Overview of Alternate Dispute Resolution Mechanisms
The advantage of ADR is that it is more flexible and avoids seeking recourse to the courts. In conciliation/mediation, parties are free to withdraw at any stage of time. It has been seen that resolution of disputes is quicker and cheaper through ADR. The parties involved in ADR do not develop strained relations; rather they maintain the continued relationship between themselves.
Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996
Part I of this act formalizes the process of Arbitration and Part III formalizes the process of Conciliation. (Part II is about Enforcement of Foreign Awards under New York and Geneva Conventions.)
The process of arbitration can start only if there exists a valid Arbitration Agreement between the parties prior to the emergence of the dispute. As per Section 7, such an agreement must be in writing. The contract, regarding which the dispute exists, must either contain an arbitration clause or must refer to a separate document signed by the parties containing the arbitration agreement. The existence of an arbitration agreement can also be inferred by written correspondence such as letters, telex, or telegrams which provide a record of the agreement. An exchange of statement of claim and defence in which existence of an arbitration agreement is alleged by one party and not denied by other is also considered as valid written arbitration agreement.
Any party to the dispute can start the process of appointing arbitrator and if the other party does not cooperate, the party can approach the office of Chief Justice for appointment of an arbitrator. There are only two grounds upon which a party can challenge the appointment of an arbitrator – reasonable doubt in the impartiality of the arbitrator and the lack of proper qualification of the arbitrator as required by the arbitration agreement. A sole arbitrator or panels of arbitrators so appointed constitute the Arbitration Tribunal.
Except for some interim measures, there is very little scope for judicial intervention in the arbitration process. The arbitration tribunal has jurisdiction over its own jurisdiction. Thus, if a party wants to challenge the jurisdiction of the arbitration tribunal, it can do so only before the tribunal itself. If the tribunal rejects the request, there is little the party can do accept to approach a court after the tribunal makes an award. Section 34 provides certain grounds upon which a party can appeal to the principal civil court of original jurisdiction for setting aside the award.
Once the period for filing an appeal for setting aside an award is over, or if such an appeal is rejected, the award is binding on the parties and is considered as a decree of the court.
Conciliation is a less formal form of arbitration. This process does not require an existence of any prior agreement. Any party can request the other party to appoint a conciliator. One conciliator is preferred but two or three are also allowed. In case of multiple conciliators, all must act jointly. If a party rejects an offer to conciliate, there can be no conciliation.
Parties may submit statements to the conciliator describing the general nature of the dispute and the points at issue. Each party sends a copy of the statement to the other. The conciliator may request further details, may ask to meet the parties, or communicate with the parties orally or in writing. Parties may even submit suggestions for the settlement of the dispute to the conciliator.
When it appears to the conciliator that elements of settlement exist, he may draw up the terms of settlement and send it to the parties for their acceptance. If both the parties sign the settlement document, it shall be final and binding on both.
Note that in USA, this process is similar to Mediation. However, in India, Mediation is different from Conciliation and is a completely informal type of ADR mechanism.
Mediation, a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or “appropriate dispute resolution”, aims to assist two (or more) disputants in reaching an agreement. The parties themselves determine the conditions of any settlements reached— rather than accepting something imposed by a third party. The disputes may involve (as parties) states, organizations, communities, individuals or other representatives with a vested interest in the outcome.
Mediators use appropriate techniques and/or skills to open and/or improve dialogue between disputants, aiming to help the parties reach an agreement (with concrete effects) on the disputed matter. Normally, all parties must view the mediator as impartial.
Disputants may use mediation in a variety of disputes, such as commercial, legal, diplomatic, workplace, community and family matters.
A third-party representative may contract and mediate between (say) unions and corporations. When a workers’ union goes on strike, a dispute takes place, and the corporation hires a third party to intervene in attempt to settle a contract or agreement between the union and the corporation.
Negotiation is a dialogue intended to resolve disputes, to produce an agreement upon courses of action, to bargain for individual or collective advantage, or to craft outcomes to satisfy various interests. It is the primary method of alternative dispute resolution.
Negotiation occurs in business, non-profit organizations, government branches, legal proceedings, among nations and in personal situations such as marriage, divorce, parenting, and everyday life. The study of the subject is called negotiation theory. Those who work in negotiation professionally are called negotiators. Professional negotiators are often specialized, such as union negotiators, leverage buyout negotiators, peace negotiators, hostage negotiators, or may work under other titles, such as diplomats, legislators or brokers
“While Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 is a fairly standard western approach towards ADR, the Lok Adalat system constituted under National Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 is a uniquely Indian approach”.
It roughly means “People’s court”. India has had a long history of resolving disputes through the mediation of village elders. The system of Lok Adalats is an improvement on that and is based on Gandhian principles. This is a non-adversarial system, where by mock courts (called Lok Adalats) are held by the State Authority, District Authority, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee, or Taluk Legal Services Committee, periodically for exercising such jurisdiction as they thinks fit. These are usually presided by retired judge, social activists, or members of legal profession. It does not have jurisdiction on matters related to non-compoundable offences.
There is no court fee and no rigid procedural requirement (i.e. no need to follow process given by Civil Procedure Code or Evidence Act), which makes the process very fast. Parties can directly interact with the judge, which is not possible in regular courts.
Cases that are pending in regular courts can be transferred to a Lok Adalat if both the parties agree. A case can also be transferred to a Lok Adalat if one party applies to the court and the court sees some chance of settlement after giving an opportunity of being heard to the other party.
The focus in Lok Adalats is on compromise. When no compromise is reached, the matter goes back to the court. However, if a compromise is reached, an award is made and is binding on the parties. It is enforced as a decree of a civil court. An important aspect is that the award is final and cannot be appealed, not even under Article 226 because it is a judgement by consent.
All proceedings of a Lok Adalat are deemed to be judicial proceedings and every Lok Adalat is deemed to be a Civil Court.
Lok Adalat (people’s courts), established by the government, settles dispute through conciliation and compromise. The First Lok Adalat was held in Chennai in 1986. Lok Adalat accepts the cases which could be settled by conciliation and compromise and pending in the regular courts within their jurisdiction.
The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as the chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker. There is no court fee. If the case is already filed in the regular court, the fee paid will be refunded if the dispute is settled at the Lok Adalat. The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly followed while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat.
Main condition of the Lok Adalat is that both parties in dispute should agree for settlement. The decision of the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through legal process. No appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat.
Lok Adalat is very effective in settlement of money claims. Disputes like partition suits, damages and matrimonial cases can also be easily settled before Lok Adalat as the scope for compromise through an approach of give and take is high in these cases.
Lok Adalat is a boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost.