Legal Blog: Adjournments are a Cancer Corroding the Judicial System : Supreme Court

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Adjournments are a Cancer Corroding the Judicial System : Supreme Court

Justice R.M. Lodha
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in M/s Shiv Cotex v. Tirgun Auto Plast Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. has lamented the conduct of unscrupulous litigants in delaying the justice delivery system in the country. Justice Dalveer Bhandari in an earlier judgment had highlighted the bottlenecks in the judicial system which lead to pendency of cases for decades or more. We have covered that judgment in our post 'Justice, Courts and Delay : Remedial Measures'. In the present judgment, Justice R.M. Lodha has hit out at unscrupulous litigants and lawyers who have allowed the concept of adjournments to grow in to a cancer corroding the entire judicial delivery system. The relevant extracts from the judgment are reproduced hereinbelow;

15. Second, and equally important, the High Court upset the concurrent judgment and decree of the two courts on misplaced sympathy and non – existent justification. The High Court observed that the stakes in the suit being very high, the plaintiff should not be non-suited on the basis of no evidence. But, who is to be blamed for this lapse? It is the plaintiff alone. As a matter of fact, the trial court 

Unfortunately, the High Court failed to keep in view the had given more than sufficient opportunity to the plaintiff to produce evidence in support of its case. As noticed above, after the issues were framed on July 19, 2006, on three occasions, the trial court fixed the matter for the plaintiff’s evidence but on none of these dates any evidence was let in by it. What should the court do in such circumstances? Is the court obliged to give adjournment after adjournment merely because the stakes are high in the dispute? Should the court be a silent spectator and leave control of the case to a party to the case who has decided not to take the case forward? It is sad, but true, that the litigants seek – and the courts grant – adjournments at the drop of the hat. In the cases where the judges are little pro-active and refuse to accede to the requests of unnecessary adjournments, the litigants deploy all sorts of methods in protracting the litigation. It is not surprising that civil disputes drag on and on. The misplaced sympathy and indulgence by the appellate and revisional courts compound the malady further. The case in hand is a case of such misplaced sympathy. It is high time that courts become sensitive to delays in justice delivery system and realize that adjournments do dent the efficacy of judicial process and if this menace is not controlled adequately, the litigant public may lose faith in the system sooner than later. The courts, particularly trial courts, must ensure that on every date of hearing, effective progress takes place in the suit. 

16. No litigant has a right to abuse the procedure provided in the CPC. Adjournments have grown like cancer corroding the entire body of justice delivery system. It is true that cap on adjournments to a party during the hearing of the suit provided in proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 CPC is not mandatory and in a suitable case, on justifiable cause, the court may grant more than three adjournments to a party for its evidence but ordinarily the cap provided in the proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 CPC should be maintained. When we say ‘justifiable cause’ what we mean to say is, a cause which is not only ‘sufficient cause’ as contemplated in sub-rule (1) of Order XVII CPC but a cause which makes the request for adjournment by a party during the hearing of the suit beyond three adjournments unavoidable and sort of a compelling necessity like sudden illness of the litigant or the witness or the lawyer; death in the family of any one of them; natural calamity like floods, earthquake, etc. in the area where any of these persons reside; an accident involving the litigant or the witness or the lawyer on way to the court and such like cause. The list is only illustrative and not exhaustive. However, the absence of the lawyer or his non-availability because of professional work in other court or elsewhere or on the ground of strike call or the change of a lawyer or the continuous illness of the lawyer (the party whom he represents must then make alternative arrangement well in advance) or similar grounds will not justify more than three adjournments to a party during the hearing of the suit. The past conduct of a party in the conduct of the proceedings is an important circumstance which the courts must keep in view whenever a request for adjournment is made. A party to the suit is not at liberty to proceed with the trial at its leisure and pleasure and has no right to determine when the evidence would be let in by it or the matter should be heard. The parties to a suit – whether plaintiff or defendant – must cooperate with the court in ensuring the effective work on the date of hearing for which the matter has been fixed. If they don’t, they do so at their own peril. Insofar as present case is concerned, if the stakes were high, the plaintiff ought to have been more serious and vigilant in prosecuting the suit and producing its evidence. If despite three opportunities, no evidence was let in by the plaintiff, in our view, it deserved no sympathy in second appeal in exercise of power under Section 100 CPC. 

We find no justification at all for the High Court in upsetting the concurrent judgment of the courts below. The High Court was clearly in error in giving the plaintiff an opportunity to produce evidence when no justification for that course existed.

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