Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh, JJ. allowed a writ petition directing the Central Government to establish a regional bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand.

The petition was filed by ex-servicemen, a practicing advocate. He demanded the establishment of a permanent bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand. According to the petitioner, it was difficult for the serving as well as retired servicemen to have access to the Armed Force Tribunal at Lucknow. It is noteworthy that the Lucknow bench was established in the year 2009 with jurisdiction over the States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand. Later, in 2016, a regional bench was established at Jabalpur with jurisdiction over Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It was submitted that a total of 220 cases of the Uttarakhand State were pending before the regional bench at Lucknow. Thus, the petitioner sought the prayer as mentioned hereinabove.

The High Court noted that the underlying principle of Armed Force Tribunal Act 2007, is to provide access to justice within a reasonable cost to the service personnel. Further, the largest number of service personnel hailed from the State of Uttarakhand. Section 30 of the Act bars the jurisdiction of all civil courts as well as the high courts in the service matters of the servicemen. There were 220 pending cases from the State, and this number seemed to be less as many cases including those by the widows of the service personnel must have never reached the bench at Lucknow since it is difficult for many people to reach the bench at Lucknow, given the geography and difficult terrain of the State. The High Court observed access to speedy justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Armed Forces Tribunal had been constituted to fortify the trust and confidence among members of the three services in the system of dispensation of justice in their service-related matters. The servicemen have a right to approach the Tribunal for adjudication of their service matters at a reasonably accessible place. The sacrifices made by the armed forces personnel during active war and peace could not be forgotten. The society has a duty to ensure that their grievances are redressed immediately. Having observed thus, the High Court directed the Central Government to establish a regional bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the State of Uttarakhand, at an appropriate place. [Lalit Kumar v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Utt 579, dated 12-06-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In order to ensure that the civil or criminal proceedings do not remain pending for unduly period at the trial stage, the 3-judge bench of A.K. Goel, Navin Sinha and R.F. Nariman, JJ directed that in all pending cases where stay against proceedings of a civil or criminal trial is operating, the same will come to an end on expiry of six months from today unless in an exceptional case by a speaking order such stay is extended.

The order of the Court came after it noticed that at times, proceedings are adjourned sine die on account of stay and even after stay is vacated, intimation is not received and proceedings are not taken up. Hence, remedy is required not only for corruption cases but for all civil and criminal cases where on account of stay, civil and criminal proceedings are held up.

Stating that the mandate of speedy justice applies to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 cases as well as other cases where at trial stage proceedings are stayed by the higher court i.e. the High Court or a court below the High Court, as the case may be, the Court, hence, directed:

 “In all pending matters before the High Courts or other courts relating to PC Act or all other civil or criminal cases, where stay of proceedings in a pending trial is operating, stay will automatically lapse after six months from today unless extended by a speaking order on above parameters. Same course may also be adopted by civil and criminal appellate/revisional courts under the jurisdiction of the High Courts. The trial courts may, on expiry of above period, resume the proceedings without waiting for any other intimation unless express order extending stay is produced.”

The directions issued by the Court for future cases are:

  • In cases where stay is granted in future, the same will end on expiry of six months from the date of such order unless similar extension is granted by a speaking order.
  • The speaking order must show that the case was of such exceptional nature that continuing the stay was more important than having the trial finalized.
  • The trial Court where order of stay of civil or criminal proceedings is produced, may fix a date not beyond six months of the order of stay so that on expiry of period of stay, proceedings can commence unless order of extension of stay is produced.

The Court was hearing the issue relating to the interpretation of Section 19(3)(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, and whether superior constitutional courts, namely, the High Courts in this country, are bound to follow Section 19(3)(c) in petitions filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India. Another question that the Court had to decide was whether the inherent powers of High Courts are available to stay proceedings under the Act under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Answering the questions, the Court said:

“the order framing charge is not purely an interlocutory order nor a final order. Jurisdiction of the High Court is not barred irrespective of the label of a petition, be it under Sections 397 or 482 Cr.P.C. or Article 227 of the Constitution. However, the said jurisdiction is to be exercised consistent with the legislative policy to ensure expeditious disposal of a trial without the same being in any manner hampered.”

The Court concluded by stating that the challenge to an order of charge should be entertained in a rarest of rare case only to correct a patent error of jurisdiction and not to reappreciate the matter. Even where such challenge is entertained, and stay is granted, the matter must be decided on day-to-day basis so that stay does not operate for an unduly long period. Though no mandatory time limit may be fixed, the decision may not exceed two-three months normally. If it remains pending longer, duration of stay should not exceed six months, unless extension is granted by a specific speaking order. [Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 310, decided on 28.03.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking note of the fact that at present, thirty four Debt Recovery Tribunals and five Appellate Tribunals are functioning in the country which suffer from a lack of adequate infrastructure, manpower and resources, the Court said that the legislative changes to provide for expeditious disposal of proceedings before the Debt Recovery Tribunals may not by themselves achieve the intended object so long as the infrastructure provided to the Tribunals is not commensurate with the burden of the work and nature of judicial duties.

