LOK ADALAT: BOON FOR INDIAN JUDICIARY

LOK ADALAT: BOON FOR INDIAN JUDICIARY

This Article is written by Rahul Negi, pursuing B.B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Law College Dehradun (Uttaranchal University)

INTRODUCTION:

The practice of Lok Adalat is considered as India’s offering to world legal system, where the term “Lok” means ‘People’ and “Adalat” elucidate ‘Court’ in which the disputes unsettled in Pre-litigation phase of Courts or Panchyats are resolved through compromise and conciliation outside of the regular Courts. The proceedings by Lok Adalats are judicial proceedings equivalent to that of Civil Courts as it holds statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The Lok Adalats deals with the cases which are:

  • Case pending before the court which is unsettled in Pre-litigation phase of courts or Panchyats.
  • Cases in which offences are not compoundable offences in nature.
  • Case which are unfiled before the court but are to be filled before any court.

In Lok Adalats, the person deciding the case is referred as a Member of Lok Adalat who are generally retired judges, legal professionals, or social activists having no judicial role but the role of conciliator.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

The practice of Lok Adalats in India is an age old concept dating back to Vedic period which has seen timely modifications and set back at different periods. The development of Lok Adalats in India can be classified into the two periods:

Pre-Independence Period:

The settlement of disputes in Vedic India was based upon the principles of Shastra, Smriti and Shruti. Thus the concept of popular Courts mentioned in Yajnavalkya, which speaks of three kind of courts as Kula (Village Council), Sreni (Corporation) and Puga (Assemblies). The term People’s Court can be seen mentioned in ancient Indian literature ‘Arada Smriti’. The term People’s Court has also been mentioned in Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and in the Buddhist literatures. The hierarchy of Courts in ancient India was the Village people, Assembly of the citizens of the capital, Gana, Sreni, Men learned in the four Vedas, Vargins, Kulas, Kulikas (head of the families), Judges appointed by the king, and the King himself. Thus ancient Indian courts laid the way for self-government which in turn lessened the burden over the judicial administrations.

The practice of Lok Adalat with the arrival of the Muslim rule got modified to some extent but the Muslim laws could have only textual influence as the local laws remained untouched. During the Muslim rule justice was served on the name of Sultan (King) by Diwan-e-Sisyat (Commander of Army), Diwan-e-Muzalim (Bureaucrat), and Diwan-e-Qaza (Arbitrator).

The hierarchy of Courts during Muslim rule in India was Central Courts (Adalat Nazim Sabha) Provincial Courts (Adalat Qazi- e-Subah) District Courts (Governors Bench) Parganah Courts (Diwane-Subah) and Village Courts (Sadre Subah). The villages themselves were responsible for both criminal and civil proceeding in the cases, thus following the principle of self-governance was evolved. Also, the lowest village council was called Lok Adalat in Muslim regime for dispute settlement. But arrival of Mughals brought the concept of Qazi (highly learned men with supreme characters of uprightness, ethicality and integrity) which caused enormous change in the concept of Lok Adalats as the link between the King and people for justice ended. Also, this led the path for the modern day Lok Adalat.

Later, the arrival of the East India Company inflicted a major setback to the Lok Adalats as Britishers were initially unaware of the local laws and customs, so they used to administer through their local delegates and with time started to enforce English laws over India.

Post Independence:

The Post Independent India adopted much of the British judicial system but with it also restructured its own unique judicial system which had its root in ancient and medieval India. After the Independence at some parts of India, the practice of Lok Adalat still existed but due to the loopholes in the system it also ceased. Soon after the Independence, Mahatma Gandhi said the soul of India lives in the villages, thus, India must be governed from its villages, following the same, first trail of  Lok Adalat was held in Gujarat by Shri Harivallabh Pareek, with the efforts of local people which continued for years.

Thus this Lok Adalat was initiated by the local people not the government or the judiciary. The practice of Lok Adalat got statutory status with the enforcement of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 in accordance with Article 39A of the Constitution. The Legal services Authorities hold Lok Adalats at different across country at fixed period of time.

LEVELS OF LOK ADALATS

Taluk Level

[Section 7 (d) of The National Legal Services Authority (Lok Adalat) Regulations, 2009]

At Taluk level, the Secretary of Taluk Legal Services Committee organizes and can constitute the Lok Adalats and its bench. The sitting or retired judicial officer, legal professional, social worker or para-legal worker (generally women) who work for the betterment of the Legal Services Schemes are to decide the dispute.

