- For Lok Adalats, speed overrides quality
FOR LOK ADALATS, SPEED OVERRIDES QUALITY
The first National Lok Adalat (NLA) of 2021 will be held on April 2021.
GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Judiciary, Sub-ordinate courts)
For Lok Adalats, the system must look beyond swift disposal of cases and focus on just and fair outcomes. Critically examine. (15 Marks)
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is a Lok Adalat?
- Provisions in the Constitution and Law enabling Lok Adalats
- A dispute resolution avenue: What have Lok Adalats achieved?
- Issue: Justice delayed
- Why do people approach Lok Adalats?
- Lok Adalats during the Pandemic
- Conclusion: Conciliatory role
- Back to basics:
- Other important points about Organization of Lok Adalats
- Powers of the Lok Adalat
What is a Lok Adalat?
- Lok Adalat is one of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) systems. It is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled/compromised amicably by the delivery of informal, cheap and expeditious justice to the common people.
- Lok Adalats are formed to fulfil the promise given by the preamble of the Indian Constitution– securing Justice – social, economic and political of every citizen of India. The term ‘Lok Adalat’ means ‘People’s Court’ and is based on Gandhian principles.
- The first Lok Adalat camp was organised in Gujarat in 1982 as a voluntary and conciliatory agency without any statutory backing for its decisions.
Nature of cases to be referred to Lok Adalat
- Any case pending before any court,
- Any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.
However, any matter relating to an offence not compoundable under the law shall NOT be settled in Lok Adalat.
Provisions in the Constitution and Law enabling Lok Adalats
- Article 39A of the Constitution provides for free legal aid to the deprived and weaker sections of the society and to promote justice on the base of equal opportunity.
- Articles 14 of the Constitution also make it compulsory for the State to guarantee equality before the law.
- Lok Adalats were given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which makes the provisions relating to the organisation and functioning of the Lok Adalats.
- Justice delayed is justice denied. Access to justice for the poor is a constitutional mandate to ensure fair treatment under our legal system.
- Hence, Lok Adalats were established to make justice accessible and affordable to all. It was a forum to address the problems of crowded case dockets outside the formal adjudicatory system.
- Lok Adalats had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition.
- The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”.
- To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995 “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.
A dispute resolution avenue: What have Lok Adalats achieved?
- As an alternative dispute resolution tool, Lok Adalats are regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise.
- Motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, cases related to dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce) are usually taken up by Lok Adalats.
- The State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) have been organising Lok Adalats on a daily, fortnightly and monthly basis.
- Data from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) show that Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of more than 50 lakh cases.
- Similarly, National Lok Adalats (NLAs) organised under the aegis of NALSA settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day. From 2016 to 2020, NLAs have disposed of a total of almost 3 crore cases.
Issue: Justice delayed
As per the National Judicial Data Grid:
- Around 17% of all cases in district and Taluka Courts are three to 5 years old;
- More than 20% of all cases in High Courts are 5-10 years old, and over 17% are 10-20 years old.
- Over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court
- Over 57 lakh cases are pending before various HCs
- Over 3 crore cases are pending before various District and Subordinate courts
Why do people approach Lok Adalats?
As a result of the delays, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
When compared to litigation, and even other dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation, Lok Adalats offer parties:
- Speed of settlement, as cases are disposed of in a single day;
- Procedural flexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872;
- Economic affordability, as there are no court fees for placing matters before the Lok Adalat;
- Finality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed.
This prevents delays in settlement of disputes. More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, after the filing of a joint compromise petition, has the status of a civil court decree.
Lok Adalats during the Pandemic
- To overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-Lok Adalats were organised at both national and State level.
- However, the first national e-Lok Adalat was conducted both physically and virtually using videoconferencing tools, and it disposed more than 10 lakh cases.
- But this was less than the average of settled cases in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This suggests that the performance of the NeLA was less efficient than physical National Lok Adalats organised in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Conclusion: Conciliatory role
- Besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered.
- The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function.
- As compromise is its central idea, there is a concern, and perhaps a valid one, that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice.
- In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against entities with deep pockets, such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others.
- In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them.
- In most cases, such litigants have to accept discounted future values of their claims instead of their just entitlements, or small compensations, just to bring a long-pending legal process to an end.
- Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of marriage.
- Even a disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy was coercively settled for a paltry sum, with real justice still eluding thousands of victims.
Back to basics: Other important points about Organization of Lok Adalats
- The State/District Legal Services Authority or the Supreme Court/High Court/Taluk Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit.
- Every Lok Adalat organised for an area shall consist of such number of serving or retired judicial officers and other persons of the area as may be specified by the agency organising.
- Generally, a Lok Adalat consists of a judicial officer as the chairman and a lawyer (advocate) and a social worker as members.
- National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats.
- NALSA was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which came into force on 9th November 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Back to basics: Powers of the Lok Adalat
- The Lok Adalat shall have the same powers as are vested in a Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure (1908).
- Further, a Lok Adalat shall have the requisite powers to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
- All proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of the Indian Penal Code (1860) and every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the purpose of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973).
- An award of a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a Civil Court or an order of any other court.
- Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute. No appeal shall lie to any court against the award of the Lok Adalat.
-Source: The Hindu