Powers of Lok Adalat and Procedure: Public Court or People's Court By Divyansh Sachdeva


Preface:

Growing population always being the cause of several development, complexities, difficulties and Innovations. One such Excellence of India in the world jurispendence is “Lok Adalat” which was initially started in Gujarat in March 1982 and presently has been extended throughout the country. The evolution of this movement was a part of the strategy to relieve heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in the queue to get justice.

A combined reading of Art.21 as interpreted by the Supreme Court of India and Art. 39-A of the Constitution establishes beyond doubt that speedy trial, free legal aid and equal opportunities for securing justice are fundamental rights of the citizen of India and a Constitutional mandate which state has to follow in the governance of this country. In order to ensure these rights more effectively, the Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to organise Lok Adalat to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.

Introducing, the word Lok Adalat is merged with two words i.e. “Lok” signifies People (aam janta) and other one is “Adalat “ meaning The Court (The Nyaya Bhawan) is one of the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism has been given a statutory recognition under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 pursuant to the Constitutional mandate in Art. 39-A of the Constitution of India.

Lok Adalat is a special kind of people’s court in which disputes solved by direct talks between the litigants. The members of the legal profession, college students, social organisations, charitable and philanthropic institutions and other similar organisations may be associated with Lok Adalat. Salient features of these resolutions are participation, accommodation, fairness, expectations, voluntariness, neighbourliness, transparency and lack of aversion. Lok Adalat after studying the case, try to solve the simple differences which otherwise are likely to leave for reaching consequences through mutual understanding and compromise.

The parties are not allowed to be represented by the lawyers and encouraged to interact with the judge who helps them to arrive at an amicable settlement. The strict rule of Civil Procedural Court and evidence is not applied. The decision is by informal sitting and binding on the parties and no appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat.

If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat (though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award), they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction.

Framework:

The mandate to organise Lok Adalat in every state has been given under sec 19 of Legal Service Authority Act,1987.

Further subsection (2) of the act provides the following-

Every Lok Adalat organised shall consist of such number of—

  • serving or retired judicial officers; and
  • other persons, specified by the State Authority or the District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or the High Court Legal Services Committee, or as the case may be, the Taluk Legal Services Committee, organising such Lok Adalat
Jurisdiction:

Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of—

  • any case pending before; or
  • any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised:
Note:
 
Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.
Thus, it can be concluded that Lok Adalat can resolve both the civil and criminal matters.
 
Now, here comes the need to state the matters to be deal with or consider by Lok Adalat
 
  • Compoundable civil, revenue and criminal cases
  • Motor accident compensation claims cases
  • Partition Claims
  • Damages Cases
  • Matrimonial and family disputes
  • Mutation of lands case
  • Land Pattas cases
  • Bonded Labour cases
  • Land acquisition disputes
  • Bank’s unpaid loan cases
  • Arrears of retirement benefits cases
  • Family Court cases
  • Cases, which are not subjudice
Competency:
 
The Lok Adalat Shall has the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) while trying a suit in respect of the following matters, namely:—
 
  • the summoning and enforcing the attendance of any witness and examining him on oath;
  • the discovery and production of any document;
  • the reception of evidence on affidavits;
  • the requisitioning of any public record or document or a copy of such record or document from any court or office; and
  • such other matters as may be prescribed.
Note:

The Permanent Lok Adalat shall, while conducting conciliation proceedings or deciding a dispute on merit under the Act, be guided by the principles of natural justice, objectivity, fair play, equity and other principles of justice, and shall not be bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (1 of 1872).
 
Award:

Every award
  • shall be final and binding on all the parties thereto and on persons claiming
  • shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court.
  • shall be by a majority of the persons constituting the Permanent Lok Adalat.
  • shall be final and shall not be called in question in any original suit, application or execution proceeding
  • may be transmitted to a civil court having local jurisdiction and such civil court shall execute the order as if it were a decree made by that court.
Where no award is made by Lok Adalat
  • On the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, the record of the case shall be returned by it to the court, from which the reference has been received under sub-section (1) for disposal in accordance with law.
  • On the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, in a matter referred to in sub-section (2), that Lok Adalat shall advise the parties to seek remedy in a court.
Note:

Further, no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person as mentioned under the Act, 1987 for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the provisions of this Act or any rule or regulation made thereunder.

