Lok stands for People and the word Adalat means Court. Lok Adalat is a special kind of people’s court in which disputes solved by direct talks between the litigants. The members of legal profession, college students, social organisations, charitable and philanthropic institutions and other similar organisations may be associated with Lok Adalat. Salient features of this dispute resolutions are participation,accomadation,fairness,expectations,voluntariness,neighbourliness,transparency and lack of animosity.Lok Adalat after studying the case, try to solve the simple differences which otherwise are likely to leave for reaching consequences through mutual understanding and compromise. The concept of Lok Adalat is an innovative Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence.
Ancient concept of settlement of dispute through mediation, negotiation or through arbitral process known as ‘People’s court verdict’ or decision of ‘Nyaya-Panch’ is conceptualised instutionalised in the philosophy of Lok Adalat. The concept of Lok Adalat was pushed back into oblivion in last few centuries before independence and particularly during British regime. Now this concept has been rejuvenated and became more popular amongst litigants. Camps of Lok Adalat were initially started in Gujarat in March 1982, and now it has been extended throughout the country. The evolution of this movement was a part of the strategy to relieve heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in the queue to get justice. And the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats pursuant to the Constitutional mandate in Art. 39-A of the Constitution of India, contains various provisions for settlements of dispute through Lok Adalat.
Levels of lok adalats
State Authority Level – The Member Secretary of the State Legal Services Authority organizing the Lok Adalat would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat, each bench comprising of a sitting or retired judge of the High Court or a sitting or retired judicial officer and any one or both of- a member from the legal profession; a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes.
High Court Level: The Secretary of the High Court Legal Services Committee would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat, each bench comprising of a sitting or retired judge of the High Court and any one or both of- a member from the legal profession; a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes.
District Level: The Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority organizing the Lok Adalat would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat, each bench comprising of a sitting or retired judicial officer and any one or both of either a member from the legal profession; and/or a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.
Taluk Level: The Secretary of the Taluk Legal Services Committee organizing the Lok Adalat would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat, each bench comprising of a sitting or retired judicial officer and any one or both of either a member from the legal profession; and/or a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the implementation of legal services schemes or programmes or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.
National Lok Adalat: National Level Lok Adalats are held for at regular intervals where on a single day Lok Adalats are held throughout the country, in all the courts right from the Supreme Court till the Taluk Levels wherein cases are disposed off in huge numbers. From February 2015, National Lok Adalats are being held on a specific subject matter every month.
Permanent Lok Adalat: The other type of Lok Adalat is the Permanent Lok Adalat, organized under Section 22-B of The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Permanent Lok Adalats have been set up as permanent bodies with a Chairman and two members for providing compulsory pre-litigative mechanism for conciliation and settlement of cases relating to Public Utility Services like transport, postal, telegraph etc. Here, even if the parties fail to reach to a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat gets jurisdiction to decide the dispute, provided, the dispute does not relate to any offence. Further, the Award of the Permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding on all the parties. The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats is upto Rs. Ten Lakhs. Here if the parties fail to reach to a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat has the jurisdiction to decide the case. The award of the Permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding upon the parties. The Lok Adalat may conduct the proceedings in such a manner as it considers appropriate, taking into account the circumstances of the case, wishes of the parties like requests to hear oral statements, speedy settlement of dispute etc.
Mobile lok adalat: Mobile lok adalat is new concept in which justice is delivered through van. The van consists of facilities like court compartments with basic amenities as well as microphone, computer, printer, seating arrangement for lawyers and the team, cabinet for the presiding officer, projector, internal and external address system, and generator among others.
Benefits of lok adalats
- There is no court fee and even if the case is already filed in the regular court, the fee paid will be refunded if the dispute is settled at the Lok Adalat.
- There is no strict application of the procedural laws and the Evidence Act while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat. The parties to the disputes though represented by their Advocate can interact with the Lok Adalat judge directly and explain their stands in the dispute and the reasons therefore, which is not possible in a regular court of law.
- Disputes can be brought before the Lok Adalat directly instead of going to a regular court first and then to the Lok Adalat.
- The decision of Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through legal process. No appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat whereas in regular courts of law there is always a scope to appeal to the higher forum on the decision of the trial court, which cause delay in the settlement of dispute finally. The reason being that in a regular court, decision is that of the court but in Lok Adalat it is mutual settlement and hence no case for appeal will arise. In every respect the scheme of Lok Adalat is a boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost.
Legal awareness campaign
The growing number of issues, problems, unabated corruption and indecisiveness prevailed in our society that has given rise to demand support from the people of the country. Be it the legal, poverty, literacy, health, environment and many other issues – each cause is clamoring for public attention. Effort to get such attention, the governments and organizations has come together to devote to a particular cause so that awareness may be raised for the welfare of the society.
Understanding of the legal literacy and legal awareness is the need of the hour to deal with these uncertain problems existing and rising in the society. What it is, why it is important, and how we can promote it. Majority people of India are legal illiterate and not aware of the basic rights conferred upon them by law. Substantial population of the country living in the cities, towns and villages do not know what are their rights and entitlements under the law. Even the literate people are helpless and confused when there is a violation or infringement of a right enforceable in law.
Lack of knowledge about the basic legal and civil liberties, human rights, constitutional directives, and principles and other guidelines that protect the people’s dignity, liberty and freedom manifests itself in the society in the form of problems such as child labour, human trafficking, domestic violence, child marriage, dowry etc. that threatens the safety of all. Therefore, the absence of the legal awareness in the society is mainly responsible for the deception, exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits, from which the people suffer in the hands of state apparatus. The miserable condition in which the people find themselves can be alleviated to some extent by creating legal literate and legal awareness amongst the people. At this backdrop, legal literacy and legal awareness assume critical significance.
Constitutional and legal provisions for legal awareness
In 1987, the Legal Services Authorities Act (LSAA) was enacted by the Parliament which came into force on 9th November, 1995 with an object to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society on the basis of equal opportunity. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has been constituted under the LSAA, 1987 to monitor and evaluate implementation of legal services available under the Act. This Act was passed with the affirmed objective of fulfilling one of the Directive Principles of State Policy enunciated in Article 39A of the Constitution of India. Under it, the Constitution of India provides for equal justice and free legal aid – The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
Under the Articles 14 and 22(1) also provide that it’s the obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity to all. Legal aid strives to ensure that constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society. In every State, State Legal Services Authority has been constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the NALSA and to give free legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. The State Legal Services Authority is headed by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of the respective High Court who is the Patron-in-Chief of the State Legal Services Authority. And in every District, District Legal Services Authority has been constituted to implement Legal Services Programmes in the District.
Role of NALSA in legal awareness and legal aid
- Legal Aid Counsel Scheme to provide meaningful legal assistance to under trial prisoners, who feel handicapped in their defense on account of lack of resources or other disabilities and cannot engage a counsel to defend them.
- Counseling and Conciliation Scheme to encourage the settlement of disputes by way of negotiations and conciliation.
- Supreme Court Middle Income Group Scheme to provide legal services to the middle income class citizens, i.e., citizens whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 2 lakh.
- The NALSA organizes Judicial colloquium to create a forum for ongoing regional cooperation among Judges focusing on Human Rights and Access to Justice.
- Victims Assistance Program (VAP) has been prepared by the NALSA target the most disadvantaged, distraught vulnerable and victimized population.