Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 29 November 2023

Lok Adalat

Relevance: GS II (Polity and Governance)

  • Prelims: Articles 14 and 22(1); Lok Adalat at governing stage; Section 22-B and Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987; 
  • Mains: Judiciary; Lok Adalats - its significance and associated issues;

Why in the News?

The condition of the Legal Aid System in India is in an alarming situation.

What is Lok Adalat?

  • Lok Adalat is one of the forums for alternative dispute redressal mechanisms where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at the pre-litigation stage are settled. 
  • Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, of 1987
    • Under the said Act, the decisions made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties, and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law
  • If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat, they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate.

Legal Aid System and National Legal Aid Service Authority (NALSA): 

  • Established under the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987, NALSA endeavors to ensure that the letter and spirit of the Constitution are upheld and that the poor, disadvantaged, and weaker members of society have access to equal justice.
  • NALSA operates at both the national and sub-national levels by means of institutional arrangements that are explicitly designated, with the aim of ensuring access to justice is affordable for those in need as follows:

  • NALSA obtains its jurisdiction not solely from the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987, but also from Articles 14 and 22(1), which mandate the State to guarantee equal treatment under the law and a legal system that advances justice by providing equal opportunities to all.

Issues with the Legal Aid system in India:

  • Accessibility of Justice: Despite exerting considerable effort, legal aid systems could only reach a fraction of their prospective clientele. 
  • Rising Prison and Pre-trial Offenders: According to the India Justice Report, 2022, prison overcrowding experienced a notable increase, surging from 120% to 130%. An unprecedented 77% of the inmate population consists of pre-trial offenders, who spend an average of more time incarcerated than at any other time in history. 
  • Issue of Pending Cases: The alarming number of pending cases nearly 5 crore (50 million) below the staggering figure is the distressing record of the escalating duration required to achieve a resolution. 
    • National Judicial Data Grid indicates that of the 4,450,075 pending cases in various courts across the nation that have been unresolved for one to thirty years, more than seventy-five percent are criminal in nature.
  • Low Clearance of Cases: The only courts that operate with an entire complement of justices, according to the report, are the High Court of Sikkim and the district courts in Chandigarh. 
    • Kerala was the only state among the eighteen large and medium-sized states to attain case clearance rates of one hundred percent at both the High Court and subordinate court levels.
  • Lack of Policy Implementation: No state or territory could meet all its Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes quotas at the District court level. 
      • Information regarding SC/ST/OBC justices is not accessible to High Courts. 
  • Institutional Lags: 
    • Police Force: The police are an integral component of the criminal justice system in India. State statutes mandate employment quotas for SC, ST, and OBC individuals. 
      • Every state and territory failed to achieve its designated quota for female police officers, while only the state of Karnataka has met these requirements.
    • Human Rights Commission: As of March 2021, the combined count of pending cases among the 25 State Human Rights Commissions stands at 33,312. State Human Rights suffers a shortage of 44% of their sanctioned staff strength.
    • Loopholes in Law: An additional malady of the nation's legal aid system is the situation obtained at the police station level in granting bail in petty cases. Even though compounding of offenses without court permission is permitted under Section 320(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
      • Our police personnel are trained to register cases that do not fall under this provision, thereby preventing the station-level compounding of offenses. 

The Legal-aid Initiatives by the Government:

  • Public Awareness: NALSA is engaged in educating the public about their rights and promoting legal aid through institutional arrangements, organizing legal literacy camps, and appointing paralegal volunteers. Since its establishment, it has organized over five lakh awareness-raising programs throughout the nation. 
  • Prompt Resolution: It is also conducting a permanent Lok Adalat to ensure prompt resolution, training, and facilitating pre-litigation dispute resolution via Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods
  • Volunteering for weaker sections: The provision of legal services by national, state, and district authorities is complimentary for the impoverished, including women, the disabled, scheduled castes, and tribes.
  • The India Justice Report 2022 - States expenditure on police and judiciary has kept pace with overall state expenditure. 
    • Prisons, which had earlier seen a dip in allocations, saw an improvement in funds between 2020 and 2021. 
    • Legal aid too recently saw increased infusions from the Centre and state exchequers.

Structural and Institutional Changes:

  • Commercial Courts Act of 2015: To facilitate the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) and further improve India’s ranking in the World Bank Report on EoDB, the Government amended the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 in 2018.
    • The salient features of the Commercial Courts Act (2015) are:
      • Reduction in Specified Commercial Dispute Value.
      • Establishment of Commercial Courts at the district Judge Level and below.
      • Establishment of appellate court at district judge level.
      • Introduction of the Pre-Institution Mediation and Settlement Process.
  • Recommendations: A High-Level Committee set up to review the Institutionalization of Arbitration Mechanisms in India was led by Justice Sri B N Krishna. It suggested that arbitration be institutionalized in India as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism.
    • The Union Government committed to speedy resolution of commercial disputes, decided to look into the recommendations and amended laws accordingly in 2017. 
  • Mediation Act of 2023: An act to promote and facilitate mediation, especially institutional mediation, for resolution of disputes, enforce mediated settlement agreements, and provide for a body for registration of mediators. 
    • It also encouraged community mediation and online mediation as acceptable and cost-effective processes and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto

Way Forward:

  • Democratizing Justice: Developing additional legal aid clinics might help deal with the situation. Implementing legal aid at the village level and fortifying the gram Nyayalaya framework, promoting awareness among all stakeholders, including law enforcement, advocates, and the general public could be a solution.
  • Spirit for implementation is needed: Developing a core team of advocates to work on a monthly salary basis in legal aid centers and bolstering institutional arbitration and mediation with pro bono service quotas will give legal aid in the country genuine significance.
  • Behavioral change needed: Educating magistrates and judges about the importance of exercising their discretion in the administration of justice and preventing unwarranted delays in case dispensation will help the under-trails and the other needy. 

Mains PYQ

Q. What are the two major legal initiatives by the state since Independence, addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (ST)? (UPSC 2017)

Q. The judicial system in India and the UK seems to be converging as well as diverging in recent times. Highlight the key points of convergence and divergence between the two nations in terms of their judicial practices. (UPSC 2020)

Prelims PYQ

Q. With reference to National Legal Services Authority, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2013)

  1. Its objective is to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society on the basis of equal opportunity.
  2. It issues guidelines for the State Legal Services Authorities to implement the legal programmes and schemes throughout the country.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2