Scholars and academicians throughout the world believe that there has been a spurt in the popularity of alternate dispute resolution. Commercial contracts, family disputes, sports dispute and even intellectual property right disputes are now being solved through arbitration, conciliation, mediation and/or negotiation. India has followed the path of the world leaders and has tried to make the country a seat of foreign arbitration. Though we have legalised the rules and regulations regarding alternative dispute resolution through Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the concept of alternative dispute resolution has prevailed throughout India for a long time. In villages, the dispute between two villagers used to be heard by a group of people called ‘panch’ who used to resolve the dispute by mutual understanding. This concept has been developed over time and now it has a prominent place in Indian legal system in the form of a Lok Adalat. The Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987 gave statutory sanction to Lok Adalats in India. Section 19 of the said legislation provides that every state authority, district authority, Thaluk Legal Service Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats for faster and cheaper settlement of pending cases. It is a system established by the government to provide social justice to people through conciliation, negotiation, and compromise. It is presided by a retired Judge accompanied by two other members preferably a lawyer and a social worker. The Lok Adalat does not entail any court fees thus making it truly People’s Court.
Section 21 of the Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987 gives binding force to the awards granted by the Lok Adalats. No appeal would lie from the award granted by the Lok Adalat. The primary aim of Lok Adalats is to reach an amicable agreement between the two parties of the dispute. It is necessary that the solution reached by the Lok Adalat should be acceptable to both the parties. Cases relating to claims for compensation in motor accidents, compensation for land acquisition cases and compoundable criminal cases are best suited for Lok Adalats. Lok Adalats are a unique blend of three forms of traditional ADR: arbitration, mediation, and conciliation. They use conciliation, with elements of arbitration by making the decisions legally binding reached upon by mutual agreement between the two parties through mediation conducted by the Bench. The advantages of Lok Adalat other than helping in clearing backlog cases and providing speedy justice is that it involves the parties directly and the parties themselves address their problem and needs. The decision of Lok Adalat is not just imposed upon the parties but is reached through negotiation and mediation and accepted by both the parties. Lok Adalat as an institution is based on the principle of justice, equity and fair play. It is not a substitute to the present system but a supplementary to reduce the burden of the court, provide inexpensive and speedy justice and create awareness among people regarding their rights and duties.
Features of Lok Adalat are:
- Economical: No need to pay court fees.
- Having powers of the Civil Court.
- The judgement of Lok Adalat is final and not appealable.
- No need to appoint an Advocate.
- An award passed by Lok Adalat can be executed by a court.
- Compromise only when satisfied with the conciliation award.
- Code of Civil Procedure and Indian Evidence Act not applicable.
Important judicial precedents regarding Lok Adalat are:
- Thomas v. Thomas Job 2005 (3) KLT 1042 SC: Held that the award of Lok Adalat is final and permanent and has to be regarded as a decree bringing an end to the litigation between the parties.
- Krishnakumari v. Venugopal 2005 (2) KLT 185: The decisions of Lok Adalat should be based on fairness, natural justice, equity, good conscience.
- Moni Mathai & Others v. Federal Bank Ltd. 2003 (1) KLJ 406: Lok Adalat should not take advantage of the ignorance of party and should take into consideration the effect of the legal terms of a settlement.
Nikunj Poddar, Gujarat National Law University