It would be wrong to say that Lok Adalats or People's Court came into existence only in the post colonial India when the informal appoach of resolving disputes by negotiations and mutual cooperation and coordiantion existed even in the pre- British era. This concept was primarily a dispute redrassal mechanism of traditional rural Indian social life where the village elderlies, with the consent of the parties involved, tried to bring the disputing parties together for an amicable settlement benefitting both the parties, which we in contemporary legal terms know as arbitration. Thus, the concept of Alternative Dispute Redrassal (ADR) is far from being an alien to India, rather the syStem of Lok Adalats is a significant and a celebrated Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence.
Lok Adalats as the name suggets mean People' Courts. Lok Adalats are an Alternative Dispute Redrassal forum where disputes are settled between the parties by adopting a conciliatory approach to coax the parties for arriving at a settlement through mutual understanding and negotiations. Cases are referred to a Lok Adalat when they are pending before a court or when they are still at a pre litigation stage. After referrals are made for the transferance of a case, the Lok Adalats take up the matter. Having been accorded the statutory status under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. Under the Act, the award rendered by a Lok Adalatis final and bindingon the parties. No roght of appeal lies against such decision before any court of law. However the parties, if unsatisfied by the award of the Lok Adalat can approach the court of law and file a case before a court of approprite jurisdiction.
A case can be referred to a Lok Adalat, when, as per section 20 of the Legal Services Authority Act -
- by the agreement between the parties or when one of the parties amke an application to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such case is prima facie satisfied that there are chances of such settlement.
- after giving reasonable opportunities to the parties of being heard, the court issatisfied that the atter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat, then the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat.
The hierarchical levels of a Lok Adalat are at the taluk level, the district level, the High Court level and the state authoruty level. Apart from these there are other levels at which a Lok Adalat functions in India :
- NATIONAL LOK ADALATS which are held at regular intervals throughout the country. Generally conducted on a single day from the Apex Court to the Taluk level courts to allow quick dispensation of huge number of cases.
- PERMANENT LOK ADALATS which are permanent bodies established under section 22B of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 with a chairman and two memebers for providing compulsory pre litigation mecanism for settlement disputes.
- MOBILE LOK ADALATS which as the ane suggests ae mobile in nature and move from on eplace to another to resolve disputes through this mechanism.