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Justice delayed is justice denied. This phrase is legitimate, against the backdrop of the current status of the judicial process of India. With over 2,000,000 cases flooding in various courts and tribunals in the country, the primary concern of jurists and legal luminaries today is to speed up the judicial process.
One such commendable step, in the judicial reform process, is the concept of Lok Adalats. The expression Lok Adalat comprises two words, namely, ‘lok’ and ‘adalat’ the former expressing the concept of public opinion while the latter denoting the accurate and through deliberation aspect of decision making. In simple terms, this refers to a forum for settlement of disputes, employing ADR techniques, such as Negotiation, Conciliation, Mediation etc. It is a forum which ensures easier access to justice for the poor. It enables speedy disposal of cases through settlement between parties, supervised by a body of legally competent personalities.
Brief History of Lok AdalatThe Committee for implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS) constituted by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India in 1980 recommended the establishment of Lok Adalat. Consequently, it has assumed great importance and attained a statutory reorganisation under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which was enforced from 09 November 1995 and was first held at Chennai in 1986.
It is a non-formal forum organised by public spirited social workers like retired judges, public spirited lawyers, and law teachers for bringing about settlement of disputes between the parties through conciliatory and mediatory efforts. One important condition is that both parties in dispute must agree for settlement through Lok Adalat and abide by its decision. Except matters relating to offences, which are non-compoundable, a Lok Adalat has jurisdiction to deal with all matters.
Matters pending or at pre-trial stage, provided a reference is made to it by a court or by the concerned authority or committee may be referred to Lok Adalat. Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, and one of the aims for the enactment of this enactment was to organise Lok Adalat to secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice on the basis of an equal opportunity.
What is Lok Adalat?
# A court which has been organized by the High Court Legal Services or District Legal Services Authority or Taluk Legal Services Committee for the purpose of amicably settling a dispute between two parties by way of compromise as called LOK ADALAT
# The expression Lok Adalat means that this people’s court is more based on morality and honesty, the real pillars of our traditional society. In order to provide for the composition of statutory legal authorities and to prove statutory backup to and its awards The Legal Service Authorities Bill, 1987, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1987.
How does it function?
# In every Lok Adalat, a minimum of two conciliators function. One of them is a sitting or retired judge and another or the other conciliator(/s) shall be an advocate or social worker or an expert in that particular field.
# India has had a long history of resolving disputes through the mediation of village elders. The system of Lok Adalats is an improvement on that and is based on Gandhian principles. This is a non-adversarial system, where by mock courts (called Lok Adalats) are held by the State Authority, District Authority, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee, or Taluk Legal Services Committee, periodically for exercising such jurisdiction as they thinks fit. It does not have jurisdiction on matters related to non-compoundable offences.
# There is no court fee and no rigid procedural requirement (i.e. no need to follow process given by Civil Procedure Code or Evidence Act), which makes the process very fast. Parties can directly interact with the judge, which is not possible in regular courts.
# Cases that are pending in regular courts can be transferred to a Lok Adalat if both the parties agree. A case can also be transferred to a Lok Adalat if one party applies to the court and the court sees some chance of settlement after giving an opportunity of being heard to the other party.
# The focus in Lok Adalats is on compromise. When no compromise is reached, the matter goes back to the court. However, if a compromise is reached, an award is made and is binding on the parties. It is enforced as a decree of a civil court.
# An important aspect is that the award is final and cannot be appealed, not even under Article 226 because it is a judgement by consent.
# All proceedings of a Lok Adalat are deemed to be judicial proceedings and every Lok Adalat is deemed to be a Civil Court.
What kind of disputes are settled in the Lok Adalats# Motor Vehicle accident cases where the injured or the dependants of the person deceased in the accident have applied for a compensation.
# Land Acquisition cases where the applications have been made to the government claiming compensation.
# Cases for or against local bodies such as Town Municipality, The Panchayat, The Electricity Board and the like.
# Cases involving commercial banks
# Matrimonial or Maintenance cases.
# Criminal cases which are compoundable as per law.
# Cases pending in the Labour Courts.
# Cases before Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner.
# Cases pertaining to consumer grievances
Generally it can be said that any cases pending in The High Court or any other court that can be compromised as per law can be settled by the Lok Adalat. Apart from this, even disputes that have not been brought on the records of Courts can be settled amicably by the Lok Adalat.
