By Mr. Vignesh Baskaran
“Rights and Justice ought to be obtained freely without being obliged to purchase it”
-Massachusetts constitution, 1780
Lok Adalat is a prominent mechanism of alternative dispute resolution in India. Lok Adalat is popularly known as people’s court. The concept of Lok Adalat was a contribution to the world jurisprudence by the Indian jurists. It is an aspect of grass root level adjudicatory system which is free from formalities and technicalities. Earlier, the role of state was negligible, but now the role of state has increased to greater extent and law regulates every aspect of human life. Due to this there is flooding of litigations all over the courts of India. Indian Judiciary has also been trying its best to solve the problem and to render justice. In spite of this, there are some shortcomings due to the greater formalities and technicalities in the present adjudicatory system (Anglo Saxon System).
Long pendency of the cases frustrates the litigant public and also shakes their belief in the efficacy of judicial dispensation itself. Consequently, lawlessness will take hold and would lead to extra judicial methods which are outside the process of law. It would be great blend to the Justice in a society which is governed by Rule of Law. So, the Government adopted legal aid programme, one of the strategic legal aid programmes was constitution of the Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS) under the Chairmanship of Justice. P.N. Bhagwati in September 1980. It recommended for holding Lok Adalat for settlement of disputes through conciliation. Later Lok Adalat got statutory basis under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987.
2. Right to Legal Aid:
The 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 inserted Article 39A to the constitution of India. Legal Aid is a human right enshrined under Articles 7, 8 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 14(3) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for right to Legal Aid as a human Right.
The Law Commission of India in its Fourteenth Report and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in his Report on Processual justice to the people recommended for the Right to Legal Aid. The entire mechanism of Lok Adalat is designed and evolved in promoting this right to legal aid. It also helps in securing and promoting justice to the citizens.
Indian Society and its legal system have crossed various stages. In all the stages of Indian Society, there existed the traces of the Lok Adalat in the name of “People’s Court”. There was threefold self-adjudicatory system in ancient times they were
(a) Gana (Puga)
Puga/gana courts were like corporations of towns and villages, Sreni Courts were dealing with the cases of merchants in a guild and Kula courts dealing with the issues related to marriage in a tribe or a group. The Yagnavalkya Smriti also mentions about these three courts and their procedure. During Mughal period, they set up some hierarchy of courts but they did not touch the people’s court. Only after the British Rule, Anglo-Saxon Jurisprudence was introduced into the Indian Legal System
4. Lok Adalat and Legal Services Authority Act, 1987:
Chapter VI of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 deals with the organization, powers and Awards of the Lok Adalat.
4.1. Organization of Lok Adalat:
Lok Adalats are regularly organized by the State Legal Aid and Advice Boards with the help of District Legal Aid and Advice Committees[i]. Lok Adalats are managed by persons who are retired judges, law teachers or public-spirited lawyers. The Legal Aid boards also draw up panel for each district in consultation with each State High Court and District Court judges as well as bar associations. Apart from Judges the Lok Adalat also include the paralegals, social activist the local administration officials and members of Bar and bench.
4.2. Position of Lok Adalats:
The Lok Adalat shall have
(i) The powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908[ii].
(ii) All proceeding before Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of 193, 219 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code.
(iii) Every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a civil Court for the purpose of section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
(iv) The members of the Lok Adalats, in terms of the provisions of Section 23 of the Act, shall be deemed to be the public servants within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code and
(v) Every award made by Lok Adalat shall be final, binding and non-appealable.
Lok Adalats under the Act shall have jurisdiction to determines and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of
(i) any case pending before or
(ii) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of and is not brought before any court. Thus, both types of cases i.e. pre litigative as well as post litigative cases can be brought before the Lok Adalats.
The disputes can be referred to Lok Adalats by
(a) Mutual consent (or)
(b) at the request of one of the parties (or)
(c) by the court suo moto.
The Act provide that the court fee should be refunded which was paid at the time of institution of the case, if the case is eventually settled through Lok Adalats.
4.3. Scope of Judicial Review:
The awards of the Lok Adalats are final and binding and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award[iii].
In Punjab National Bank V. Lakshmi Chand Rai[iv], it was held that “The provisions of the Act shall prevail in the matter of filing an appeal and an appeal would not be under the provisions of section 96 of CPC. Lok Adalat is conducted under the Legal Services Authority Act and it has barred the Appeal under provisions of section 21(2)”. The court further stated that “It may incidentally be further seen that even the Code of Civil Procedure does not provide for an appeal under section 96 against consent decrees”.
The preamble of our Constitution mandates the state to accord justice to all citizens; Social justice is the key note of the constitution. Lok Adalats provides Justice in cheap and effective manner. Initially civil, revenue and criminal disputes, which were compoundable were taken up by the Lok Adalat. With the success of Lok Adalats in above disputes the State Legal Aid and Advice Board to take up Motor vehicle compensation claims cases also at Lok Adalats. This has resulted in settlement of large number of cases long pending before Motor Accident Claims Tribunal and which would have taken years for adjudication. Lok Adalats are taking up cases involving mutation of lands, land pattas, forest lands, bonded labour, land acquisition cases and bank loan cases.
In Lok Adalats there is no fee and even the court fee paid earlier would be refunded, there is procedure flexibility, participation of litigants directly in resolving disputes etc., Lok Adalats is not only providing Legal Justice but it also provides for economic justice. It is fascinating to note that both Legal and Economic justice are the aspects of Social Justice.
[i] Section 19, Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, No. 39, Act of Parliament, 1987 (India). [ii] Section 22, Ibid. [iii] Section 21(2), ibid. [iv] Punjab National Bank V. Lakshmi Chand Rai, A.I.R. 2000 M.P. 301(India).