Lok Adalat or people's court is a concept which is very similar to that of panchayats where village elders, who were held in high esteem by their fellow villagers, would hold courts to adjudicate and settle disputes. The present system of Lok Adalats began after Parliament passed the Legal Services Authority Act in 1987. In Punjab, the first Lok Adalats were held in 1990, but the movement gathered momentum only after 1994. Since their inception, Lok Adalats in Punjab have held 4,016 sittings, taken up 5,87,973 cases, settled 3,25,680 of these cases and handed out compensation to the tune of over Rs.789.40 crore.

It is not just the judicial offers who hear and decide cases at Lok Adalats. During sittings, each judicial offer is accompanied by a respected social worker/member of NGO/educated member of society and a lawyer. These three then hear the litigants, who are mostly not accompanied by their lawyers, and help the various parties reach a consensus.

Initially, the lawyers had bitterly opposed the introduction of the system of Lok Adalats and other forms of alternate dispute redressal. But with passage of time, the lawyers have started taking more than just an academic interest in the functioning of such adalats. The working of Lok Adalats is overseen at the national level by the National Legal Services Authority, whose patron-in-chief is the Chief Justice of India. A senior judge of the Supreme Court is the Executive Chairperson.

Each State has a legal service authority which, apart from organizing Lok Adalats, provides free legal assistance to the poor and weaker sections of society, organizes legal literacy camps to educate the general public about its rights and duties and makes access to justice possible for all. Courtesy: The Tribune dated 4 th March, 2006.

July-September 2006