delay in delivering judgment

Law may or may not be an unruly horse; but in India it is a snail – it moves at a pace which would be regarded as unduly slow in a community of snails.

Nani Palkhivala1

Of lately, in the last few years from various quarters, news articles, opinions, scathing observations, and oral remarks are being made by the incumbents of the high constitutional offices expressing concerns about an endemic problem which the Indian judicial system faces. This problem relates to delayed verdicts in reserved judgments after they are reserved by the court of law/tribunals concerned, which the present article highlights. On occasions more than one, as would be delineated below, the constitutional courts have nullified final verdicts only on the ground that their delivery was delayed way beyond the expectations of reasonableness.

In thecase of Aryan Shah Rukh Khan v. Union of India2which was in news, wherein the Bombay High Court through a short order initially granted bail to Aryan Khan (son of bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan), but a reasoned judgment elaborating the reason for granting him bail in the offence of possession of narcotics and drug substances was pronounced much later (after a duration of almost 3 weeks). Likewise, the final judgment in the plea filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India3 seeking direction to the erstwhile Prime Minister (Dr Manmohan Singh) to give sanction for the prosecution of the then Telecom Minister, Mr A. Raja in the 2G scam, came after 433 days, post reservation of the judgment by the top court of the country. Likewise, in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation,4 on the validity of Section 377 IPC, the judgment was delivered after 624 days (2 years) after the hearing was concluded.

Last year in June 2022, erstwhile Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari, lamented the conduct of his brother Judge at Madras High Court, who had failed to pronounce a final judgment even after reserving it for 6 months. The Chief Justice went on to say that as far as possible, judgments must be dictated on the board in open court, and the exception of reserving them for later pronouncement must arise only in those cases that require some amount of research or a detailed consideration on the issues involved in the matter.5


As far back as the early 1940’s, a Single Bench of the Calcutta High Court in Surendra Nath Sarkar v. Emperor6 was dealing with a matter relating to erstwhile Companies Act, 2013 with regard to prosecution under Section 32 for non-convening of a general meeting of a company. The challenge was laid to the order of conviction imposed for the alleged violation of Section 32 by the Managing Director, passed by the Magistrate. The Magistrate interestingly delivered his judgment 10 months after evidence was closed and judgment reserved after the final arguments. The court though did not interfere with the final verdict of the Magistrate, but however held that “ordinarily retrial must be directed in such circumstances”. This is perhaps one of the pre-independence era judgments, which dealt with the problem of delayed verdicts.

A similar view was echoed thereafter in Sohagiya v. Ram Briksh Mahto7. A consternation also came from the Supreme Court Bench recently also in the context of a judgment that was pronounced 10 months after being reserved by the Delhi High Court.8

Arrears Committee Report 1989-1990

For dealing with the humongous pendency in the dockets of Indian courts, the Central Government constituted the “Arrears Committee” in the year 1989 on the recommendations of the Chief Justices’ conference held at Delhi in December 1987. The Arrears Committee so formed, tendered its first report in 1989, prepared by Chief Justices of three High Courts viz. Calcutta, Madras and Kerala9. The terms of reference of this Committee included suggestions and recommendations pertaining to reduction and control of arrears of cases in the High Courts and subordinate courts. Vide p. 39, Para 8.27 titled as “Reserved Judgments – Statutory Limit for Pronouncement10:

“Reserved judgment should ordinarily be pronounced within a period of six weeks from the date of conclusion of the arguments. If, however, a reserved judgment is not pronounced for a period of three months from the date of the conclusion of the arguments, the Chief Justice may either post the case for delivering judgment in open court or withdraw the case and post it for disposal before an appropriate Bench. It is desirable than appropriate rule or statutory provision is made in this behalf. ”

Earlier decisions from the Supreme Court

In Surendra Nath Sarkar v. Emperor11, the Court held as follows:

“The learned Magistrate delivered his judgment ten months after he had heard the evidence. Ordinarily, a retrial might be directed in such circumstances.”

