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Democratization of Justice: The Indian Experiment with Consumer Forums

Government and Institutions

During the course of the past ten to fifteen years, justice system reform has become an essential component in the struggle for both economic and political development around the world. India is somewhat unusual within the rule of law movement because of its relatively long history of democracy when compared with many nations in eastern and central Europe, Latin America, southeast Asia and elsewhere. Despite India's democratic history over the last fifty-four years, it remains a country struggling with certain liberal democratic norms, one of which is enhancing the public's access to justice, and in so doing, dealing with problems plaguing its lower courts. As in other developing countries, local courts in India confront debilitating delays, under funding, and accusations of corruption, all of which act to restrict access to and confidence in the judiciary. However, one area of reform in which India has been quite active, and continues to be is that of alternatives to the formal justice system. Attempts at state sponsored ADR have ranged from the less formal nyaya panchayats, lok adalats, and court conciliation, to more formal tribunals. Perhaps the most recent addition to this list is the consumer forums, or courts, that were mandated by the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (CPA). It is these new consumer bodies that are the focus of this paper, and the questions raised are similar to those asked of alternative forums elsewhere: Do they increase access to justice, and if so for whom? Do they improve on the quality of justice otherwise available? And lastly, what effect(s) do they have on the working and possible reform of the formal civil justice system?

141wp.pdf (261.92 KB)
Robert Moog
Publication Date
July, 2002