Lok Adalat system in India

This article is written by Presha Naik, a student, at SNDT Women’s University, Law School, Santacruz, Mumbai. The article emphasizes the Lokadalat system in India, and how the Lokadalats in India is a source of swift resolving cases in India. The article further also points out how the Lokadalats procedures and why the Courts emphasize more towards settling the disputes through these ADR systems. And Ultimately, is Justice being given to both the parties at the merits?

An Introduction to Lok Adalats

Under the Constitution of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), is a constituted body which is been set up by the Indian Government or Central Government to exercise the powers given to it to resolve the cases in a more convenient and speedy space. The officers, including the Executive chairman as well as the Member-secretary, are all appointed only after taking consultation of the Chief Justice of India (CJI), the central Government seeks the Consultation for the Chief Justice of India, the terms of office that each officer hold including the member secretary as well as the executive chairman is also taken decided after consulting the CJI. There are different Services given by the different levels of authorities as provided to people accordingly who cannot either afford the litigation fee and the fee of a solicitor respectively, or those who cannot wait until the decision of the Hon’ble court which maybe sometimes time-consuming, or where the court itself refers the matter to the Lokadalats according to their respective jurisdiction to make a way through the dispute to resolving it through settlement. There are committees set up by the Hon’ble Supreme Court for the Legal Services Aid through Lokadalats in India. There are certain policies and rules which are laid down to obey the committee and the sitting chairman, so to make a better way for dispute resolution through settlements and giving the right to access Justice to all the people in India equally.

What does the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 for?

The Act constitutes to provide free and competent legal aid to any person who cannot afford the long way route through hearing disputes in the court through litigation which may be time-consuming at a point for some people and to the people who come from the weaker sections of the society who cannot reach to seek Justice to the Court, under this Act it further ensures such people that to seek Justice and to ensure people of their rights legally is very much important whether it may be through court or settlements i.e. through the Arbitration redressal mechanisms, opportunities to seek justice should not be denied to any citizen by giving more stress on their economic and financial backgrounds or other disabilities. 

This Act was enacted by the Parliament in the 38th year of the Republic of India.

Let’s take a look at the main object of the Legal Services Authorities Act:

The main object which the further said Act holds is to provide free legal aid to the people who cannot ford litigation fees and to all those matters which seem to be resolved according to the nature of it to be settled through settlements. The Government of India dated on 26th September 1980 appointed a committee for implementing legal aid schemes (CILAS) under the Chairmanship of P.N. Bhagwati to monitor and implement the appropriate schemes legally to these legal aid services programs on a uniform basis that is to apply to both the Union as well as to the States. 

What is the CILAS? Was it properly implemented?

So, CILAS is basically, an evolved scheme that was also set up by the Central Government to implement the schemes applicable to both the Union and State. This scheme was to monitor the legal aid programs and also to look up at the advice boards which were set up in the States as well as in the Union Territories. The CILAS was wholly funded also by the Central Government but since there were many deficiencies that in time came to the fore, to which the Central Government had to set up statutory legal services authorities differentiated in the different levels such as at the National level, State level, District level, Taluka level for effective and consistent monitoring of the free legal aid schemes that should be approached to more and more people at al the spheres so that no such person can be deprived for his right to seek Justice.

How Lokadalats was set up?

NALSA along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats. Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms, it is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at the pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably. Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law. If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in the exercise of their right to litigate.

There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties. The persons deciding the cases in the Lok Adalats are called the Members of the Lok Adalats, they have the role of statutory conciliators only and do not have any judicial role; therefore they can only persuade the parties to conclude settling the dispute outside the court in the Lok Adalat and shall not pressurize or coerce any of the parties to compromise or settle cases or matters either directly or indirectly. The Lok Adalat shall not decide the matter so referred at its instance, instead the same would be decided based on the compromise or settlement between the parties. The members shall assist the parties independently and impartially in their attempt to reach an amicable settlement of their dispute.

Under the State Legal Services Authority, the basic function of such state Adalats is to give Legal aid service to any person who seeks it and to conduct such cases including the Lok Adalat for High Court also and to undertake preventive and strategic legal aid programs and to perform such programs which may according to the State Authority guides it to do and what fix it by regulations.

Under the District Legal Services Authority, the State Government consults with Chief Justice of the respective High Court of the State and thereafter constitutes a body to look up after the cases which are preferable for prevailing into the Lokadalats and hence assigns the Chairman of the respective Lokadalats in the district according to the rules conferred by the State to the District. The main function of the District Lokadalats is to conduct appropriate proceedings and look up after all the proceedings whether they are held properly or not and to hence monitor them. To also coordinate the proceedings at the Taluk level. The district authorities also do its discharge in its functions under this Act, performs the function that whenever co-ordination is required it can co-ordinate through the GOvernmental and Non-Governmental institutions, Universities and others who are engaged into the promotions of the legal aid services programs, which may help people to get help for their disputes through this promotions. 