As far back as May 1976, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in R.C. Sharma v. Union of India12, whilst dealing with the validity of findings of a departmental inquiry and the resultant sentence so imposed on the basis thereof, had an occasion to examine the proprietary of the final judgment passed by the High Court which was delivered eight months after it was heard and reserved. It was urged before the Supreme Court that the High Court failed to advert to several submissions made in the course of arguments and apparently had forgotten them. In the aforesaid context, the Bench observed that even though the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 does not provide a time limit for the period between the hearing of arguments and the delivery of judgment, nevertheless, an unreasonable delay between both (i.e. hearing or delivery) unless explicated properly with exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, shall be highly undesirable. The confidence of the public at large tends to be shaken by the excessive delay between hearing of arguments and delivery of judgments.

After R.C. Sharma13 case, the same issue fell for consideration before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court matter of A.R. Antulay v. R.S. Nayak.14 Vide para 206, the court re-emphasised the oft-quoted line that speedy trial is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution and that trial courts exercising jurisdiction must conclude trials at the earliest including judgment delivery process.

The decade of 1990s saw and witnessed a couple of judgments on the point by the Supreme Court, though the problem was not as widespread as it is today in view of the huge pendency and backlog of cases. A two-Judge Bench in Bhagwandas Fatechand Daswani v. H.P.A. International15 dealt specifically with the practice of constitutional courts reserving judgments for longer durations, and an appeal had travelled to the Supreme Court specifically on the said ground only. The High Court had reserved the judgment for almost five years on the first appeal heard by it. Lamenting the said aspect, it was held that keeping reserved judgments in the chambers for long durations leads to speculations and apprehensions in the minds of the parties of the case, which cannot be easily countenanced. The judgment of the High Court was accordingly set aside and the matter was remanded back for rehearing with a fresh decision within a period of six months.

Relevant statutory provisions occupying the field

Both the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) and Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (“CPC”) contain specific provisions pertaining to time-bound delivery of judgments after they are heard and reserved. Section 353 CrPC can be condignly referred to reading as follows:

353. Judgment. —— (1) The judgment in every trial in any criminal court of original jurisdiction shall be pronounced in open court by the Presiding Officer immediately after the termination of the trial or at some subsequent time of which notice shall be given to the parties or their pleaders,—

(a) by delivering the whole of the judgment; or

(b) by reading out the whole of the judgment; or

(c) by reading out the operative part of the judgment and explaining the substance of the judgment in a language which is understood by the accused or his pleader.”

In the same vein Order 20 Rule 1 CPC also stipulates promptitude on the part of the civil court reserving final judgment in any civil proceeding, it reads thus:

Order 20 – Judgment and Decree

1. Judgment when pronounced.—— (1) The court, after the case has been heard, shall pronounce judgment in an open court, either at once, or as soon thereafter as may be practicable and when the judgment is to be pronounced on some future day, the court shall fix a day for that purpose, of which due notice shall be given to the parties or their pleaders: Provided that where the judgment is not pronounced at once, every endeavour shall be made by the court to pronounce the judgment within thirty days from the date on which the hearing of the case was concluded but, where it is not practicable so to do on the ground of the exceptional and extraordinary circumstances of the case, the court shall fix a future day for the pronouncement of the judgment, and such day shall not ordinarily be a day beyond sixty days from the date on which the hearing of the case was concluded, and due notice of the day so fixed shall be given to the parties or their pleaders.”

There cannot be any gainsaying that the law is not silent on the time limit to be followed for the pronouncement of final judgments. It is just that it is a lesser discussed and lesser looked into facet of law, as the judicial institution is the only pillar of our democracy where faith and trust of the public at large is eventually reposed.

Anil Rai v. State of Bihar16 and its Trail

The judgment of Anil Kumar Rai17 was a shedding point of the agony of Supreme Court on the increasing propensity of High Courts of reserving judgments without pronouncing them for periods spanning months together. In the strongest of phraseology employed by it, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the dismal of the situation pertaining to delay in the delivery of judgments. Referring to the judgments of Bhagwandas Fatechand Daswani v. H.P.A. International18 and Akhtari Bi v. State of M.P.19, it was held that the right to speedy trial was a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Interpreting Section 353 CrPC, especially the phrase “some subsequent time”, mentioned thereunder, it was observed that the subsequent time has to be a time which is not separated by undue delay, otherwise the pronouncement of judgments becomes opposed to the principles of law. “Some subsequent time” was held to be not stretching beyond a period of six weeks and in civil cases, not permitted to go beyond two months. The Supreme Court underscored that in India, people consider Judges only second to God, and that efforts be made to strengthen such beliefs instead of the belief being diluted. Vide para 9 of Anil Kumar Rai20, which has been often quoted by the courts of the country in setting aside delayed judgments, the Court stated thus:

