Lok Adalat cannot enter a finding, it can only record a compromise

Kerala High Court: Deciding upon the validity of the awards passed by the Lok Adalat under Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 on a reference, the Court observed that the function of a Lok Adalat organised under Section 19 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 is only to help the parties to the dispute arrive at a compromise or settlement, which is seen from Section 20(3) of the Act. The Adalat cannot enter a finding. It can only record the compromise or settlement between the parties.

The dispute between the parties to a partition suit was referred to the Lok Adalat which were settled and awards passed. However, the petitioner contended that the awards passed were not in terms of the settlement entered into.

Finding several shortcomings in the awards, the Bench of K. Abraham Mathew, J. observed that “When the award cannot be challenged in a suit or execution proceedings or even in appeal the Lok Adalat should make sure that its proceedings are transparent and not vitiated by procedural illegalities or irregularities. Its proceedings should inspire confidence in the public, failing which the very existence of the institution will be at peril. To ensure its credibility, the Lok Adalat shall comply with the procedure prescribed by the statues scrupulously.”

Regulation 17 of the National Legal Services Authority (Lok Adalats) Regulations, 2009 contains the procedure to be followed while drawing up an award. The Court observed that the impugned award neither contained the names and addresses of the parties to the proceedings, signature of the counsel or the settlement entered into and held that the impugned orders were not awards passed by the Lok Adalat in the eye of law since there was no means to ascertain whether the petitioner agreed to the terms recorded in it, which is the result of violation of mandatory provisions in the relevant statutes. The trial court was directed to proceed with the trial but to comply with the request of the parties if they wanted to refer the dispute to Lok Adalat again. [K.S. Sunil v. Sherly, 2016 SCC OnLine Ker 12168, decided on August 18, 2016]

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