Role of Lok Adalat in Dispute Resolution
Lok Adalat, also known as People's court is a well-known system of alternative dispute resolution in India created under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Lok Adalat is inspired by the Panchayati Raj that has been prevalent in India and is based on the concept and principle of Panch Parmeshvar of the gram panchayats.
The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which was enacted by the Parliament, gave a legal status to Lok Adalat, pursuant to the Constitutional mandate in Article39-A of the Constitution of India. The said act contains various provisions for resolving of disputes through Lok Adalat.
Thus, the age-old concept of Lok Adalat has, now, legal standing. It enables the Act to establish Legal Services Authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society so as to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are see that the same are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities. The first ever Lok Adalat was held in Gujarat in 1982.
Lok Adalat (individuals' courts) settles the dispute through assuagement and compromise. These Adalat consider the lawsuits pending within their reach, which may be resolved by conciliation, in the general courts. It is an exceptional type of tribunal in which conflicts between the parties are known by coordination of talks. Permanent Lok Adalats are organised under section 22b of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and are set up as permanent bodies for resolution of disputes using conciliation and settlement.
Types of cases at Lok Adalat and its jurisdiction:
Lok Adalat deals with and have jurisdiction to determine all the cases that are pending before any court or the cases that have not been filed before any court. Such cases which have not been filed in any of the court are referred to the Lok Adalats when parties or a single party to the dispute visits the court or Lok Adalat for the referral of the case. The dispute can sometimes be also referred to the Lok Adalat when a party to the dispute submits an application in a pre-litigation dispute.
The cases which are generally dealt by Lok Adalat are related to compoundable criminal offences, land-acquisition disputes, matrimonial disputes, family disputes, land mutation etc.
Lok Adalats have no jurisdiction over any dispute or matter related to non-compoundable offences under any law and such cases shall remain out of purview of Lok Adalats.
Composition and organisation of Lok Adalat:
Members of Lok Adalat decide the pending cases of the Lok Adalat and play the role of statutory intermediaries and do not have any judicial role. Every Lok Adalat that has to be organised for a specific area shall consist of a chairman and two members. A sitting or a retired judicial officer shall be appointed as the chairman of a Lok Adalat and out of the other two members, one shall be a lawyer and another one shall be a social worker.
There are various levels at which Lok Adalats function.
The State Legal Service Authority consists of sitting or retired judge of the High Court or retired judicial officer. It also consists of either of the one or both legal professional and social worker.
The High Court Legal Services Committee constitutes benches of Lok Adalat with sitting or retired judge of High Court and either of the one or both legal professional and social worker.
The District Legal Services Authority would constitute benches of Lok Adalat with sitting or retired judicial officer and either of the one or both legal professional and social worker, ideally a woman.
The Taluk Legal Services Committee would constitute benches of Lok Adalat with sitting or retired judicial officer and either of the one or both legal professional and social worker, preferably a woman.
National level Lok Adalats take place at regular intervals and for the same purpose, Lok Adalats are held across the country, in the Supreme Court, High Courts, District courts and courts at a Taluk level, on a same day for the disposal of the cases in large numbers.
Powers of Lok Adalat:
Section 22 of The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 mentions the powers given to the Lok Adalats and they are same powers as are vested with the Civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 regarding various kinds of suits including production of documents, taking over any of the public documents or records from court etc.
Within section 22(2) of the Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987, Lok Adalats are provided with the powers to define and set out their own policies and procedure for resolving all the disputes that are filed with them. All proceedings that take place before Lok Adalat are to be regarded as judicial proceedings as per Sections 193, 219 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Lok Adalat are same as civil court. Every award that is passed by the Lok Adalat is to be deemed as a decree of a civil court or other courts and binds the parties to the dispute.
The characterization of the Permanent Lok Adalats as an ADR system has forever been referred to and much explanation hasn't been furnished regarding it. In State of Punjab v. Jalour Singh, The Supreme Court held that such Lok Adalats just plays just a conciliary part and the award passed by the Lok Adalats doesn't mean and suggest any type of a free decision or an assessment inferred out of the dynamic interaction.
Resolution of disputes through the system of Lok Adalats in India is an Alternative dispute resolution which is blend of arbitration, negotiation, mediation and conciliation and has both adjudicatory and non- adjudicatory nature which puts forward as a replacement to the lengthy litigation process and makes it easier for the parties and prevents them from its multiplex and complex nature.
The 'Lok Adalat' is an old type of arbitrating framework that prevailed in India and its legitimacy has not been questioned even in modern India. As Indian courts are overburdened with numerous cases and matters, it takes years to settle such cases involving lengthy procedures and at that time Lok Adalats have always proven to be the best alternative dispute mechanism.