9. It is true, that for the High Courts, no period for pronouncement of judgment is contemplated either under the Civil Procedure Code or the Criminal Procedure Code, but as the pronouncement of the judgment is a part of the justice dispensation system, it has to be without delay. In a country like ours where people consider the Judges only second to God, efforts be made to strengthen that belief of the common man. Delay in disposal of the cases facilitates the people to raise eyebrows, sometimes genuinely which, if not checked, may shake the confidence of the people in the judicial system. A time has come when the judiciary itself has to assert for preserving its stature, respect and regards for the attainment of the rule of law. For the fault of a few, the glorious and glittering name of the judiciary cannot be permitted to be made ugly. It is the policy and purpose of law, to have speedy justice for which efforts are required to be made to come up to the expectation of the society of ensuring speedy, untainted and unpolluted justice.

Accordingly, detailed guidelines were issued for ensuring discipline, especially by the constitutional courts of the country in timely pronouncement of judgments after they are reserved, as follows:

10. Under the prevalent circumstances in some of the High Courts, I feel it appropriate to provide some guidelines regarding the pronouncement of judgments which, I am sure, shall be followed by all concerned, being the mandate of this Court. Such guidelines, as for the present, are as under:

(i) The Chief Justices of the High Courts may issue appropriate directions to the Registry that in a case where the judgment is reserved and is pronounced later, a column be added in the judgment where, on the first page, after the cause title, date of reserving the judgment and date of pronouncing it be separately mentioned by the court officer concerned.

(ii) That Chief Justices of the High Courts, on their administrative side, should direct the court officers/readers of the various Benches in the High Courts to furnish every month the list of cases in the matters where the judgments reserved are not pronounced within the period of that month.

(iii) On noticing that after conclusion of the arguments the judgment is not pronounced within a period of two months, the Chief Justice concerned shall draw the attention of the Bench concerned to the pending matter. The Chief Justice may also see the desirability of circulating the statement of such cases in which the judgments have not been pronounced within a period of six weeks from the date of conclusion of the arguments amongst the Judges of the High Court for their information. Such communication be conveyed as confidential and in a sealed cover.

(iv) Where a judgment is not pronounced within three months from the date of reserving it, any of the parties in the case is permitted to file an application in the High Court with a prayer for early judgment. Such application, as and when filed, shall be listed before the Bench concerned within two days excluding the intervening holidays.

(v) If the judgment, for any reason, is not pronounced within a period of six months, any of the parties of the said lis shall be entitled to 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. It is open to the Chief Justice to grant the said prayer or to pass any other order as he deems fit in the circumstances.”21

Anil Kumar Rai22 was essentially a criminal appeal arising from the conventional offences. The time and efforts spared by the court in laying down guidelines were the first of its own kind, perhaps unheard of, to be so specified by any constitutional court of a country in the world. It reflects the pressing necessity felt by the Supreme Court in laying down guidelines to such an extent, as directions in earlier matters made discretely were not leaving their impact on either the High Courts or the trial courts.

In Balaji Baliram Mupade v. State of Maharashtra23, the Supreme Court recently had an occasion to examine a judgment, the validity of which was challenged on the ground of undue delay between pronouncing the operative portion of the order and the reasons for the same, that came only after a lapse of around nine months. The court was called upon to interpret Order 20, Rules 1, 4 and 5 CPC and the impact of such delay on the sustainability of the order passed by the court. The Supreme Court in no uncertain terms criticised the approach adopted by the High Court, holding that the aggrieved party is gravely prejudiced by such impugned orders, as its rights get defeated bychallenging the same on merits (and reasoning) before the higher forum. Even the succeeding parties are unable to obtain the fruits of the litigation in such circumstances. Accordingly, the impugned order of the High Court was set aside and the matter remanded back for an early judgment. In the process, court also relied upon the precedents of Zahira Habibulla H. Sheikh v. State of Gujarat24, Mangat Ram v. State of Haryana25 and Ajay Singh v. State of Chhattisgarh26 to set aside the judgment passed by the High Court.

