlement, in an independent and impartial manner. Every party is duty bound to co-operate in good faith, in the conciliation process.
  • If after the conciliation process, the PERMANENT LOK ADALAT is of an opinion that there exist elements of settlement in such proceedings, which may be acceptable to the parties, PERMANENT LOK ADALAT may formulate the terms of a possible settlement of the dispute and give it for the consideration of the parties.If the parties are agreeable to the same, they shall sign the same and PERMANENT LOK ADALAT shall pass an award in terms of the settlement agreement.
  • If the parties are not agreeable to the settlement formulated, if the dispute is not an offence, then the PERMANENT LOK ADALAT should decide the dispute on merits.
  • PERMANENT LOK ADALAT shall, while conducting conciliation proceedings or deciding a dispute on merit, shall be guided by the principle of natural justice, objectivity, fair Permanent Lok Adalat, equity and other principles of justice.
  • The PERMANENT LOK ADALAT, when deciding a dispute on merit, shall not be bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Every award made by the PERMANENT LOK ADALAT shall be by the majority of the persons constituting the PERMANENT LOK ADALAT.
  • The award rendered by PERMANENT LOK ADALAT shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court and shall be final. The PERMANENT LOK ADALAT may transmit the award to the court having local jurisdiction for execution.

Advantages of Lok Adalat

  • Speedy Justice And Saving From The Lengthy Court Procedures

Lok Adalats ensure speedier justice because it can be conducted at suitable places, arranged very fast, in local languages too, even for the illiterates.

The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly followed while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat. Hence, Lok Adalats are also known as “People’s Festivals of Justice”

The victims and the offender may be represented by their advocate or they can interact with the Lok Adalat judge directly and explain their stand in the dispute and the reasons thereof, which is not possible in a regular court of law.

  • Justice At No Cost

Lok Adalat is the only institutionalized mechanism of dispute resolution in which the parties do not have to bear any expenses.

There is no court fee in Lok Adalat. If the case is already filed in the regular  court, the fee paid is refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act if the dispute is settled at the Lok Adalat. This kind of refund is an incentive given to parties to negotiate for a settlement. Lok Adalat is a boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost.

  • Solving Problems Of Backlog Cases: –

In a Lok Adalat, if a compromise is reached, an award is made and is binding on the parties. It is enforced as a decree of a civil court. An important aspect is that the award is final and cannot be appealed, not even under Article 226 because it is a judgment by consent. All proceedings of a Lok Adalat are deemed and every Lok Adalat is deemed to be a Civil Court. Section 25 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 provides that the provisions of the act have an overriding effect notwithstanding anything which is inconsistent with any other law.

  • Maintenance Of Cordial Relations: –

The main thrust of Lok Adalats is on compromise. When no compromise is reached, the matter goes back to the court. While conducting the proceedings, a Lok Adalat acts as a conciliator and  not as an arbitrator. Its role is to persuade the parties to hit up on a solution and help in reconciling the contesting differences. Lok Adalat cannot decide the issues nor can it influence or force the parties to decide in a particular way. It encourages consensual arrangements. It is not possible for Lok Adalat to decide upon any issue not acceptable to any of the parties.

In Lok Adalat, disputes are not only settled but also the cordial relations between the parties are retained as disputes are resolved amicably. Hence, it is a very healthy way of dispute resolution.

Conclusion

Lok Adalats, as it has been again and again iterated through out the paper, serve very crucial functions in a country due to many factors like pending cases, illiteracy etc. The Lok Adalat was a historic necessity in a country like India where illiteracy dominated all aspects of governance. The most desired function of Lok Adalats may seem to be clearing the backlog, with the latest report showing 3 crores pending cases in Indian courts but the other functions cannot be ignored. The concept of Lok Adalat has been a success inpractice.

Lok Adalats play a very important role to advance and strengthen “equal access to justice”, the heart of the Constitution of India, a reality. This Indian contribution to world ADR jurisprudence needs to be taken full advantage of. A maximum number of Lok Adalats need to be organized to achieve the Gandhian Principle of Gram Swaraj and“access to justice for all”.

Therefore, it may be concluded that the system of Lok Adalat and giving free legal aid to eligible persons is a very noble one which has helped judiciary not only in speedy disposal of cases but has given some relief to the litigant, particularly to them who are poor and cannot afford to claim their right through court of law.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Why is Lok Adalat different from other courts?

The Lok Adalats are an alternative legal redressal forum to the courts and have proved to be very effective in settling numerous cases across the nation. It’s by a ‘compromise’ reached among the warring litigants through an ‘out-of-court’ process; the cases are settled in Lok Adalats, in the presence of the Judges. It helps in a speedy and amicable mode of settlement of disputes compared to courts. Moreover, it is preferred over other courts as they involve following drawbacks which do not exist in the Lok Adalat system of dispute resolution.

  • Increaseinthe flowofcasesinrecentyearsduetomultifariousActsenactedbythe Central and StateGovernments.
  • The high cost involved in prosecuting or defending a case in a court of law,due to heavy court fee, lawyer’s fee and incidental charges.
  • Delay in disposal of cases resulting in huge pendency in all the courts.
  1. Can Lok Adalat try criminal cases?

Only Compoundable and not non-compoundable cases can be tried by Lok Adalats.Criminal offences can also be classified as compoundable and non-compoundable offences.

Compoundable offences are those offences where, the complainant (one who has filed the case, i.e. the victim), enter into a compromise, and agrees to have the charges dropped against the accused. There are some offences, which cannot be compounded. They can only be quashed. The reason for this is, because the nature of the offence is so grave and criminal, that the Accused cannot be allowed to go scot-free. Here, in these types of cases generally, it is the “state”, i.e. police, who has filed the case, and hence the question of complainant entering into compromise does not arise. All those offences, which are not mentioned in the list under section (320) of CrPC, are non-compoundable offences. Such non-compoundable cases cannot be taken to Lok adalats.

  1. Can Lok Adalats issue arrest warrant?

Yes, they can. The Lok Adalat shall have the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 while trying a suit. It includes the power to summon and enforce the attendance of any witness and to examine him/her on oath and also to issue a warrant.

  1. Can Lok Adalat’s decisions be challenged?

Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any Court against the award.
The award of Lok Adalat is final and permanent which is equivalent to a decree executable, and the same is an ending to the litigation among parties.

  1. How is Lok Adalat helpful in the disposal of cases?

They help in reducing the burden of other courts in disposing of the cases. The National Lok Adalats held every two months across the country is significantly contributing to the disposal of cases.  .. Statistics compiled by the Law ministry show more than 50 lakh cases have been disposed of every year on an average in the last three years by these courts.

 Edited by – Sakshi Agarwal

Quality Check – Ankita Jha

Approved & Published by –  Sakshi Raje

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Madonna Jephi
I am Madonna Jephi from Tamil Nadu National Law University pursuing B.Com LLB. (Hons.). Legal research and writing has always been my good companion. Intellectual property law, labour laws, Legal drafting are my fondest. I have always believed in “no matter how good you are you can always be replaced” and this has made me conscious to be the best of myself in what I do. I actively participate in conferences and other elocutions that invite presentations on any contemporary legal issues. I am a good listener as well a good leader capable to be a part of any team. Moreover, I spend my time writing motivational quotes and sayings and enjoy sending it across to my friends and families. I take part in various legal aid and self awareness camps and have also involved in conducting a few of them. I also enjoy cooking and driving.