Lok Adalat: India’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism

Scholars and academics throughout the world have noted a spike in the popularity of alternative dispute resolution. Commercial contracts, sports, family disputes and even intellectual property rights disputes are now being resolved through arbitration, conciliation, mediation and/or negotiation.

India has followed the path of global leaders in the field and has tried to make the country a seat of international arbitration. Though we have legalised the rules and regulations regarding alternative dispute resolution by introducing the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the concept of alternative dispute resolution has prevailed throughout India for a long time.

A long history of ADR

In villages, the dispute between two villagers used to be heard by a group of people called ‘panch’ who used to resolve the dispute by mutual understanding. This concept has been developed over time and now it has a prominent place in the Indian legal system in the form of a Lok Adalat (people’s court). In 1987 the Legal Service Authorities Act (LSA), gave statutory sanction to Lok Adalats.

Section 19 of the LSA provides that every state authority, district authority, Thaluk Legal Service Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats to obtain faster and cheaper settlement of pending cases. It is a system established by the government to provide social justice to people through conciliation, negotiation, and compromise. It is presided by a retired judge accompanied by two other members preferably a lawyer and a social worker. The Lok Adalat does not entail any court fees thus truly making it a ‘people’s court’.

Under section 21 of the LSA binding force is given to the awards granted by the Lok Adalats, without offering an appeals procedure. The primary aim of Lok Adalats is to reach an amicable agreement between the two parties of the dispute. It is necessary that the solution reached by the Lok Adalat should be acceptable to both parties. Cases relating to claims for compensation in motor accidents, compensation for land acquisition cases and compoundable criminal cases are best suited for using the process.

Combining traditional methods

Lok Adalats are a unique blend of three forms of traditional ADR: arbitration, mediation, and conciliation. They use conciliation, with elements of arbitration by making the decisions legally binding reached upon by mutual agreement between the two parties through mediation conducted by the Bench.

The advantages of the mechanism, other than helping in clearing backlog cases and providing speedy justice, is that it involves the parties directly and the parties themselves address their problem and needs. Decisions are not just imposed upon the parties but are reached through negotiation and mediation and accepted by both the parties.

Lok Adalat as an institution is based on the principle of justice, equity and fair play. It is not a substitute to the present system, but complimentary to reduce the burden of the court, provide inexpensive and speedy justice and create awareness among people regarding their rights and duties.

Key features of a Lok Adalat are:

  1. Economical: No need to pay court fees.
  1. Having powers of the Civil Court.
  1. The judgement of Lok Adalat is final and not appealable.
  1. No need to appoint an Advocate.
  1. An award passed by Lok Adalat can be executed by a court.
  1. Compromise only when satisfied with the conciliation award.
  1. Code of Civil Procedure and Indian Evidence Act is not applicable.

Written byNikunj Poddar.

This is an adapted version of the original article which was first published on the GPC India blog.

Nikunj Poddar

Nikunj Poddar is a law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. Currently he is also a Content Provider and Researcher for the Global Pound Conference Chandigarh in India.

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