- GS-2: Dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- GS-2: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Access to justice for the poor is a constitutional mandate to ensure fair treatment under our legal system.
- Hence, Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- Litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases.
- National Lok Adalats (NLAs) organised under the aegis of NALSA settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day.
- For instance, NLAs conducted on February 8, 2020, disposed of 11,99,575 cases. From 2016 to 2020, NLAs have disposed of a total of 2,93,19,675 cases.
- 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 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.
- Besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered.
- A just outcome of a legal process is far more important than expeditious disposal.