The institution of Lok Adalat (LA) has evolved as one of the most important modes of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in India. The institution of LA means People's Court. Lok stands for people and the Adalat for the court. Both pre-litigation and post-litigation efforts are invited by Lok Adalats to enable the entire society to create peace and harmony. Presently, LA is considered to be one of the best Alternative Disputes Resolution Systems in India.
India inserted Article 39-A in the constitution in 1976 with a provision which asked the State to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities. LA have endorsed the right to legal aid, which is a part of the human rights law in India.
The system is based on the principles of Gram Panchayats or rural Shalish with authority of judgment under legal framework. It is a blend of all three forms of traditional ADR: arbitration, mediation, and conciliation. The first instance of a LA system was in 1982, in the village of Una, in the district of Junagarh, Gujarat. It was re-introduced in Chennai in 1986. The institution has developed, since, by leaps and bounds, by the people themselves, in order to provide for equitable justice speedily at minimal cost. The next most celebrated move was bringing the LA under legal framework though the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
LA has become quite popular after successful resolution of litigation immediately after establishment. With the advent of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, LA and Legal Aid Schemes have received statutory recognition and became an integral and important part of the justice delivery system. Again with the direction of the apex court, government form a Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS), which organize and support the LA throughout the India.
The greatest advantage in LA is its cost effectiveness and less time consuming as well as the easy way of bringing about the parties to the talking table. A glance at the type of cases that are successfully dealt by an accepted ADR process, among others, cases fall in the category of Automobile accident cases, insurance claims, and other non-complex disputes, disputes there the parties do not desire to be actively and directly involved, disputes where the parties do not desire confidentiality, disputes where the issues are easily reduced to money damages (including bad cheque cases), disputes where one or more parties refuses to negotiate directly with the other party, disputes where the parties cannot afford private mediation etc.
The cases usually referred to LA are: a) Case pending before the court: (1). If the parties agree to settle the dispute in LA or (2). One of the parties makes an application to the court or (3). The court is satisfied that that the matter is an appropriate one for settlement in Lok
Adalat. (B) Any dispute at pre-litigate stage. The State Legal Services Authority or District Legal Services Authority as the case may be on receipt of an application from any one of the parties to any pre-litigation stage matter refer such matter to the Lok Adalat for amicable settlement.
LA is primarily focused on the past, with attention given to assigning fault based upon the prior conduct and actions of the parties. It is a neutral-centered process, where the primary focus is on presenting the factual/legal background of a dispute to the LA judge and satisfying the legal requirements for compensation.
It is customary practice for the LA judges to talk with all advocates present (as well as advocates/parties involved in other cases) in a large room, to help persuade the parties to settle their case. The Judges determined how to process will be handled and who will speak and when. In LA, reference generally is made by the court, with the consent of the parties or their advocates. There is no cost involved for the parties. The Facilities, scheduling, and organizational expenses are mostly made and funded by the Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS).
Judges seek to persuade the parties to settle their case in the amount proposed by the LA judge. Usually, the case is reduced to monetary damages. The procedure at LA is very simple and shorn of almost all the legal formalism and rituals. The courts are headed by one sitting or retired judge with two members usually a lawyer and a social worker.
The award passed by the LA is the decision arrived at by the simpler method of conciliation instead of the process of arguments in the court. The most important factor to be considered while deciding the cases by the LA is the consent of both the parties. It cannot force on any party to accept the trial. However, once the parties agree that the matte has to be decided by the LA, then any party cannot walk away from the decision of the LA.
There are no strict application of the procedural laws and the Evidence Act with assessing the merits of the claim by the LA. The parties to the disputes may be represented by their advocate. They can directly explain their stand in the dispute, which is not possible in a regular court.
The silent features of LA are: 1. In LA Court fee is not required to be paid and if Court fee is already paid the amount will be refunded if the dispute is settled at LA according to the rules. 2. There is procedural flexibility and speedy trial of the disputes. There is no strict application of procedural laws like Civil Procedure Code and Evidence Act while assessing the claim by LA. 3. Parties to the dispute have chance of participation and also can directly interact with the Presiding Officer through their Counsel, which is not possible in regular Courts of law. 4.
The award by the LA is final and binding on the parties and it has the status of a decree of a Civil Court and it is non-appealable which does not cause the delay in the settlement of disputes finally.5. LA system is a boon to the common man as they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost amicably. 6. Though the LA have no adjudicatory or judicial functions, their functions relate purely to conciliation and try to arrive at compromise and settle the dispute.
The entire mechanism of LA designed and evolved is with the object of promoting justice. Justice has three connotations namely social, economic and political. The first two connotations are handled by the said mechanism. They not only give an opportunity to the parties to resolve disputes but such resolution - is at lowest possible cost , achieved amicably with consent of parties concerned. 'Access to Justice' means an ability to participate in the judicial process.
Disputes that are being referred to mediation include complex and long-standing property disputes, marital disputes, and commercial disputes. In a recent Bangalore mediation, a complex property dispute filed in the 1960's was settled completely by all interested parties after only 4 hours of mediation.
The use of LA on a wide scale has been instrumental in reducing the backlog of the courts. One of the remarkable instance that LA programs have resolved over 20,000 cases in a single day in 2009 in Bangalore, India. The overall functioning and achievement of LA appears to be appreciable though not remarkable. So there is a need strengthen the system of Lok Adalat in recent context, which in turn, help to realize the Constitutional goals of 'equal and social justice' to its fullest extent. It will, in turn, helpful to regain to reaffirm the public confidence in the judiciary.
Bangladesh has the Act The Legal Aid Act, 2000. This is an Act to provide for legal aid to the litigants who are incapable of seeking justice due to financial insolvency, destitution, helplessness and for various socio-economic conditions. Bangladesh can amend the law and introduce Lok Adalat type mandatory ADR to support poor and marginalized people and also to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts of Bangladesh. Bangladesh already established commission in different district court and have government allocated fund for legal air to the poor. It can also organize Lok Adalat type ADR with amendment of the Act.
The writer is a Legal Economist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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