Out-of-court settlements are not limited to mediation, negotiation or arbitration rather include Lok Adalat’s as well. Also known as the people’s court, Lok Adalat was a creative addition to world jurisprudence. Based on the Gandhian Principles, the system was created to resolve disputes/ cases pending in court to easen the burden on said courts while saving their time and cost. It was the supplementary forum for people to settle their dispute quickly with less costs. It imbibes all the principles laid down in the other methods of dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation and negotiation) which has proven to be an effective form of resolving settlements among people.
The history of Lok Adalat’s goes centuries back to the British regime, it was only after the enforcement of the Legal Services Authority Act 1987 was the forum once again rejuvenated amongst lawyers. The above said Act bestows legal status specifically to Lok Adalat’s and Sections 19, 20, 21 and, 22 of the Act establishes them. Initially Lok Adalat’s were formed in Gujarat in March 1982 and then was extended throughout the country. The rise for such forum was to relieve the heavy burden of cases on courts while simultaneously providing a leeway from litigants to have speedy redressals of their cases. Furthermore, the Act ensures that free legal services are provided to the weaker sections of society. This gives them the opportunity to present their cases and be heard on a legal platform.
Moreover, Section 19 of the Act speaks about the organization of Lok Adalat’s. In brief, the section states that the State/District Authority or the Legal Services Committee are bestowed with the power to arrange Lok Adalat’s in placed they deem fit; however, these forums only have jurisdiction for compoundable offences (offences done away with a fine). Moreover, with regard to the cases/dispute, the Adalat’s have the power to determine whether to arrive at a compromise or settle with respect to (i) pending cases or (ii) matters that fall within the jurisdiction of, and not brought before any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized, wherein Section 20 (cognizance of cases by Lok Adalat) kicks in.
Section 20 can only be applicable in the following situation-
(1) Where both parties agree to present the case before the Lok Adalat, or
(2) Where one party makes an application to the court and said court prima facie believes that there is scope for settlement, or
(3) Where the court is satisfied that said matter can be settled in a Lok Adalat, provided that first given a reasonable chance to be heard at court.
While doing so, the Lok Adalat’s have to ensure that the principles of natural justice have been followed, adhering to fairness, justice and equity while determining the dispute at hand. In the offset that the settlement has not been reached then records are then transferred to the court that referred the matter to the Adalat, and in a situation where the record hasn’t reached court, then the parties may seek for the same.
The awards delivered by the Adalat’s as per section 21 have the enforcement of a civil court decree and shall be final and binding to all the parties to the matter, with no appeal to any court. Furthermore, Section 22 highlights the power of Lok Adalat’s or otherwise known as permanent Lok Adalat’s- this essentially means that the forum has the same powers that have been vested with a civil court (under the Civil Procedure Court) while trying the suit. Permanent Lok Adalat’s came into force in 2002 through the parliamentary amendments brough to the Legal Services Authorities Act. The amendment Act enabled Central and State Authorities to establish permanent Lok Adalat’s for looking over issues in relation to Public Utility Services (which include- transport service, postal, telegraph or telephone service, supply of power, light and water to public, system of public sanitization, insurance services or any such services notified by the State/Central Government).
The Lok Adalat’s also have the jurisdiction to deal with issues related to- compoundable civil, revenue and criminal cases, partition claims, damage cases, family court cases, cases not subjudice, mutation of lands cases, and so on. Furthermore, permanent Lok Adalat is not the only type of Lok Adalat, there are also national and mobile Adalat’s.
The issue of alternate dispute mechanism is that they aren’t the importance they deserve. Litigants feel that these dispute mechanisms are just formalities before they move up to the court. While arbitration has been given more importance, the other mechanisms are barely seen as useful to them. This behavior must be changed, people should look at this mechanism as a method to resolve issues and not as a step towards litigation. If properly executed, these mechanisms drastically reduce cases filed in court.
Author Details: Janavi Venkatesh (OP Jindal Global University)