Lawwatch

Lok Adalats & Legal Service Authorities

Lok Adalat means people’s court. It is an Alternate Dispute Redressal (ADR) mechanism periodically being conducted under the stipulations in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

The legal services authorities established under the act aims to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker section and to organize lok adalats to secure justice to such people in equal terms with others.

The Lok Adalat, being periodically conducted at different levels, settles disputes or cases pending in the court of law or at the pre-litigation stage, in a manner quite satisfying to both the parties.

Structure of legal service authorities

The Central government constitutes the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) and the central authority in turn will constitute the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to perform the functions, including conduct of lok adalats, as per the NLSA regulations.

The state government will constitute State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) to perform activities under the act and the state authority in turn constitutes High Court Legal Services committee to conduct functions such as lok adalats at the high court level.

The state government constitutes District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) and the SLSA constitutes the Taluk Legal Services Committee in each Taluk to carry out lok adalats in each Taluk.

There shall be National, State and District level Legal Aid Funds created by adding sums of money provided by the appropriate government and the courts functioning in each jurisdiction.

Structure & composition of Lok Adalats

Every SLSA, DLSA, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee and TLSC can organize lok adalats at their respective jurisdictions.

State Level

The State Legal Services Authority, organizing the Lok Adalat, would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat. Each bench will comprise of three members : a sitting or retired judge of the High Court or a sitting or retired judicial officer, a member from the legal profession, and a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in legal services schemes.

At the High Court Level

The High Court Legal Services Committee would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat. Each bench will consist of a sitting or retired Judge of the High Court, a member from the legal profession, and a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in legal services.

At the District Level

The Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority organizing the Lok Adalat would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat. Each bench will comprise of a sitting or retired judicial officer, a member from the legal profession, and a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the legal services or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.

At the Taluk Level

The Chairman of the Taluk Legal Services Committee organizing the Lok Adalat would constitute benches of the Lok Adalat. Each bench would comprise of a sitting or retired judicial officer, a member from the legal profession, and a social worker engaged in the upliftment of the weaker sections and interested in the legal services or a person engaged in para-legal activities of the area, preferably a woman.

National Lok Adalat

National Level Lok Adalats are held at regular intervals where on a single day Lok Adalats are held throughout the country, in all the jurisdiction right from the Supreme Court till the Taluk Levels wherein cases are disposed off in huge numbers.

Persons entitled to legal services of the authority

The following categories of persons, as specified in Section 12 of the Legal Services Act, are entitled to receive legal services.

  1. A member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe

  2. A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution

  3. A woman or a child

  4. A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person

  5. A victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster or

  6. An industrial workman or

  7. in custody in a protective home under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or in a juvenile home under the Juvenile Justice Act or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home under the Mental Health Act

  8. in custody in a protective home under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or in a juvenile home under the Juvenile Justice Act or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home under the Mental Health Act

  9. in custody in a protective home under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or in a juvenile home under the Juvenile Justice Act or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home under the Mental Health Act

  10. In receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the State Government.

The person satisfying all or any of the criteria shall be entitled to receive legal services. The concerned Authority must be satisfied that such a person has a prima-facie case to prosecute or to defend.

An affidavit made by a person as to his income may be regarded as sufficient for making him eligible to the entitlement of legal services under this Act, unless the concerned Authority has reason to disbelieve such affidavit.

No court fee is needed

No court fee is payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints or petition is also refunded to the parties.

Lok adalat functions as a conciliatory forum

The persons settling the dispute in a case referred to the lok adalat with an award are called the Members of the Lok Adalat. They have the role of statutory conciliators only. They have no judicial role at all. Therefore they can only persuade the parties to come to a conclusion for settling the dispute in the Lok Adalat. They shall not pressurize or coerce any of the parties to make a compromise or settle any case either directly or indirectly.

In short the Lok Adalat shall not decide the matter so referred to it by its own decision. But the decision would be based on the compromise or settlement arrived at between the parties. The members shall assist the parties in an independent and impartial manner in arriving at an amicable settlement between the parties.