What are the Powers of The Lok Adalat?The Lok Adalat can:
# Take evidence
# Call for any Public Documents from any Public Office or courts
What is a Permanent Lok Adalat?The courts established by the National Legal Services Authority or State Legal Services Authority, for the speedy disposal or disputes pertaining to public Utility Services and not yet recorded in any court of law, by way of compromise, are called Permanent Lok Adalats.
The National Legal Services Authority or The State Legal Services Authority can establish in any place of a State, in respect of any field
How does the permanent Lok Adalat function?The Chairman and the members of the Permanent Lok Adalat guide the parties to the dispute to amicably resolve the dispute. If the parties to the dispute compromise the dispute is adjudicated as per the conditions of the compromise. If conciliation fails and if the dispute is not in respect of any offence after recording the evidence of both the parties, the Chairman and the members give unanimous or majority verdict. No court fee is charged. As the procedure adopted here is very simple, the disputes get adjudged very quickly.
What is the nature of judgement of the Permanent Lok Adalat?
The judgement of the Lok Adalat is final and binding on both the parties.
# The judgment of the Lok Adalat is not appealable nor can it be called in question in ay suit or Execution Proceedings.
# By filing Execution Petition in the Civil Court one can get the judgement of the Permanent Lok Adalat executed.
Significance of Lok Adalat
Since April 1985, Lok Adalats have been exclusively organized for settlement of motor third party claims. Although the concept of Lok Adalat was very much vogue since early years. This form was made available for settlement of Motor Third Party claims under the initiative of former Chief Justice of India, Shri. P. N. Bhagwati, since then number of Lok Adalats have been organized throughout the Country through this forum to the satisfaction of the claimants. It is expected to gather further momentum for settlement of these claims through this medium as both claimants do, and the Insurance Company gets benefit out of it.
That is the reason why Insurance Companies are interested in settling Third Party claims by Lok Adalats. The increase in cases in Motor Accident Claim Tribunal (MACT) and backlog of pending cases pressed the insurer and the judicial system to think about the quick disposal oriented system like Lok Adalat/Conciliatory forums should be utilized to optimum level.
Lok Adalat now is playing sole role in solving disputes and settling MACT cases. It has become a Dispute Management Institution. It is an informal system of dispute resolution. This is the expeditious method to settle large number of MACT claims.
It is the best provisions by the effort of judiciary. Disposal through Lok Adalat is the only panacea for controlling the arrears of cases. Insurance Company can save additional interest. This is the simplest method, which is devoid of procedural wrangles of regular trial. According to Legal Services Authorities (Amendment) Act 1994 effective from 09-11-1995 has since been passed, Lok Adalat settlement is no longer a voluntary concept. By this Act Lok Adalat has got statutory character and has been legally recognized. Certain salient features of the Act are enumerated below:-
Central, State, District and Taluk Legal Services Authority has been created who are responsible for organizing Lok Adalats at such intervals and place.
Conciliators for Lok Adalat comprise the following1. A sitting or retired judicial officer.
2. Other persons of repute as may be prescribed by the State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of High Court.
3. Section 20: Reference of Cases
Cases can be referred for consideration of Lok Adalat as under:-
1. By consent of both the parties to the disputes.
2. One of the parties makes an application for reference.
3. Where the Court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat.
4. Compromise settlement shall be guided by the principles of justice, equity, fair play and other legal principles.
5. Where no compromise has been arrived at through conciliation, the matter shall be returned to the concerned court for disposal in accordance with Law.
After the agreement is arrived by the consent of the parties, award is passed by the conciliators. The matter need not be referred to the concerned Court for consent decree. The Act provisions envisages as under:
1. Every award of Lok Adalat shall be deemed as decree of Civil Court.
2. Every award made by the Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute.
3. No appeal shall lie from the award of the Lok Adalat.
Every proceedings of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings for the purpose of :-
1. Summoning of Witnesses.
2. Discovery of documents.
3. Reception of evidences.
4. Requisitioning of Public records.
Barring matters relating to an offence not compoundable under any law, the Lok Adalat has jurisdiction to determine and arrive at a compromise in respect of any case which falls within its jurisdiction.
According to s. 21, award of Lok Adalat is fictionally deemed as decree of court.
The provision of the Act has been very well illustrated in the case of P.T.Thomas vs. Thomas Job decided on 04 August 2005. The Apex Court observed that the award of the Lok Adalat is fictionally deemed to be decree of a court and therefore the courts will have all the powers in relation thereto as it has in relation to a decree passed by it. Such award will be passed by the Lok Adalat after the consent of the parties, therefore there is no need either to reconsider or review the matter again and again, as the award passed by the Lok Adalat will be final.
