Lok Adalat is a system of Alternate Dispute Resolution that was inspired by and adopted from the practice of the Panchayat system in traditional India and now in most rural sectors of the country. Lok Adalats, also known as ‘People’s Court’, serve as a mechanism by which parties to a dispute can avoid the cumbersome and time consuming traditional route of litigation by allowing parties the freedom and space to engage in conversation and negotiate terms of a settlement that will resolve their dispute. Being a method of Alternate Dispute Resolution means that Lok Adalats do not have the power to decide the dispute and pronouncing a binding and enforceable decree by adjudicating the matter, but rather, they facilitate discussion and encourage parties to come to an agreement on their own, thus maintain relationships and boosting efficiency. The system began as an informal practice, allowing those who were unable to access courts to have a fair and equal chance at justice but after the judicial system began facing an increase of cases, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1872 gave Lok Adalats statutory recognition and provided that agreements reached at the end of the process were binding on the parties and enforceable by the courts.
The process of the settlement by the Lok Adalat is often confused with arbitration but while arbitration is an adjudicatory process wherein the arbitrator makes a decision and pronounces an ‘arbitral award; to settle the dispute, there is no such adjudication in a Lok Adalat. The process is actually akin to mediation, conciliation and negotiation where the parties to the dispute or the ‘people’ come to a decision themselves and hence the Lok Adalat gives out a ‘Nyaya-Panch’ or ‘people’s verdict’. This means that parties themselves come to a consensus and decide the terms of their settlement or agreement themselves and only with their consent do the terms laid out in the agreement become binding and enforceable. This principle of consent is the driving force behind the agreement and when parties have consented to follow the terms, there is no reason for an appeal to be filed and that is why legislators and judicial experts have refrained from allowing appeals to lie from an agreement reached after the competition of a Lok Adalat process. This was further reinforced in the cases of Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai and Board of Trustees of the Port of Vishakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer where the courts held that an agreement reached through the Lok Adalat is final and no appeal shall lie from it because the parties have consented to the agreement and because allowing an appeal would go against the very founding principle of the Lok Adalat which is to reduce the burden of courts in the country.
It is therefore clear that an agreement reached through a Lok Adalat cannot be appealed but the question of Judicial Review is different. Under the Constitution of India, any High Court with competent jurisdiction or the Supreme Court has the authority to remedy any order passed by a Statutory Body if the order is found violative of the Statute, any law existing in the country, or the Constitution. The Lok Adalat is created by a Statute, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1872, and hence it is a statutory body whose orders can be reviewed by the Courts. Furthermore, the Constitution of India allows any citizen to file a Writ Petition in the High Court under Article 226 and in the Supreme Court under Article 32 and it being one of the basic features of the Constitution, cannot be circumvented or done away with. If an agreement is reached under misrepresentation, fraud, concealment or coercion the courts should have the authority to review it and this is where the validity of Writ Petitions come into play. In the case of Mansukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan v. State of Gujarat, the court recognized that there are chances for these situations to come up and so the court held that courts have the power to review an agreement pronounced by a Lok Adalat as long as the review is confined to matters of legality, use of excessive power by the Authority, errors of law, breach of principles of natural justice, and unreasonable decision making. Further strengthening the power of and need for judicial review, the Supreme Court opined that Courts in the country have the responsibility to oversee the decision making power exercised by Statutory Authorities and in any case of abuse or misuse, they should have the power to review and overturn the decision.
While it is great that agreements concluded with the help of Lok Adalats are liable to judicial review, it just means that more cases will come knocking at the door of High Courts in the country and this does not work in favour of reducing their increasing workload. However, allowing for judicial review has reinforced the foundation of the judicial system in the country by reaffirming the provisions of the Constitution and upholding its basic features.
 Gazala Parveen, Lok Adalats in India: Apertures to Speedy Justice, iPleaders, (Nov. 7, 2019, 7:18 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/lok-adalats-india-speedy-justice/.
 Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai, (2000), AIR 2000 MP 301.
 Board of Trustees of the Port of Vishakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer, 2000 (5) ALD 682.
 Supra note 1.
 Karthyaeni, Lok Adalats in India, LegalServiceIndia, (Jun. 4, 2017, 6:55 PM), http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/lok_a.htm.
 Mansukhlal Vithaldas Chauhan v. State of Gujarat, (1997) AIR 1997 SC 3400.
 Supra note 5.