Cognizance:

Where in any case referred to in clause (i) of sub-section (5) of section 19—"
  • the parties show of their consent; or
  • any of the parties thereof makes an application to the court, for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such court is prima facie satisfied that there are chances of such settlement; or
  • the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat, the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat:
Provided no case shall be referred to the Lok Adalat by such court except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
 
Present Scenario:
 
In recent time the concept of Lok Adalat has gained popularity. Prison Lok Adalat, Provident Fund Lok Adalat, Labour Law Adalat, etc., are organised to settle disputes, and naturally many may be curious to know that what is Lok Adalat. Despite the fact that the judicial system in India is well organised with a high level of integrity, the law courts are confronted with four main problems:
 
  • The number of courts and judges in all grades are alarmingly inadequate;
  • Increase in the flow of cases in recent years due to multifarious Acts enacted by the Central and State government;
  • The high cost involved in prosecuting or defending a case in a court of law, due to heavy court fee, lawyer’s fee and incidental charges and
  • Delay in disposal of cases resulting in huge pendency in all courts.          
Some statistics may give us a feeling of tremendous satisfaction and encouragement. The National Lok Adalats held every two months across the country is significantly contributing to the disposal of cases. Statistics compiled by the Law ministry show more than 50 lakh cases have been disposed of every year on an average in the last three years by these courts. Seen as an alternate dispute resolution forum, the National Lok Adalat had disposed of more than 61 lakh cases, which are a combination of cases pending in courts and those in the pre-litigation stage, in 2015. The next year the total of such cases disposed of were almost 50 lakh, and in the nine-month till December 2017, these Lok Adalats disposed of over 29 lakh cases.
 
About 90% of the cases filed in the developed countries are settled mutually by conciliation, mediation etc. and as such, only 10% of the cases are decided by the Courts there. In our country, which is developing, has unlike the developed countries, number of Judges disproportionate to the cases filed and, hence, to alleviate the accumulation of cases, the Lok Adalat is the need of the day.
 
Now, the doubt still remains to be resolved
 
Whether an award of Lok Adalat can be challenged only by filing Writ Petition or by Separate suit?
 
Yes, under CIVIL APPEAL No.11345 OF 2017 (Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.23605 of 2015).
It was held that the only remedy available with the aggrieved person was to challenge the award of the Lok Adalat is by filing a writ petition under Article 226 or/and 227 of the Constitution of India in the High Court and that too on very limited grounds. The case was accordingly remanded to the High Court for deciding the writ petition filed by the aggrieved person on its merits in accordance with law.
 
In the light of clear pronouncement of the law by this Court, we are of the opinion that the only remedy available to the aggrieved person(respondents herein/plaintiffs) was to file a writ petition under Article 226 and/or 227 of the Constitution of India in the High Court for challenging the award dated 22.08.2007 passed by the Lok Adalat. It was then for the writ Court to decide as to whether any ground was made out by the writ petitioners for quashing the award and, if so, whether those grounds are sufficient for its quashing.
 
Epilogue:
 
The special condition prevailing in the Indian society and due to economic structure, highly sensitized legal service is required which is efficacious for the poor and the ignorant masses. The Lok Adalat movement is no more an experiment in India. It’s now a success and needs to be rehearsed certain matters. It properly, thoughtfully, and wisely constituted, Lok Adalats can become an additional arm of existing judicial institution, and moreover, if the process of accumulation of arrears is reversed and there is less burdening, its qualitative performance can improve.
 
Source 

nalsa[dot]gov[dot]in
indiankanoon[dot]org

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