In this context, it is worth mentioning, Punjab National Bank vs. Lakshmichand Rai, where the high court held that ‘the provisions of the enactment will prevail in the matter of filing an appeal and an appeal may not lie under the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, s. 96.
Lok Adalat for Public Utility Services
In order to get over the major drawback in the existing scheme of organisation of Lok Adalats under Chapter VI of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, in which if the parties do not arrive at any compromise or settlement, the unsettled case is either returned back to the Court of law or the parties are advised to seek remedy in a court of law, which causes unnecessary delay in dispensation of justice.
Chapter VI A was introduced in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, by Act No.37/2002 with effect from 11-06-2002 providing for a Permanent Lok Adalat to deal with pre-litigation, conciliation and settlement of disputes relating to Public Utility Services, as defined u/sec.22 A of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, at pre-litigation stage itself, which would result in reducing the work load of the regular courts to a great extent.
Merits of Lok Adalat# The litigants would get speedy justice.
# The litigants would get the same justice which they get in the court concerned.
# May get their matter settled only when they are satisfied.
# If any case pending in any court is settled in Lok Adalat , parties would get refund of the court fee paid.
# Justice would be totally inexpensive as the litigants need not spend here anything towards court fees, process fees, postage charges etc.
# Since one of the conciliators would be a judicial officer the litigants would get impartial and fair guidance
# Litigants can directly participate in Lok Adalat.
# It is very effective in settling money claims and there is a higher scope of compromise.
# The Lok Adalat is a legislative attempt to decongest the Courts from heavy burden of cases. There is a need for decentralization of justice.
# Lok Adalats see that operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity.
The system of Lok Adalat is not without limitations. Conflicting views have been expressed on the advisability of the new institution of Lok Adalats. They are meant to supplement the judicial process and not to supplant it. Also it is being said that when conciliation becomes the norm, people’s attitude to resort to court will change.
On the other hand, it is being suggested that with the giving of statutory basis, the informality of Lok Adalat will disappear and every technicality that bogs down regular courts will creep into the Lok Adalats and a parallel court system under a different label may emerge.
The permanent Lok Adalats are conciliation-cum-arbitration tribunals to settle disputes between selected public utility service and individuals. It appears that recourse to these tribunals in preference to civil court is unlikely. Public utility services would rather compel the private parties to have recourse to legal redress instead of, they themselves seeking it and private parties likely to prefer civil courts, to these new institutions.
There are many other loopholes which are discussed below:
# Adjudication before a Lok Adalat is by consent, if one party does not agree, the case goes back to the court. If there is no consent, there is no decision
# The procedure of Lok Adalat - organising, conducting and awarding of Lok Adalat is becoming rigid especially after the enforcement of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
# The anxiety of the litigants to settle their disputes without the vexation of court litigations exploited by the opposite parties and even by some lawyers. It might be easy to make him agree to the payment of ‘contingency fee’ to his lawyer and to accept an amount which is much lower then his due. After the settlement, the lawyers may take a major chunk of the amount as ‘contingency fee’. Although taking contingency fee is prohibited in our country, it is being practiced by some lawyers.
# The goal of the Lok Adalat is to affect a compromise but in mass scale disposal of cases inLok Adalats, it is difficult to expect that compromise settlements of mutual benefits would be searched for.
# The legislation has given the judiciary an almost exclusive role in organising Lok Adalat and directed the observance of norms the judiciary adhere to in adjudication. There is little role for people especially trained in negotiation, mediation and conciliation.
# In the name of the speedy resolution of the disputes the fair interests of the parties are sacrificed. The case of Manju Gupta vs. National Insurance Company, demonstrates the sad state of compromises and settlements in Lok Adalats denying the fair minimum claims of the petitioners. The Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 lays emphasis on speedy resolution of the claim but due to inordinate delay the claimants settle at the lowest compensation with the insurance companies.
# A major drawback of Lok Adalats is that its emphasis is on a compromise or settlement between the parties. If the parties do not arrive at any compromise, either the case is returned to the court of law or the parties are advised to seek remedy in a court of law.
Constitutional provisions of legal servicesJustice P.N.Bhagwati states in the report of the Legal Aid Committee “Legal aid implies providing an arrangement in the society so that the machinery of administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who have to resort to it for enforcements of the rights given to them”.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India secures to all its citizen – justice, social, economical and political, and equity of status and of opportunities.
