|Demand of the question Introduction. What are Lok Adalats? Body. Discuss the reason for their establishment. What are their functions and limitations? Conclusion. Way forward.|
Lok Adalat (People’s Court) is one of the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, where the cases or disputes which are pending in a court or which are at pre-litigation stage are settled in an amicable manner. It is a statutory body under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. This system is based on Gandhian principles. Lok Adalats serve very crucial functions in India due to many factors like pending cases, illiteracy, poverty, high vacancy in courts etc.
Reason for establishment of Lok Adalats:
- Equal justice and free legal aid: Article 39A of the Constitution states that citizens of India are entitled to equal justice and free legal aid. Hence, the Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to create national, state and district level authorities to establish Lok Adalats.
- Speedy trial of the disputes: The basic features of Lok Adalat are the procedural flexibility and speedy trial of the disputes. There is no strict application of procedural laws like the Civil Procedure Code and the Evidence Act while assessing the claim by Lok Adalat.
- Reducing backlog: The other reason was to clear the massive backlog of pending cases in the Indian judicial system as well as to bring speedy justice to all. The matters in Lok Adalat do not linger on for years but are settled within a day.
Role of Lok Adalats:
- Dispute settlement: To hear and settle long pending cases, which are disposed through compromise and settlement. It can hear both civil and criminal cases.
- Justice: The aim of Lok Adalats is to bring justice to poor and underprivileged people of India. It ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
- Alternate dispute resolution: The system of Lok Adalat, which is an innovative mechanism for alternate dispute resolution, has proved effective for resolving disputes in a spirit of conciliation outside the courts.
- Reducing litigation: It can take up pending cases as well as those that are in pre litigation stage. The verdict given by the Lok Adalat is final and binding, and there is no provision for appeal. But the party is free to initiate a new litigation in court.
Limitations of Lok Adalats:
- Complexity: The biggest disadvantage with Lok Adalats is that repeated sittings at short intervals with the same judge are almost not possible which breaks the continuity of the deliberations.
- Lack of confidentiality: Lok Adalat proceedings are held in the open court and any member of public may witness these proceedings. Thus, the element of confidentiality is also lacking. This also impedes the process of exploration of various resolution options and ultimately the success rate in matters where parties desire confidentiality.
- Forced injustice: Lok Adalats are fora where voluntary efforts intended to bring about settlement of disputes between the parties are made through conciliatory and persuasive efforts. Many times victims are forced to settle at lower compensation.
- Diminished party autonomy: It cannot be said that the parties remain in absolute control of the proceedings in contradistinction to what happens in mediation.
- Needs consent of both the parties: The most important factor to be considered while deciding the cases at the Lok Adalat is the consent of both the parties. It cannot be forced on any party that the matter has to be decided by the Lok Adalat.
The Lok Adalat Movement can be successful only if the people participate on voluntary basis in the functioning of Lok Adalat. This can be achieved by restraining themselves from invoking the jurisdiction of traditional Courts in trifle disputes.