Lok Adalat in India, as the name suggests, means the People’s Court. “Lok” stands for “people” and “Adalat” is the court. India has a long history of such methods being practiced in the society at the grassroots level. These are called panchayat and in the legal terminology, these are called arbitration.
Other alternative methods being used are Lok Adalat (People’s Court), where justice is dispensed summarily without too much emphasis on legal technicalities. It has been proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation.
The features of this form of dispute resolution are participation, accommodation, fairness, expectation, voluntariness, neighborliness, transparency, efficiency and lack of animosity.
Lok Adalats were initially started in the state of Gujarat in 1982. The first Lok Adalat was organized on 14th March 1982 at Junagarh. Maharashtra commenced the Lok Nyayalaya in 1984. The movement has now subsequently spread to the entire country. The reason behind its growth was only the pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice.
Article 39 A of the Constitution of India provides for equal justice and free legal aid. It is, therefore clear that the State has a responsibility to secure a legal system, which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. The language of Article-39 A is understood in mandatory terms. This is made more than clear by the use of the word “shall” in Art-39 A.
The Indian judiciary has many a time emphasized the need for free legal aid to the poor. Legal Aid is a kind of human right in the context of conflicts and contradictory interests.
In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court observed:
Today, unfortunately, in our country the poor are priced out of the judicial system with the result that they are losing faith in the capacity of our legal system to bring about changes in their living conditions and to deliver justice to them. The poor in their contact with the legal system has always been on the wrong side of the line. They have always come across “law for the poor” rather than “law of the poor”. The law is regarded by them as something mysterious and forbidding–always taking something away from them and not as a positive and constructive social device for changing the social economic order and improving their living conditions by conferring rights and benefits on them. The result is that the legal system has lost its credibility for the weaker section of the community. It is, therefore, necessary that we should inject equal justice into the legality and that can be done only by dynamic and activist scheme of legal services.
Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats, pursuant to the constitutional mandate in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, contains various provisions for the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat. It ordains legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.
The procedure followed at a Lok Adalat is very simple and shorn of almost all legal formalism and rituals. The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as the chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker.
A Lok Adalat has the jurisdiction to settle, by way of effecting a compromise between the parties, any matter which may be pending before any court, as well as disputes which have not yet been formally instituted in any Court of Law. Such matters may be civil or criminal in nature, but any matter relating to an offense not compoundable under any law cannot be decided by the Lok Adalat even if the parties involved therein agree to settle the same.
During the Lok Adalat, the parties agree to abide by the decision of the judge at the Lok Adalat. Thus, the award of the Lok Adalat is deemed to be decrees of Court and therefore the courts have all the powers in relation thereto as it has in relation to a decree passed by itself. This includes the powers to extend the time in appropriate cases.
The award passed by the Lok Adalat is the decision of the court itself though arrived at by the simpler method of conciliation instead of the process of arguments in court.