EMINENCE OF LOK ADALAT IN ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION

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INTRODUCTION

Starting off with a question that “how long can a case be pending in a court of law?” The answer certainly appears to be that once a case is filed in court of law it may remain pending for as long as the case would be prosecuted in a court. With regard to Statutes of limitation, only that lawsuits can be filed in the court that are within the certain period of specified time stated in the statute, after the occurrence of the incident that gave rise to the dispute. If once the case is filed in the court, and that particular judicial system is crowded with other numerous cases, a lawsuit may be pending in court for years and years after the termination of the limitation period specified in the statutes of limitations.

Indian judicial system is considered to be one of the best judicial systems in the world but just like every other judicial system, this system is also having several moral excellences and suffers from a few major kinetosis. The capability of any judicial system is judged by the time taken for disposal of the cases.

Today, there are an enormous assemblage of cases pending before the judicial courts of India, which are not able to cope with the heavy burden of increasing inflow of cases and the matters coming before them contrary to the fact of decreasing outflow in disposal of cases. According to recent reports over three million cases are pending in India’s 21 High Courts, and an astounding 26.3 million cases are pending in subordinate courts across the country. In order to fortify and to beef-up the snail pace system, it is better to eradicate or at least minimize the ills with which the system is suffering from i.e., downsize the number of pending cases before the different courts.

CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE

Article 39A of the Constitution of India which was added by the Constitution 42nd Amendment in 1976 reads equal justice and free legal aid to any citizen with economic and other disability.

In the case of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979 SCR (3) 532), it was held by the apex court that free legal service is an unalienable element of ‘reasonable, fair and just procedure for without it a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing justice. The right to free legal services is, therefore, clearly an essential ingredient of ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure for a person accused of an offence and it must be held implicit in the guarantee of article 21. This is a constitutional right of every accused person who is unable to engage a lawyer and secure legal services on account of reasons such a poverty, indigence or incommunicado situation and the State is under a mandate to provide a lawyer to an accused person if the circumstances of the case and the needs of justice so required, provided of course the accused person does not object to the provision of such lawyer.

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)

In pursuance of the ideals and aspirations enshrined in Constitution with intent to provide affordable speedy and efficient mechanism to secure justice, an effective measure was evaluated to curb the problem of growing litigation and the non disposal or the delay in disposal of cases in judicial courts. Alternative Dispute Resolutions refers to all those methods of resolving a dispute, which are alternatives for litigation in the courts.

Alternative Dispute Resolutions processes are decision-making processes to resolve disputes that do not involve litigation. Alternative Dispute Resolutions includes a variety of processes through which litigants or potential litigants may resolve their disputes. Unlike the courts, which use adversarial processes, Alternative Dispute Resolutions focuses on effective communication and negotiation.

A system based on Alternative Dispute Resolution was developed on pillars of compromise or conciliation and settlement with statutory structure called Lok Adalats. The Lok Adalats constituted as an innovation in the administration of justice. Lok Adalat is a non-adversarial system where the focus is completely on compromise. In Lok Adalat, efforts are made for resolving people’s disputes through discussion, counselling, persuasion and conciliation. It is that temple of justice created where people get speedy justice. This system is based on morality and honesty, which are real pillars of our traditional society.

LOK ADALAT

Lok Adalat is judicial body set up for the purpose of facilitating peaceful resolution of disputes between the litigating parties. It has the powers of an ordinary civil court, like summoning, examining evidence etc. Its orders are like any court orders, yet the parties cannot appeal against such orders. Lok Adalat can resolve all matters, except criminal cases that which are non-compoundable. Either of the parties to litigation can make an application to the court for transferring the case to a Lok Adalat. Where no compromise or settlement is made by the Lok Adalat, such a case is transferred to the court and that court deals with the litigation from the stage the Lok Adalat had reached.

Lok Adalats were established under Chapter VI of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

Statement and the objects:

“An Act to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.

In order to get over the major drawback, this legislation was brought into force for a reason of this alternative system which would result in peaceful settlement of disputes reducing the work load of the regular courts to a great extent. It is a Para-Judicial institution. Lok Adalats are boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost. It is needless to say that mutual settlement of disputes is always superior to long drawn out expensive litigation.