Article 14 of the Constitution states that the state shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. The Constitution of India provides the fundamental rights including protection of life and liberty in Article 21
The economic and social inequalities are prevalent in Indian society. Article 38(I) states that the state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, as social order in which justice – social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of national life.
Article 39(A) “Provides equal justice and free legal aid”. It states that the state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis if 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.
This is a piece of legislation which deals with several aspects relating to providing legal aid to the poor and the down-trodden in society and also the organisation of the Lok Adalat etc,. Thus this legislation is also a social welfare legislation and if the provisions are implemented on sound lens definitely, proper help can be rendered to the poor and the down-trodden.
Statutory Provisions of Legal Aid
The Criminal Procedure Code and Civil Procedure Code also contain the provision for free legal aid.
Criminal Procedure Code: (sec 304)
Imposes an obligation on the Session Court to provide legal aid to an accused who has no sufficient means to engage and advocate. An ‘Amicus Curiae’ (Friend of Court) can be appointed by the court to assist or defend and accused who is in no position to defend himself owing to poverty.
Civil Procedure Code:Adjudication of disputes through courts, though sometimes unavoidable, does not provide the most satisfactory or happy solution in all cases. Arbitration, mediation and conciliation are accepted modes of alternate dispute resolution, which have been statutorily recognised in section 89, CPC.According to order XXXIII of the CPC, on the application to sue as indigent person or his dependant is granted the plaintiff shall not be liable to pay the court fee in case he is not represented by a pleader, the court may assign a pleader to him. According to order XLIV, free legal aid is provided in respect of appeals by indigent person.
State Bar CouncilAccording to section (6) (1) (eee) the function of The Bar Council of India shall be to organize legal aid to the poor in the prescribed manner.
The Bar Council Of India Rules:Rule 46 of section VI of chapter II of the Bar Council of India Rules say about duty to render legal aid as follows.:
“Every Advocate shall in the practice of the profession of law bear in mind that any one genuinely in need of a lawyer is entitled to legal assistance even though he cannot pay for it fully or adequately and that within the limits of an advocates economic conditions free legal assistance to the indigent and oppressed is one of the highest obligations an advocate owes to society.”
Legal services authority act 1987The Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 has been enacted with view to provide legal aid to the needy and also to supplement justice delivery by methods of mediation and conciliation as ADR systems – both court annexed and court referred, apart from out of court or pre-litigative mediation and conciliation.
With the object of providing free legal aid service to the poor and needy people, the Central Government had a resolution and had appointed a Committee for implementing legal aid scheme in 1980 under the Chairmanship of Justice P. N. Bhagwati to monitor and implement legal aid programs in a uniform basis throughout India.
Chapter VI of the Legal Services Authorities Act sections 19-23 deals with Lok Adalats. Section 20 deals with the cognizance of cases by Lok Adalats, Section 21 speaks of an award to Lok Adalats and Section 22 deals with their powers.
Paribarik Mahila Lok AdalatArticle 39A of the Constitution was inserted by the Constitution (Forty-second amendment) Act, 1976. The mandate of the Constitution was that the state shall ensure 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 any other disabilities.
The disputes which could be settled or compromised in a Lok Adalat include disputes regarding marriage and other family matters. The family disputes, specially disputes in respect of marriage require quick disposal for providing redressal to the woman who are suffering from injustice and are subject to torture and violence in their marital life.
Considering the plight of women to whom justice was denied due to long pendency of the proceedings before the court, The National Commission for Women evolved the concept of Paribarik Mahila Lok Adalat(PMLA). Marital disputes and other family disputes may be settled or compromised in the PMLA. Apart from pending cases, the dispute can also be resolved at the pre litigation stage and the parties can avail themselves of the opportunity to resolve their disputes without aid of any lawyer.
They do not need to incur any expenditure. PMLA supplements the efforts of the DLAAB for redressal and speedy disposal of such cases. In the year 1995 the first PMLA was organized and till date 76 + 3 PMLAs have been organized throughout the country. 3 PMLAs have been organized by the State Women Commission in collaboration with the National Women Commission and the State Legal Services Authority.
Paribarik Mahila Lok Adalat is the alternative forum where redressal will be available to the destitute wives or other family members within the shortest span of time. For making the PMLA more effective necessary amendments are to be made in the Legal Services Authorities Act. We demand speedy remedy to all disputes, specially the family disputes and if more and more PMLAs are organized, a new arena of delivering justice to the weaker section will be established.
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