The Court noticed that though the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 provides for the disposal of recovery applications within one hundred and eighty days, cases have remained pending for years together. In order to deal with the large pendency of cases, the Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debt Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 11.05. 2016. The Bill has eventually been passed by both the houses of Parliament on 16.08.2016. The Court, however, that having due regard to the important adjudicatory function which is entrusted to these Tribunals, the efficacy of parliamentary legislation will depend in a large measure on the efficiency with which the Tribunals discharge their duties. Hence, the Court directed the Union of India to file affidavit dealing with the following issues:

  • Whether the timelines set down in the amended legislation are capable of being achieved with the existing infrastructure including judicial personnel and staffing pattern of the Debt Recovery Tribunals and Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunals;
  • The underlying basis, if any, upon which the revised timelines have been stipulated and whether any scientific study has been conducted on the availability of infrastructure;
  • What steps the Union government intends to adopt to enhance the infrastructure of Debt Recovery Tribunals and the Appellate Tribunals in terms of physical infrastructure, judicial manpower and non-judicial personnel required for the efficacious functioning of the Tribunals;
  • The specific plan of action including time-schedules within which the existing infrastructure would be upgraded so as to achieve the time frame for disposal indicated in the amended legislation; and
  • Empirical data on the pendency of cases for more than ten years and the list of corporate entities where the amount outstanding is in excess of Rs.500 crore.

The 3-judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ has directed the Union Government to file affidavit within 4 weeks from the date of this order. [Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 13, decided on 03.01.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: In a case dealing with petitions pending admission before the High Court filed under the Companies Act, 1956 where winding up of a company was sought, the Single Bench of S.C. Gupte, J held that every winding up petition under clause (e) of Section 433 which is pending before the High Court and which is not served by the petitioner on the respondent company shall stand transferred to NCLT under Rule 5 of the Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Rules, 2016.

The petitioners in the present case contended that the petitions having been served on the respondent as required by Rule 26 of the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959, the transfer notification does not apply to them and accordingly, this court retains its jurisdiction over them. It is the case of the respondent that these petitions stand transferred to NCLT as they are covered in the mandate of the notification which confers powers on the Central Government to constitute NCLT and NCLAT for transfer of various proceedings pending before the High Courts to NCLT.

Analysing the submissions put forward by the counsel, the Bench considered the relevant provisions of the Act in light of the facts of the case and held that Rule 26 has no reference to the order of admission of the petition. It further said that if such pending petition is served by the petitioner on the respondent, the petition will continue to be dealt with by this court and the applicable provisions will be the provisions of 1956 Act. Accordingly, the petitions in this case were not transferred to NCLT. Conversely, it implied that unserved pending petitions are to be transferred to NCLT to be governed by the Companies Act, 2013. [West Hills Realty Private Ltd. v. Neelkamal Realtors Tower Pvt. Ltd., 2016 SCC OnLine Bom 10038 , decided on 23.12.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the PIL that sought for possible structural reforms in the Indian Judicial System, the bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ, R.Banumathi and U.U. Lalit, JJ, keeping in mind, the need for reforms which have been long felt, referred the matter to a Constitutional Bench for an authoritative pronouncement.

Below are some of the questions that the Court thought proper for consideration:

  • Whether a mere increase in the number of judges will solve the problem of undue delay in disposal of cases and to what extent would such increase be feasible? Also, would the division of the Supreme Court into a Constitutional wing and an appellate wing be an answer to the problem?
  • Considering the fact that the Supreme Court of India is situate in the far North, in Delhi, rendering travel from the Southern states and some other states in India, unduly long and expensive, can be a deterrent to real access to justice, would the Supreme Court benches in different parts of India be an answer to the problem? Also, if four regional Courts of Appeal are established, in the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western regions of the Country, each manned by, say, fifteen judges, elevated or appointed to each Court by the Collegium, would this not satisfy the requirement of ‘access to justice’ to all litigants from every part of the country?
  • Is the huge pendency of cases, caused by the Court not restricting its consideration, as in the case of the Apex Courts of other countries, to Constitutional issues, questions of national importance, differences of opinion between different High Courts, death sentence cases and matters entrusted to the Supreme Court by express provisions of the Constitution?
  • Is there a need for having Courts of Appeal, with exclusive jurisdiction to hear and finally decide the vast proportion of the routine cases, as well as Article 32 petitions now being decided by the Supreme Court of India, especially when a considerable proportion of the four million cases pending before the High Court may require review by a higher intermediate court?
  • As any such proposal would need an amendment to the Constitution, would the theory of ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution be violated, if in fact, such division of exclusive jurisdiction between the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal, enhances the efficacy of the justice delivery system without affecting the independence of the judicial wing of the State?

The Court showed it’s concern over the 80% cases pending in the Supreme Court of India on average for about 5 years, in the High Courts again for about 8 years, and anywhere between 5-10 years in the Trial Courts on the average, and said that it is the duty of the Supreme Court to examine through a Constitution Bench  to recommend to Government, its opinion on the proposal for establishing four Courts of Appeal, so that the Supreme Court with about 2500 cases a year instead of about 60000, may regain its true status as a Constitutional Court. [V. VASANTHAKUMAR v. H.C.BHATIA, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 698, decided on 13.07.2016]