Further, in K. Kesava v. M.K. Veerendra Babu27, a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that if the judgment is not pronounced, then the judgment is liable to be set aside only on the ground of delay in its announcement, even if the judgment is otherwise sound and sustainable in law. The parties even acquire the right to mention the matter for early hearing, and they can even approach the higher court for withdrawal of the case, on delay having been occasioned after conclusion of oral arguments.

Views taken by various High Courts

  • Shivsagar Veg. Restaurant v. CIT28

The controversy before the Bombay High Court related to order passed by ITAT Mumbai Bench, wherein the appeal by the ITAT was heard on 2-6-2005 and final order passed on 21-10-2005 i.e. almost more than 4 months later. Referring to the Latin maxim of “cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex, meaning reason is the soul of law and when reason of a particular law ceases, so does the law, the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court held that inordinate unexplained delay in pronouncement of judgment affects its reasoning substantially. A judgment delivered belatedly is bound to have a defective reasoning, since most of the submissions and grounds urged by the parties to the lis are prone to be missed out in the final judgment. Relying on its previous judgment delivered in Devang Rasiklal Vora v. Union of India29, the High Court issued directions and guidelines on similar lines as were laid down by the Supreme Court in Anil Rai v. State of Bihar30 to all the Benches of ITAT in the State of Maharashtra. The Parliament was also advised to incorporate the said guidelines preventing delayed delivery of judgments in Rules and Regulations framed under Income Tax Act, 1960. Vide para 17, the President of the ITAT was also directed to frame and lay down guidelines and issue appropriate administrative directions to decide matters within a period of three months from the date the case is closed for judgment.

  • Infra Dredge Services (P) Ltd. v. Union of India

Recently on the same lines in Infra Dredge Services (P) Ltd v. Union of India31, another Division Bench of Bombay High Court was confronted with the same predicament, wherein the final order was pronounced after an inordinate delay of six months post the conclusion of arguments. Reference was made to the circular issued by the Central Board of Excise and Customs dated 10-3-2017, stipulating time-bound adjudication and disposal of reserved matters. Relying on previously passed judgment of Shivsagar Veg. Restaurant v. CIT32, the Division Bench reiterated that the final verdict pronounced after six months is bound to have inescapable errors in it with ignorance of intricate factual aspects involved in the matter. Writ petition against such order was thus held to be maintainable, challenging the order passed by the Commissioner, CGST and Central Excise only on the said ground, without relegating the petitioner to the statutory remedy of appeal. It was re-emphasised in the judgment that proceedings that are disposed of expeditiously by authorities are reflective of due application of mind, as they also inspire confidence in the litigant community that their submissions have been considered in right perspective.

  • Commerzbank Aktiengesellschaft v. SBI

In Commerzbank Aktiengesellschaft v. SBI33, the Division Bench of Delhi High Court was called upon to examine the legality of a delayed judgment delivered by the Debts Recovery Tribunal, challenging the said order, and the maintainability of writ petition before it under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India bypassing the alternative statutory remedy. The judgment by the DRT was pronounced after a period of two years, in view of which the court overruled the preliminary objections of the respondents about availability of alternative remedy before the Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunal (“DRAT”). The Delhi High Court held that delayed verdict operates to the prejudice of the aggrieved parties and amounts to violation of principles of natural justice, for challenging which they cannot be relegated to the alternative remedy. The absence of reasons in the impugned order were held to be attributable to the lapse of time that had been occasioned prior to its declaration. The High Court accordingly set aside and remanded the matter back to the DRT for hearing on the parties afresh and passing a well-reasoned order.

A similar view has been taken by the Delhi High Court recently in other judgments of Dalbir Singh v. Satish Chand34; Sandhya Srivastava v. Neelam Mishra35; Deepti Khera v. Siddharth Khera36 setting aside the judgments of the tribunals/trial courts, which were laid to challenge only on the grounds of delayed verdicts.

  • Sudesh Kumar Yadaw v. Union of India

Recently in Sudesh Kumar Yadaw v. Union of India37 a Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court dwelled upon an order passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal (“CAT”) (Jabalpur Bench), whereby the challenge rested on the ground that the final order was passed after more than a year of the arguments being heard and concluded. The court in the process of reasoning referred to Rule 105 of the Central Administrative Tribunal Rules of Practice, 1993, which reads thus:

“105. Pronouncement of order.