District Level  

[Section 7 (c) of The National Legal Services Authority (Lok Adalat) Regulations, 2009]

At district level, the Secretary of District Legal Services Committee organizes and could constitute the Lok Adalats and its bench. The sitting or retired judicial officer, legal professional, social worker or para-legal worker (generally women) who work for the betterment of the Legal Services Schemes have to decide the dispute.

State Authority Level

[Section 7 (a) of the Legal Services Authority (Lok Adalat) Regulations, 2009]

At State level, the Member Secretary of State Legal Services Committee organizes and could constitute the Lok Adalats and its bench. The sitting or retired judge of High Court, legal professional or social worker who work for the betterment of the Legal Services Schemes are to decide the dispute.

High Court Level

[Section 7 (b) of The National Legal Services Authority (Lok Adalat) Regulations, 2009]

At High Court level, the Secretary of High Court Legal Services Committee organizes and can constitute the Lok Adalats and its bench. The sitting or retired judge, legal professional or social worker who work for the betterment of the Legal Services Schemes are to decide the dispute.

National Lok Adalat

At National level, on a single day many cases are resolved by Taluk to National level Lok Adalats.

Some different kinds of Lok Adalats are as follows –

Mobile Lok Adalat

The moving Lok Adalats as they keep on moving across the country to resolve the disputes.

Permanent Lok Adalat  –

The Chairman of the Permanent Lok Adalat must either be District Judge, Assistant District Judge or Judicial officer higher the rank of District Judge. The appropriate government also appoints two person having experience in public utility services.

MERITS OF LOK ADALATS:

  • Speedy justice without any fees.
  • Maintenance of amicable relation between the parties of dispute.
  • More effective in money related matters as settlement is mutual.
  • Unbiased and fair settlement of disputes.
  • Direct participation of the parties of the dispute unlike regular Courts.
  • Relieve the regular Courts from burden of pending cases.
  • No strict procedure as to be followed as in the regular Court.

LOK ADALAT & OTHER COURTS:

S.No. Comparison Lok Adalat Other Courts
1. Jurisdiction The jurisdiction of Lok Adalat is defined under Legal Services Authorities Act, 1982. The jurisdiction of other courts is defined under various Procedural Acts.
2. Parties Involvement of Social workers and Local people beside parties in dispute. No party other than dispute is involved.
3. Origin Modern Approach in India. Long Existence in England.
4. Appeal No Appeal is available on the decision of the Lok Adalats. However, Judicial Review is available under Article 32 and 226 in case of breach of Natural Justice, error of law or misuse of power. The remedy of appeal and revision are available.
5. Technicality Simple and economical. Technical and expensive.
6. Settlement Compromise and Conciliation. Adjudication of Courts.
7. Based on Ancient and Medieval Indian Laws. Anglo-Saxon Laws.
8. Fees No court fees. Court fees and other expenses involved.

PROCEDURE AND AWARDS:

The Lok Adalat follows simple and time saving procedure as compared to the regular Courts. In Lok Adalats cases are decided by the retired or sitting judicial members, along with two other members (lawyer or social workers) appointed by the appropriate government. The mandatory condition for parties approaching the Lok Adalat for settlement of dispute is that they must abide by the decision of Lok Adalat. Lok Adalat resolves the disputes which are civil or compoundable in nature and are in pre-litigative phase in the Court but does not deal with the non-compoundable criminal cases. Any person can move an application for Lok Adalat to resolve the dispute between the parties through settlement or conciliation and if the matter is settled it has same binding effect as the decree of the civil court. However if the matter remains unsettled in Lok Adalat then the parties can approach the civil court.  

APPEAL:

There is no remedy of Appeal or Revision available in the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalats with the parties of dispute. However, the parties of dispute have the right of Judicial Review with them if the Lok Adalat commits an error of law or violates the rule of Natural Justice or misuses its power provided under the Article 36 and 226 of the Indian Constitution as this was held in the case of Manshukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan v. State of Gujarat (Manu/SC/1303/1997).

CONCLUSION:

The Lok Adalats are the People’s own Court where the parties in dispute moves an application for the speedy justice and settlement of the disputes in pre-litigation phase of Courts or Panchyats. The cases are decided by retired or sitting judges, legal professional or social activists having the role of conciliator instead of judicial role. The decision of Lok Adalat is binding in nature same as the decree of the Civil Courts. The Lok Adalats are reducing the burden of pending cases over regular courts and are rapidly gaining the popularity as a speedy dispute resolving alternative of the regular courts.

References:

3 Comments