The legal system in India is plagued with the problem of Delays. As a fresh law school graduate, I believe that the solutions to these problems of delay are already given to us in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and all we need is to follow and implement the Law. Below, I have discussed aspects that cause delays in proceedings and how each one of them can be solved, simply by complying with the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
1.Delays Caused Due to Adjournments – Order 17
Unnecessary and numerous Adjournments are truly the malady of the Indian Legal System. Sunny Deol, in the famous scene of the movie Damini, said the dialogue, “Tarikh pe Tarikh which illustrates this very problem. Nowadays adjournments are granted as if they are a matter of routine and it is this very mindset that needs to change. Granting of adjournments should be an exception and not the norm. It is my opinion that the answer to the problem of endless adjournments has already been provided in the Code of Civil Procedure under O.17 and its rules.
O.17 R. 1 states that no adjournment shall be granted more than three times to a party during the hearing of the suits.
O. 17 R. 2 further goes to state that where adjournment sought is granted, the court shall make such order as to costs.
O. 17 R. 2, Proviso (a) stipulates that when the hearing of the suit is commenced, it shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless exceptional reasons exist for an adjournment.
Finally, Proviso (b) clearly states that the fact that the pleader is busy in another court is not a ground for adjournment.
If Courts actually implement the limit of three adjournments, impose costs on parties seeking adjournments, conduct the trial of suit from day to day and also do not allow adjournments on frivolous bases, then the entire legal process will be shortened and made more efficient. Of course, this does not mean that Courts should apply this rule so strictly as to defeat Justice itself, but it must not be watered down so much so as to make the entire provision defunct either.
2.Delays Caused Due to Change of Judges – Order 18 Rule 15
Many a times there arises a situation where due to some reason the Judge is changed before he/she can pass final judgement in the matter even after hearing it completely. Does this mean that all the work of the previous Judge is undone or is discarded completely and the suit is started afresh?
O.18 R.15 contemplates precisely such a situation. It says that in case a Judge is prevented from concluding the trial of a suit in situations such as death or transfer or any other cause, then his successor judge may pick up the suit from where his predecessor had left off. This would serve two purposes. Firstly, the work of the predecessor judge does not go to waste. The evidence recorded by him or the memorandum taken down by him do not get vitiated just because he could not see the suit to its end. The successor judge can step into his shoes as if he had conducted the trial till that very stage and then take it further. The second advantage is, and this might be a cynical view and that is that parties to the suit cannot wait out the tenure of a particular judge and indirectly forum shop.
By applying O. 18 R. 15 the Court proceedings might be effectively writ in stone in a way, since the trail cannot be restarted. All the work and time that the Court has already invested would thus be kept intact and parties to the suit may be prevented from employing dubious methods to change the course of a trial of a suit.
Thus, in this way significant delays can be prevented and Courts can become that much more efficient if the provisions of O 18 R 15 are strictly adhered to.
3.Delays in Pronouncement of Judgement – Order 20 Rule 1
Under the provisions of O. 20 R. 1, it has been provided that after the case has been heard, the judgement shall be pronounced either there and then in open court or on some future date as is practicable. For this future date, the Court shall fix a day for that purpose and notice of the same shall be given to the parties. The proviso to this says that the Court should endeavor to pronounce the Judgement within fifteen days of the date of the conclusion of the hearing. If it is not possible to do within fifteen days, then the Court should fix another date but even that date shall not ordinarily be a day beyond thirty days from the date on which the hearing of case was concluded. If even after thirty days the court has not pronounced its judgement then it must record reasons for such a delay.
This provision must be implemented strictly in all Courts. There are countless instances where a matter has been heard fully but the judgement has not been pronounced for months or even years on end. There can be no greater injustice than to spend so much judicial time and to conclude an entire matter in Court and yet not pronounce judgement on it. In the case of Anil Rai vs. State of Bihar [(2001)7 SCC 318], the Hon’ble Supreme Court strongly deprecated the conduct of the High Court where the Judgement was reserved by the High Court and was then only pronounced after two years. The judgement also held-
- After a period of two months of reservation of judgement, the Chief Justice concerned, shall draw the attention of the Bench concerned to the pending matter.Similarly, if judgement is not pronounced within three months, any of the parties in the case can file an application in the High Court with a prayer for early judgement.
- If judgement is not pronounced within a period of six months, any of the parties can move an application before the Chief Justice of the High Court with a prayer to withdraw the said case and to make it over to any other Bench for fresh arguments.
Thus, if Courts give importance to the provisions of O. 20 R. 1 and adhere to it strictly then inordinate delays would be prevented, leading to more efficient Courts.
To conclude all I would like to say is that the need for the hour is not Better Law but, Better Implementation of Existing Law. In this day and age of the Corona Virus, Courts have been forced to come up with new and novel methods to make the Legal system work. During such a time it would also be opportune to introspect as to what issues already exist in the system with relation to Delays and how we can easily solve these if we just follow existing Law which had been often overlooked so often in the past.
Author: Jamshed Kavina, Gujarat National Law University.