In the statement of objects and reasons, Article 39A of the Constitution had been referred to apart from the committee for implementing legal aid schemes under the chairmanship of Justice P.N. Bhagawati. It further specifies about the Lok Adalats as follows:

“For some time now, Lok Adalats are being constituted at various places in the country for the disposal, in a summary way and through the process of arbitration and settlement between the parties of large number cases expeditiously and with lesser costs. The institution of Lok Adalat is at present functioning as a voluntary and conciliatory agency without any statutory backing for its decisions. It has proved to be very popular in providing for speedier system of administration of justice. In view of its growing popularity there has been a demand for providing a statutory backing to this institution and the awards given by Lok Adalats. It is felt that such statutory support would not only reduce the burden of the arrears of work in regular courts but would not only take justice to the door steps of the poor and the needy and make justice quicker and less expensive”.

With the light on the procedural aspect of the Lok Adalat, which indeed is very simple and not concerned with most of the legal rituals, the cases in which the Presiding Officer or the Judge thinks fit that the matter can be resolved amicably by the parties concerned or there is iota of percentage with respect to the possibility to settle the dispute between the litigants, then the presiding officer or the Judge may send that case to Lok adalat for settlement. The nature of the matter concerned may be civil or criminal but these do not include those cases which fall under the classification of  non compoundable as they cannot be compounded by the way of compromise even when the parties are ready for same. It has been been revealed by experience that in Lok Adalats it is easier to settle money claims since in most such cases the quantum alone may be in dispute. Due to this intent of making the procedure more suitable to the justice system at large, the Legislature incorporated Section 89 in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 for settlement of dispute outside the court. In order to rest the dispute to bed, one more important condition is that both the parties should agree for settlement through Lok Adalat and abide by the decision. If one of the parties does not compromise, then the dispute cannot be settle in lok adalat and the matter will be revert back to the regular court as the Lok Adalat does not have power to decide the dispute on merits. Lok Adalat stood as an alternate forum where common people are able to ventilate their grievances against the state functionaries/agencies or individual to get a just settlement. Not only post litigation settlements, but even pre litigation settlements also. If the matter gets settled before the Lok Adalat and the award is decreed and achieves finality which has much force as a decree of Civil Court.

The purpose of Lok Adalat is not merely to give justice on the basis of evidence, law and legal know-how, but to approach the human problem itself. Through Lok Adalat the enmity of the parties is also shunned away by amicable resolution of their cases.

Difference Between Lok Adalat And Permanent Lok Adalat

Deriving their existence from the same legislation, apart from the similar names and similar functioning but Lok Adalat and Permanent Lok Adalat draws major differences between them. First difference which attributed between them is that matters which are referred to the Lok Adalat can be of any nature but in Permanent Lok Adalat, only matters related to public utility service can be referred to it. Second difference which is the major difference between Lok Adalat and Permanent Lok Adalat is that Lok Adalat cannot decide the matter on merits if the settlement talk fails but Permanent Lok Adalat can decide the dispute on merits, if the parties don’t arrive amicably at any settlement.

Benefits Of Lok Adalat

  1. That there is no court fee and even if the case is being referred the regular court, the fee paid will be refunded if the dispute is amicably settled in the Lok Adalat.
  2. That there is no strict application of the procedural laws and the Evidence Act while achieving amicable settlement between the parties in Lok Adalat as the purpose is to compromise not litigate.
  3. That the parties to the disputes though represented by their Advocate, they themselves can interact with the Presiding Officer directly as well as freely without any influence and duress.
  4. That the parties can directly approach the institution of Lok Adalat directly at pre-litigation stage itself instead of going for litigation.
  5. That the award of Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and is deemed to a decree passed by civil court.
  6. That no appeal lies against the award passed by the Lok Adalat.
  7. That the Lok Adalats are vested with the same powers as of civil court.

Suggestions And Conclusion

  1. Currently only the offences which are classified as compoundable offences can be referred to Lok Adalat, it is suggested that amendment should be made in Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 to include the non compoundable offences which have punishment specified upto 2 years for reference to Lok Adalat.
  2. In order to control heavy burden of increasing inflow of cases to Lok Adalat itself like regular courts it is suggested that not more than 30 cases should be assigned to single bench in one day respectively.
  3. More Lok Adalat benches should be constituted by assigning duty to more Judicial officers and by taking expertise of retired Judicial Officers/Justices of High Court.
  4. To curb the menace of adjournments on the date of hearing before Lok Adalat, sufficient time should be given to parties beforehand.
  5. With the aim of reducing the litigation, it should be made mandatory for the advocates to brief their clients about ADR processes before filing of case in court along with an undertaking to be filed with Vakalatnama by the advocates that they have briefed their clients about the same.
  6. Large scale awareness program should be undertaken for the public and litigants at large.

Drafted By-

Pulkit Jain, Advocate, Prosoll law Inc.

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