(a) The Bench shall as possible pronounce the order immediately after the hearing is concluded.

(b) When the orders are reserved, the date for pronouncement not later than 3 weeks shall be fixed. The date so fixed shall not be changed except due notice to all parties/counsel.

(c) Reading of the operative portion of the order in the open court shall be deemed to be pronouncement of the order.

(d) Any order reserved by a Circuit Bench of the Tribunal may be pronounced at the principal place of sitting of the Bench in one of the aforesaid modes as exigencies of the situation require.”

Interpreting the aforesaid provision, the Court held that rules obligate the Tribunal to pronounce the order “immediately after the hearing is concluded”. Since the aforementioned timeline was breached by the CAT, therefore its order became a nullity, eroding the trust of common man in the judicial system. Accordingly, the Division Bench allowed the writ petitions setting aside the order of CAT and remanded the matter back for fresh hearing and adjudication as expeditiously as possible.


The upshot of the above discussion is that a delayed verdict beyond a period of six weeks perpetrates violation of natural justice of parties and resultantly its reasoning as well. It has been evolved as a substantial ground in itself for setting aside the verdict even if, otherwise there is no legal infirmity in the reasoning of the order.

However, especially in the case of tribunals and adjudicating authorities, (created under statutory enactment) it is eminently desirable that specific statutory provisions be enacted fixing the timelines for judgment delivery by their incumbents. Sooner or later the highest court of the country might have to issue guidelines in the said regard as well.

* * *

†Partner at SVS Attorneys. Expert in Constitutional, Civil and Financial laws, Practicing Advocate at the Supreme Court of India

†† Advocate at the Supreme Court of India, Alumni of Tamil Nadu National Law University, Tiruchirappalli.

1. Indian Jurist and Economist.

2. 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 4127.

3. (2012) 3 SCC 1.

4. 2011 SCC OnLine SC 42.

5. Mohamed Imranullah S. 6086, “Judgments Should not Remain Reserved for More than two Months: Madras High Court CJ”, The Hindu, (15-6-2022, 4.42 p.m.), Available at Judgments should not remain reserved for more than two months : Madras High Court CJ – The Hindu

6. 1941 SCC OnLine Cal 152

7. 1961 BLJR 282

8. Utkarsh Anand, “SC Irked at Delays in Releasing Orders”, The Hindustan Times, (14-12-2020, 5.24 a.m.), Available at SC irked at delays in releasing orders | Latest News India – Hindustan Times

9. (HMJ V.S. Malimath) – Chief Justice Kerala High Court – Chairman; (HMJ P.D. Desai) – Chief Justice – Calcutta High Court – Member; (HMJ Dr. A.S. Anand) – Chief Justice, Madras High Court – Member.

10. Chapter VIII – Practice and Procedure – Classification, Grouping and Listing of Cases.

11. 1941 SCC OnLine Cal 152.

12. (1976) 3 SCC 574.

13. (1976) 3 SCC 574.

14. (1988) 2 SCC 602.

15. (2000) 2 SCC 13.

16. (2001) 7 SCC 318.

17. (2001) 7 SCC 318.

18. (2000) 2 SCC 13.

19. (2001) 4 SCC 355.

20. (2001) 7 SCC 318, 330.

21. Anil Kumar Rai, (2001) 7 SCC 318, 330-331.

22. (2001) 7 SCC 318.

23. (2021) 12 SCC 603.

24. (2004) 4 SCC 158.

25. (2008) 7 SCC 96.

26. (2017) 3 SCC 330.

27. SLP (Crl) No. 10092 of 2019, order dated 29-11-2021 (SC)

28. 2008 SCC OnLine Bom 1088.

29. 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 798

30. (2001) 7 SCC 318.

31. 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 2056.

32. 2008 SCC OnLine Bom 1088.

33. 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1666.

34. 2020 SCC OnLine Del 2078.

35. 2021 SCC OnLine Del 892.

36. (2020) 267 DLT 499.

37. 2021 SCC OnLine MP 2397.

Must Watch

maintenance to second wife

bail in false pretext of marriage

right to procreate of convict

Criminology, Penology and Victimology book release

Join the discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.