Can Lok Adalat Award In A Case Referred By Magistrate Be Executed As Civil Decree?

Update: 2022-01-11 03:58 GMT

A question that often arises in the context of the execution of awards by Lok Adalat is whether an award passed in a case referred by a Magistrate's Court can be executed as if it is a decree of a civil court.This question arises in cases under S.138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and the Domestic Violence Act that have been referred to Lok Adalats. The principles governing the execution...

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A question that often arises in the context of the execution of awards by Lok Adalat is whether an award passed in a case referred by a Magistrate's Court can be executed as if it is a decree of a civil court.

This question arises in cases under S.138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and the Domestic Violence Act that have been referred to Lok Adalats.

The principles governing the execution of decree and orders are dealt with in Sections 36 to 74 and Order 21 of the Civil Procedure Code. Of relevance to this question is Section 21(1) of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 which provides that:

"Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or, as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to under sub-section (1) of Section 20, the court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870 (7 of 1870)."

Despite Section 21 of the Legal Services Authority Act clearly delineating the legal deeming fiction that awards of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be decrees of a Civil Court,

This question was answered squarely by the Supreme Court of India in K.N. Govindan Kutty Menon Vs. C.D. Shaji [AIR 2012 SC 719] where a Division Bench clarified that a compromise or settlement arrived at before the Lok Adalat and award passed pursuant thereto is to be treated as a decree of Civil Court by virtue of deeming provision contained in Section 21 of the Legal Services Authority Act.

The question for the Court's consideration was when a criminal case referred to by the Magistrate to a Lok Adalat is settled by the parties and award is passed recording the settlement, can it be considered as a decree of civil court. Answering the question, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court held that" every award of Lok Adalat including an order that would record a settlement between parties in 'check bouncing case' is a civil court decree and hence, is executable by a civil court." The judgement authored by Justice P Sathasivam emphatically stated that even if under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act a matter of criminal court is referred, and by virtue of the deeming provisions, the award that would be passed by the Lok Adalat based on a compromise has to be treated as a decree that would be capable of execution by a civil court. It further held that: 

1) In view of the unambiguous language of Section 21 of the Act, every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court and as such it is executable by that Court.

2) The Act does not make out any such distinction between the reference made by a civil court and criminal court.

3) There is no restriction on the power of the Lok Adalat to pass an award based on the compromise arrived at between the parties in respect of cases referred to by various Courts (both civil and criminal), Tribunals, Family court, Rent Control Court, Consumer Redressal Forum, Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal and other Forums of similar nature.

4) Even if a matter is referred by a criminal court under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and by virtue of the deeming provisions, the award passed by the Lok Adalat based on a compromise has to be treated as a decree capable of execution by a civil court.

Thus, the Court made it clear that regardless of whether the matter is referred to the Lok Adalat by a criminal court, every award of a Lok Adalat is deemed a civil court decree, and as such, it is executable by a civil court. Recently, in the case of Makwana Mangaldas Tulsidas vs The StateOf Gujarat the Supreme Court relied on the Govindan Kutty Menon case and observed that the effect of S.21 of Legal Services Authority Act is that an Award passed at the pre-litigation stage or pre-cognizance stage shall have an effect of a civil decree. Crucially, a single-judge Bench of the Karnataka High Court had recently held that once a case is closed at a Lok Adalat, it amounts to a decree or award and the court or magistrate does not have the power to recall the said order.


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