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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has crippled almost all organs of governance and administration. The Justice delivery system in India is no exception. This has compelled governments worldwide to come up with creative and innovative solutions by providing the online Lok Adalat.
To tackle the new challenges posed by pandemic, DELSA (Delhi State Legal Services Authority) under the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) organized the first-ever online Lok Adalat in Delhi.
Lok Adalat is one of India’s alternative dispute redressal mechanism. It is a forum where cases pending in Panchayat or in the court of law are settled.
Lok Adalats have statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 (LSA Act) which envisions to establish a nationwide network for providing free and competent legal advice/services to weaker sections of society. LSA Act which came into force on November 9, 1995, was enacted to give power to DPSP Article 39A i.e. to provide for free legal aid to the deprived and weaker sections of society and to promote justice on the base of equal opportunity.
Lok Adalat in its composition has a chairman (sitting/ retired judicial officer), 2 members (should be lawyers), and 1 social worker. Members don’t have any judicial role, they are only statutory intermediaries.
Lok Adalat verdict is deemed equivalent to that of a civil court and is ultimate and binding on all parties. There is no provision of appeal in Lok Adalat against its verdict. If parties are unsatisfied with the verdict, they are free to initiate litigation.
Lok Adalats have no court fees. The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly followed by Lok Adalat. Lok Adalat is very effective in settlement of money claims, matrimonial cases, partition disputes. Lok Adalat is very effective in cases involving compromises through give and take approach. A Lok Adalat can take up civil cases and compoundable criminal cases.
Lok Adalats are organized by NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) which was formed under the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987. It provides free legal advice/services to weaker sections of society who can’t afford legal services in courts or tribunals.
NALSA in its composition has Chief Justice of India as Patron- in- chief and second senior-most judge of Supreme Court as its Executive Chairman.
On State and District levels, we have State Legal Services Authorities and District Legal Services Authorities respectively. Their primary function is to organize Lok Adalats, give free legal aid to marginalized people, and implement policies of NALSA.
State Legal Services Authorities has Chief Justice of respective High Court as their patron-in-chief whereas District Legal Services Authorities are headed by District Judge of the respective district.
Fun Fact: November 9 is also celebrated as Legal Services Day to raise awareness among people where legal literacy is low. It is on this date, Parliament in 1995, enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act.