Lok Adalat, which can be broken down into the word “Lok” which means people and “Adalat” meaning court, is one of the most brilliantly simple contribution of India to the global legal system. These are the courts established at root level that provide cheap and speedy justice to the parties in dispute through the unconventional methods of ADR i.e., either through an arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator. The concept of Lok Adalats were introduced in India through the National Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 and aims to fulfil the dream of the constitution makers of providing each and every individual an easy access to justice.
The concept of Lok Adalat is not new to the Indian subcontinent but has been a part of its history through time immemorial. The roots of this innovative legal system can be traced to the Vedic times. It has been found after extensive research that ancient India lacked a central judicial system but had various small courts which worked upon the basic understanding of fair play, morality and honesty. Judicial system of ancient India that represented Lok Adalats in their structure and functioning can be Puga, Sreni, Kula, etc. Puga’s (also known as Gana) were authorities who had power to decide the disputes of a particular area whereas the Sreni were courts of civil nature which comprised of members belonging to a particular trade and commerce. Kula were more informal form in nature and constituted of elder member who decided the matters of a particular clan or tribe or as referred to in today’s period a particular caste. These are some of the example of systems of Ancient vedic period that somewhere reflected the basic essence of Lok Adalat.
In the medieval era, there was an advent of Islamic rule over Indian subcontinent and Muslim ruler established their control. With the new authority comes new law. The Islamic leaders not only brought the religion but also their political and administrative system. Even though they established a more central, refined and revenue based judicial system, the panchayats that were similar to Lok Adalats continued to function in the villages. Old respected elders were usually the members of panchayats who decided upon the matters in villages and maintained peace. There were no procedural laws governing them and no fees or any technical application of law but disputes were solved through simple and easy dispute resolution methods like that of ADR.
The British period again brought with themselves a new central judicial system. Even though they established a more advanced administrative system but as a foreign ruler, they were initially hesitant to challenge the age old systems and instead established system in their area which were similar to that of the People’s court. These courts handled small and local civil and criminal matters. They were established in each of their three main presidency i.e., Choultry court in madras, court of Conscience in Bombay and court of requests in each of them including Calcutta.
Thus from the above discussion it is clear that the Lok Adalats are not an invention by indian legal system but is a mere discovery of past.