Lok Adalat is considered as an alternative dispute redressal mechanism. It is a forum where cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled. Lok Adalat acknowledged as statutory bodies under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The decisions of Lok Adalat bind the parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law. If the parties are not satisfied with the decree of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such decree. But they are free to file petition by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdictions. It’s just a forum provided by the people themselves to enable the common people to sort out their grievances and seek relief if possible. Basic strategy of Lok Adalat is to redress and resolve the disputes by discussion, counselling, persuasion and conciliation in order to give speedy and cheap justice. Usually, the cases in Lok Adalat are disposed by mutual settlement or negotiation. The first Lok Adalat was held in Gujrat in 1982 and in Chennai for the first time in 1986.
The advent of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 further gives a statutory status to these Lok Adalat’s, promoting the constitutional mandate of Article 39-A of the Constitution of India. It directs the state to organize Lok Adalat’s to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity. In 2018, about 47 lakh cases were disposed of in National Lok Adalat’s, which included about 21 lakh pending cases and 26 lakh pre-litigation cases. The term access to justice can be termed as “the right to ensure that every person is able to receive a just and fair treatment within the legal system”. Basically, the right of every person to access judicial forums for speedy trials and a chance to access justice.
ROLE OF LOK ADALATS:
A major role of Lok Adalat is to resolve disputes without charging any fees has also been an opportunity for the poor to approach the Lok Adalat for finality of their disputes. This alternative dispute resolution mechanism seems to be a friendlier means for the poor to access legal redressal mechanisms. The financial status of parties to the dispute, their situations, fair procedure during trial and influence on the legal process. This need to be considered to understand whether justice was served in actual sense.
PERMANENT LOK ADALATS:
Section 22 B of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides for the establishment of Permanent Lok Adalat (PLA) for exercising jurisdiction in respect of one or more public utility services for the purpose of Permanent Lok Adalat. The Award of the Permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding on all the parties. The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalat is up to Rs. Ten Lakhs. If the parties fail to reach to a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat has the jurisdiction to decide the case. The Lok Adalat conduct the proceedings in such a manner as it considers wishes of the parties like requests to hear oral statements, speedy settlement of dispute etc.
Many times, parties settle in Lok Adalat as they cannot afford the expenses of continuing with litigation. There is compromise out of necessity rather than will. This can be related due to the issues in our legal system and therefore it is difficult to deem this as a fair chance. Hence, it is rather difficult to say that the Lok Adalat have passed the test for providing access to “justice” to the poor. The jurisdiction of Lok Adalat with respect to criminal disputes is limited to offences which are compoundable under law. But petty offences can be tried under Lok Adalats. Now, Mobile Adalats are also organized in various parts of the country which travel from one location to another in order to resolve disputes. As on 30.09.2015, more than 15.14 lakhs Lok Adalat have been organized in the country since its inception. More than 8.25 crore cases have been settled by this mechanism so far.
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