Cases that can be referred to Lok Adalats

Lok adalat can decide two types of cases: one is any case pending before any court and the other is any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.

But any matter relating to an offence not compoundable under the law shall not be settled in Lok Adalat.

Referring cases to the Lok Adalat for Settlement

The court can refer the case if the parties thereto agree or one of the parties makes an application for referring the case to the lok adalat.

The SLSA or DLSA, as the case may be on receipt of an application from any one of the parties at a pre-litigation stage, may refer a case pending before the court or any dispute at pre-litigation stage to the Lok Adalat for settlement of the dispute. Then notice would be issued to the other party. Any party can approach the legal services authority to place a matter before the lok adalat.

The cases lok adalat can deal with

Lok Adalats have the competence to deal with a number of cases like:

  1. Compoundable civil, revenue and criminal cases

  2. Motor accident compensation claims cases

  3. Partition Claims

  4. Damages Cases

  5. Matrimonial and family disputes

  6. Mutation of lands case

  7. Land Pattas cases

  8. Bonded Labor cases

  9. Land acquisition disputes

  10. Bank’s unpaid loan cases

  11. Arrears of retirement benefits cases

  12. Family Court cases

  13. Cases, which are not subjudice

Lok adalat is not a court

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. However Lok adalat is not a court nor its decision is based on any judicial decision making process. It is not vested with any power to judicially decide a case referred to it. It cannot pass orders as the courts do based on adjudicatory process. It can facilitate the parties to arrive at an agreement between them only and pass an award on the basis of that compromise.

Conducting hearing of parties as if in a court is not allowed in lok adalat but only conciliation is allowed. It has no adjudicatory or judicial function. The award of the lok adalat is an administrative act of incorporating the terms of settlement or compromise agreed to by the parties. If no compromise is arrived at, the lok adalat cannot issue any order.

The compromise thus arrived at between parties however cannot be against any law in force.

Adjudicating judge cannot preside in the lok adalat

A judge who is hearing a case for adjudication should not be a member of a lok adalat constituted to bring out settlement in that particular case.

Binding nature of award

Every award of the lok adalt shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or an order of any other court. Every award is final and binding on the parties to the dispute. Once a case has been settled and an award was passed on conciliation between parties by the lok adalat, then the parties cannot later withdraw from the award which can be executed through the court.

No appeal would normally lie before any court of law against such an award. However if the award is unjust, unfair or unreasonable the aggrieved party has the right to approach the appropriate court to question it, despite there is no opportunity for an appeal against such an award.

Permanent Lok Adalat

The Permanent Lok Adalat, established under the provisions of Chapter 6A (Section 22A to 22E) of the Legal Services Authority Act, is a later intervention. In 2002, certain amendments were made to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to institutionalize the Lok Adalats by making them a permanent body to settle the disputes related to public utility services. The NLSA or SLSA may, by notification, establish Permanent Lok Adalats, for determining issues in connection to Public Utility Services.

The Permanent Lok Adalat, organized under the Section 22-B of the act, is a distinct type of Lok Adalat in its nature, scope and powers.

The Public Utility Services being dealt with by the Permanent Lok Adalat include:

  1. Transport service

  2. Postal, telegraph or telephone services

  3. Supply of power, light and water to public

  4. System of public conservancy or sanitation

  5. Insurance services and

  6. such other services as notified by the Central or State Governments

Permanent Lok Adalat has the same powers that are vested in the Lok Adalats. It follows a special mode of functioning. Unlike lok adalat it can arrive at a binding decision as the court does. In Permanent Lok Adalat, even if the parties fail to reach a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat gets jurisdiction to decide the dispute, if the dispute does not relate to any offence.

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 above mentioned Public Utility Services.

If the parties fail to reach at 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 jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats is up to Rs. 10 Lakhs.

Legal framework behind the legal services

In addition to the Legal Services Act and its Rules, there are a host of regulations, notifications, standard operating procedures etc issued by the governments at the centre and the state, governing every facet of the legal services activities.