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Achieving Justice Outside the Courtroom: Exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution in India

The Indian legal system traces its origin back to the colonial era, when the earliest attempts for reforming the contemporary legal structure were made by the East India Company, through numerous judicial plans and laws having introduced and passed in the British Parliament. Over the years, the legal and judicial system in India has undergone massive developmental stages and as a result, evolved into a holistic and inclusive justice delivery system where the inculcation of new and alternative methods of dispute resolution and efficient technology-based mechanisms are strengthening their roots.

In so far as the other aspect of the Indian legal system is concerned, there is another shade where the judicial structure of world's largest democracy is plagued by steadily rising number of pending cases, PILs and undertrials. The Economic Survey, 2018[1], states that there are approximately 3.5 crore cases pending in the legal system, particularly in district and subordinate courts. In that context, the traditional mode of dispute resolution i.e., litigation proves to be a lengthy process leading to unnecessary delays in dispensation of justice as well as over-burdening the judiciary[2]. In such a scenario, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes provide a better and more expedient approach for dispute resolution.

ADR refers to the different ways people can resolve disputes without a trial. Common ADR processes include, inter alia, mediation, arbitration, and neutral evaluation[3]. It is a non-adversarial method of resolving disputes that involves working cooperatively to find the best solution for everyone. And hence, can play a significant role in lessening the load of litigation on the courts while providing a comprehensive and rewarding experience for the parties.

Need for Alternative Dispute Resolution:

These processes are generally confidential, less formal, and less stressful than traditional court proceedings. ADR typically saves money and speeds settlement, resulting in creative solutions, longer-lasting outcomes, better satisfaction, and improved relationships.

The overwhelming backlog of court cases in India has put a great deal of strain on the justice system. In India, the quantity of court cases has skyrocketed recently, causing backlogs and delays and emphasising the demand for ADR techniques.

ADR enables the amicable resolution of disagreements. It enables trials to be concluded quickly. There is no possibility of an adjournment or stay order in ADR, unlike the litigation procedure. In contrast to the litigation procedure, where significant costs are expended to pay the attorneys and other trial participants, in ADR only a minimal sum of money is needed.

Types of ADR

According to a broad classification, ADR could be primarily categorised into:
  1. Arbitration� Arbitration is a consensual dispute resolution process based on the parties' agreement to submit their disputes for resolution to an arbitral tribunal usually composed, of one or three independent Arbitrators appointed by or on behalf of the parties[4]. The arbitrators are official representatives on behalf of judicial institutions, where the decision and award pronounced by the same is binding, but not equal to that of a judicial officer.
  2. Conciliation� A non-binding method in which a Conciliator, a neutral third party, assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually accepted agreement. Conciliation is a less formal type of arbitration. The parties can accept or reject the conciliator's ideas.
  3. Mediation� A neutral third party known as Mediator, works with the parties to try to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties. The mediator does not make a decision while aiding the parties in conversing so that they can try to resolve the dispute themselves.
  4. Negotiation� Another non-binding process whereby talks between the parties are started without the involvement of a third party with the goal of reaching a negotiated resolution to the conflict. It is the most typical alternative dispute resolution technique.
  5. Pro Bono Legal Services� In April, 2017, the Pro Bono Legal Services project was introduced by the Govt. of India. The initiative aims to satisfy the government's important duty of improving 'access to justice' for underprivileged groups of society. Moreover, it aims to provide an institutional structure to foster pro bono culture in India, and an alternative for resolving disputes at the poorest and indigent levels of society.
  6. Lok Adalat� Lok Adalat(s) are held by the National Legal Services Authority and other Legal Services Institutions. Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute resolution procedures. It is a place where disputes/cases pending in court of law or at the pre-litigation stage are amicably settled/compromised. The Legal Services Authorities Act of 1987 established Lok Adalat(s) as statutory entities.

Present Scenario:
ADR has been effective in reducing the backlog of cases at various levels of the judiciary, especially in the previous three years. Lok Adalat(s) alone have resolved more than 50,00,000 cases annually on average[5]. But it appears that people are unaware that these techniques are available. More information on these should be made available by the National and State Legal Services Authorities so that potential litigants will consider them as their first course of action.

Furthermore, ICT advancements and creative ideas will be important to the future of conflict resolution, making it efficient and accessible to all segments of society. The use of ADR has the potential to decentralise conflict resolution in India and provide opportunities for creatives from all walks of life to design specialist ADR methods for quick dispute settlement.

The desire for swift and affordable justice is universal. Early resolution of a disagreement not only saves the parties to the dispute considerable time and money, but it also creates the atmosphere for a sound relationship between citizens, law, and governance.

  1. Department Of Economic Affairs, Ministry Of Finance, Government Of India, (last visited 27 Aug. 2023).
  2. Department Of Legal Affairs, Ministry Of Law & Justice Government Of India, (last visited Sep. 5, 2023).
  3. New York State Unified Court System, (last visited Sep. 5, 2023).
  4. Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, (last visited Sep. 6, 2023).
  5. Times Of India, (last visited Sep. 6, 2023).

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