Lok Adalats

The institution of Lok Adalats (a para-judicial institution) falls within the broad ambit of legal aid. Lok Adalats (people’s courts) have been characterised as constituting “people’s programme for speedy justice”. A Lok adalat is not a court strictly speaking. These adalats are organised by public spirited social workers. The lok adalat judges come from amongst retired judges, public-spirited lawyers and law teachers. The inspiration for these courts have come from the functioning of nyaya panchayats.

These people’s courts sit at convenient places at specified times and follows a cordial and informal procedure (unlike the adversarial procedure followed in a regular court). What these adalats seek to do is to reach decisions through reconciliation and mutual settlement of the disputants. The settlement is reduced into writing and signed by judges and parties.

The policy is to prevent litigation, and to settle litigation by negotiation, arbitration or conciliation. The advantage is ‘reduction of cost, delays and bitterness’ which are inevitable in a regular court. Thousands of cases have been decided without much expense – say at a nominal expense only and within days. Thus, these adalats reduces burden on the regular courts. In some States, the experiment succeeded tremendously and people withdrew their cases from regular courts and settled through lok adalats.

However, lok adalats seem to provide an illusive justice:

(i) Lok adalat can succeed only if people are willing to compromise and come to a mutual settlement, as every adjudication before a lok adalat is by consent. If one party does not agree, the case goes back to the court. If there is no consent, there is no decision.

(ii) The lok adalat movement is too cloudy, unorganized and populist, rather than organised on a regular basis (there is an uncertainty of their being held). Further, contested matters have to be tried in regular courts.

(iii) Sometimes, there are reports about undue influence or coercion to settle, and “corrupt practices” e.g. poor and illiterate claimants misled by lawyers to settle at “easy” terms or a cheap amount of compensation.

(iv) The decisions of a lok adalat are final and binding on the parties and are not appealable.

(v) At present, the institution of lok adalats is in its infant stage. The cases settled by it so far are mostly compensation cases(motor accident) and that too between the private parties.

All these factors undermine the interest and faith of people in the lok adalats. Prof. Baxi, therefore, believes that there should be social audit of each lok adalat and concerned people should unlearn and learn from this audit.

The jurisdiction of lok adalats needs to be widened. At least, labour and industrial disputes should be covered by it and cases where the Government is a party should also go before it for the settlement. It is gratifying to note that the institution of lok adalat extended its ambit to the cases pending before the Supreme Court.

So far, there was no legal basis for lok adalats to function. But now Parliament had enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to give legitimacy to the lok adalats. The Act provides for the setting up of statutory legal services authorities, who are to encourage the settlement of disputes by way of negotiation, arbitration and conciliation as well as through lok adalats. The State or district authorities may organise lok adalats and nominate their presiding officers. A pending case may be transferred by a court to lok adalat if the concerned parties make a joint application for the purpose. The Act provides that the settlements arrived at in lok adalats will
have legal force and be binding.

Conflicting views have been expressed on the advisability of the new institution. One view is that lak adalats are meant to supplement the judicial process and not to displace it. Also, when conciliation becomes the norm, people’s attitude to resort to courts will change. On the other hand, it is being suggested that with the giving of legal basis, the informality of lok adalats will disappear and they too will involve technical complexities. Thus, a parallel court system under a different label may emerge.

Key Words:- #Lok Adalats #cordial and informal procedure #reduction of cost #justice #mutual settlement #consent #final and binding on the parties #not appealable

Leave a Comment