Lok Adalats: A boon to justice delivery system in India
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
The legal procedure to bring a person to justice be it a matter of criminal or civil law, a lot of technicalities are involved. For instance, if the land of a poor farmer has been wrongfully taken by some landlord what are the recourse available to him? How can he access justice? This man is poor and lack resources, he cannot afford a lawyer to plead for him and file a suit. So the concept of “access to justice” fails. To combat problems like these, article 39A was added in the Indian Constitution by 42nd amendment in 1976 which “emphasizes that free legal service is an inalienable 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 offense and it must be held implicit in the guarantee of Article 21.’’ In 1987, the Legal Services Act came into force which brought in the establishment of Lok Adalats. The first Lok Adalat was organized in 2002 in Junagarh district of Gujarat.
LOK ADALATS: ESTABLISHMENT
Lok Adalats are established under Chapter VI of the Legal Services Act, 1987. Section 19(1) says that ‘‘Every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or, as the case may be, Taluk Legal Services Committee may organize Lok Adalats at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit”. Section 19(2) talks about eligibility of members: (a) serving or retired judicial officers; and (b) other persons, of the area as may be 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, organizing such Lok Adalats. Section 19(5) talks about the jurisdiction of Lok Adalats. Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of - (i) any case pending before; or (ii) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized: Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offense not compoundable under any law.
Section 89 CPC, gives courts the power to refer the cases to ADR or suggests parties to go for a settlement. In criminal cases, when the offenses are compoundable, it compounding of the offense depends on the victim, if he/she does so, settlement results in acquittal.
FUNCTIONS AND JURISDICTION OF LOK ADALATS
Section 20 of the said act deals with the functions or cognizance of cases by Lok Adalat.
(1) Where in any case referred to in clause (i) of sub-section (5) of Section 19 (i) (a) the parties thereof agree; or (b) one 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 (ii) 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.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the Authority or Committee organizing the Lok Adalat under sub-section (1) of Section 19 may, on receipt of an application from any one of the parties to any matter referred to in clause (ii) of sub-section (5) of Section 19 that such matter needs to be determined by a Lok Adalat, refer such matter to the Lok Adalat, for determination.
(3) Where any case is referred to a Lok Adalat under sub-section (1) or where a reference has been made to it under sub-section (2), the Lok Adalat shall proceed to dispose of the case or matter and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties.
(4) Every Lok Adalat shall, while determining any reference before it under this Act, act with utmost expedition to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties and shall be guided by the principles of justice, equity, fair play, and other legal principles.
(5) Where no award is made by the 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 the law.
(6) Where no award is made by the Lok Adalat 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 advice the parties to seek a remedy in a court.
It is important to note that only offenses which are compoundable in nature shall be entertained by Lok Adalats. For which section 320 of CrPC which talks about compounding of criminal offenses. It provides offenses that can be compounded without the court’s permission and are less grievous in nature and offenses which are to compounded with the court’s permission.
AWARD OF LOK ADALAT
Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a Civil Court, or as the case may be, an order of any other Court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to it under sub-section (1) of Section 20, the Court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870 (7 of 1870) (2) Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.  Apparently, Lok Adalats have enough power to assure people that they don’t need to move one court to another.
OBSERVATION AND CONCLUSION
While interning at DLSA, the researcher got the opportunity to witness the organization of national Lok Adalat. There are 25 courtrooms in the district court which were converted into benches (khandpeeths) for this day and judges were not seated on the dias because this is a process of settlement, compromise and conciliation. These khandpeeths were designated to various judges. And departments like MPEB, banking disputes, insurance companies, family issues, matrimonial disputes etc were divided among the. The best part of Lok Adalats is that no party actually loses and the interests of both the parties are met. Also, court fees as mentioned above is returned to the respective parties. In the case of criminal offenses, the accused is acquitted. Therefore, the results are all positive and do not result in animosity between the parties. They are indeed a virtue and boon for the unprivileged.
 Husaainara Khatoon v. Home secretary, State of Bihar AIR 1879 SC 1369
 Section 19(1),(2),(5) Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
 Civil Procedure Code, 1908
 Section 20 Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
 Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
 Section 20(5) Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.
(Image used for representational purpose only. Image Courtesy: https://www.sentinelassam.com/news/national-lok-adalat-at-tezpur-court/ )