Under the Taluk Legal Services Authority, the State Authority only constitutes a body or a committee to look after the cases prevailing at the Taluk level and these can be set up keeping in mind the groups like they differentiate it into a structure which may be as talukas, or mandals or either group of such talukas and mandals. The main function of such Taluk level Legal Service Authority is to co-ordinate activities of Legal Services at their level and to organize the Lokadalats within each Taluk and to perform functions as the District Authority may at time assign to it.

How do cases get referred to the Lok Adalats?

Lok Adalats have the Jurisdiction to take up certain matters to its consideration, it only takes the matters or a case which is either referred by its competent Court or is referred before any decision as such made by that Hon’ble Court.

The cases are often referred at the pre-litigation stage only, in that case, such matters can only be said to referable to the Lok Adalat is where the Lok Adalat by its concerning legal service institution on the request of any of the other parties by giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the other party.

Or either by a mechanical reference of pending cases in the Court which seems to be of the nature of referring such case to the Lok Adalat or where the chances of settlements are being seen or where there is a mere chance prima facie of settlement then the court may allow or itself says to refer such a case to the respective Lok Adalat under its jurisdiction. 

But, to this, no case of Divorce or Criminal Nature can be referred to the Lok Adalats as due it is not compoundable under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr. Pc)

The pending case in the Court where the parties by themself had made an application mutually that they want to take their case further through the Lok Adalat or where the Court after insisting both the parties to take their case into Lok Adalat further where after such insisting of the Court the parties thereupon agrees to take their case into the Lok Adalat, but to this, the Court on its own cannot refer the case to the Lok Adalat without the parties agreeing to it.

On the need basis, the continuous Lok Adalat must be constituted to facilitate the regular reference and timely disposal of cases.

Should the cases refer to the Lok Adalat?

In India, every year 5 crore cases are filed approximately where the Judges dispose of only 2 crores of those cases approximately, where still 3 crore cases are kept pending every year and it goes on annulling every year which is probably not a good number. We all have a question in our mind why do the cases are pending and why isn’t the Court just giving a speedy judgment to all of these cases? The answer that strikes up in my mind is, that the Court cannot just dispose of the case at a lightning speed, the Court legally has so many procedures to follow up to which are mandatory to be followed and disposing of the case just to minimize this number is not a solution to this problem, therefore, there is the Lok Adalats which come up to as an aid or a solution. I think giving or referring the cases more to lok adalats can be a solution to the pendency of so many cases in the Court.

Is  doing settlement through lok adalats is the appropriate method to burden down the pendency of cases in the count.

The pending cases in the Court where many people are still waiting for their case to get resolved legally. They wait and wait for their next date given on a previous hearing by the court to arrive in the hope that this time their dispute may get an equal solution. People who cannot even afford the litigation fee and people who come from weaker sections of the society approach the court for their respective matters unaware of the Free Legal Aid Services schemes provided by the government. Where so many cases are pending, one of the most probable reasons can be that the maximum number of these cases are civil wherein cases of settlement nature are also pending in the Court, which should rather approach the Lok Adalat. 

Pendency of cases into the court is very much of a settlement nature, where the cases can be resolved through a simple settlement rather than going for a longer route through litigation which is probably very much time consuming for petty cases.

The cases mostly of defamation, torts, and petty civil nature cases can be easily solved through a settlement through the Lok Adalats, people directly approach the Courts and then wait for their dates to fix a solution for their case, of petty nature. 

How has Lok Adalat benefited people in solving their disputes over the years?

Lok Adalats over here thereafter helps both the parties to resolve their case and get to a solution mutually, by a settlement in their case, in Lok Adalats the award is passed after getting a middle way settlement solution which is thereupon agreed by both the parties. Last year approximately, 8.25 crores of cases were solved by the Lok Adalats, this way it helps parties to arrive at a solution that is agreeable to both of them and where there would be no further arising of the issue from the same case or dispute. I am strongly of the view that referring cases to the Lok Adalats, or making an application or directly approaching the Lok Adalat for your dispute can help not only clear the pendency of the petty cases in the court but would also help people take the advantage of the free and competent legal scheme to find an equal and justifiable solution to their disputes. Promoting more and more such Free Legal Aid Schemes to the people who need and for whom these schemes are made by the Central Government is very much essential, people who do not get access to Justice because of their weak financial conditions should not be deprived of their constitutional right for such reasons they can approach the Lok Adalats for Justice in their cases.

How do the Lok Adalats resolve the cases?

If you have logged in from an online mobile Lok Adalat, then they may invite you for the meeting and therein they can hear your dispute.

If the case is referred via a court then the award granted by Lok Adalat mentions a clause regarding the refund of the court fees to the parties.

The members of Lok Adalat ensure that the issue is settled by mutual consent and that there is no element of coercion or force.

The members of the Lok Adalat must ensure that the parties affix their signatures only if they fully understand and agree to the terms of the settlement.

All the information regarding the case and proceedings are kept confidential. if any member of the Lok Adalat is found guilty of breaching the confidentiality clause, he shall be removed from the panel of members of the Lok Adalat.

Your lawyer can appear before the Lok Adalat on your behalf but an effort must be made to present yourself.

Author: Presha Naik,
S.N.D.T. Law School, Santacruz, Mumbai, Law Student Second Year

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