The Civil Procedure Code, 1908, controls the civil procedure of courts in India. The unified Code in civil court procedure has allowed several suits to stay for decades. In most cases, the only need for the Judge is to record reasons in writing. Section 148 of CPC gives power to the Court to enlarge the time fixed by it with regard to an act prescribed or allowed by the CPC.
What is the typical timetable for a Civil claim?
Once a plaint has been filed, the summons is issued to the defendant to appear and defend the claim and file his statement of defence within 30 days from the date of service of summons. A summons is an intimation sent to the other party (defendant), delivered through an officer of the Court, but the Court may allow service by registered post with a due acknowledgement, approved courier services, fax or email. Every summons must be sent with a copy of the plaint and should be signed by the Judge or other officer decided by the Judge and sealed with the seal of the Court.
After the receipt of the summons, the defendant should appear before the Court either in person or through an advocate on the date mentioned in the summons. If the statement of defence is not filed within 30 days of receipt of the summons, the defendant can be granted an extension but should not be later than 90 days from service of summons. These timelines have not been held compulsory by the Supreme Court and, if sufficient cause can be shown, courts may even extend the timelines.
If the defendant declines to accept service of summons or cannot be found, service may be affected by attaching a copy of the summons on the outer door or another conspicuous part of the house where the defendant lives, carries on business or works for gain. If a defendant does not appear before the Court on the returnable date mentioned in the summons, the Court may go on to hear the plaintiff and move to pronounce a judgment in the non-appearance of the defendant.
Statutory Timelines for Filing a Defence
In the Salem case, the Supreme Court has stated that the time limit stated under Order 8, Rule 1, to file written statements in ordinary civil suits is a directory and not compulsory.
The R.N. Jadi case mentioned that Order 8, Rule 1, modified by the 2002 CPC amendment, mentioning a time limit of 90 days for filing a written statement, was directory and not mandatory by quoting an earlier precedent. Explaining the statutory time limit of 90 days to file a written statement into a mere directory guideline reopened the flood-gates of delay. Not filing a written statement in time is still a favourable strategy to delay a civil suit in Indian Courts.
Any debate regarding the Indian legal system meets a big issue of delays in courts. The government tries to have the best possible law they can, but if the management of a statute’s legal remedies requires treacherous delays, the basic form and function of a statute dies. Major reasons for the delay in judgements can include shortage of judges, adequate infrastructure, lack of facilities for e-filings and live transcription, poor case management, etc.
Can the parties manage the timetable for a Civil Claim?
The Commercial Court should have management of hearing not later than four weeks from the date of filing the affidavit of admission and denial of documents by the parties. While setting the timelines, the Commercial Court needs to make sure that the arguments are closed not later than six months from the date of the first case management hearing.
The Civil Procedure Code controls the process, and the courts can extend the timelines to a certain extent. Parties cannot control the procedure or timetable. However, by way of an amendment in the CPC, the Commercial Courts Act introduced Order 13A, which allows parties to apply for a summary judgment at any stage before framing issues.
The Apex court bench of judges Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R Subhash Reddy instructed lawyers to restrict oral reasoning to 30 minutes and submission work on a law to three pages. The Court gave this verdict on a petition filed by Yatin Narendra Oza, a veteran lawyer from Gujarat who was removed from the designation of the senior advocate after commencement of contempt affairs against him by the Gujarat High Court.
The Apex Court, in a judgement in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. and Anr. v. CBI has stated that any order of stay on the civil or criminal proceedings will not go for more than six months unless the extension is granted, and the trial court may go in the case without waiting for sanction from the higher Court if the stay is not extended after that.
Procedure to move to H.C. for fast disposition of a case
In the case of Anil Rai vs the State of Bihar, the SC has pointed out that parties can file an application letter in the High Court requesting an early judgment if it’s not delivered in three months of it being reserved. If it’s not delivered for more than six months after being kept reserved, parties have the full right to have it re-heard before a distinct bench of the High Court.
Being a part of remedial measures, the Court, in this case, issued a few directions:
- The Chief Justice of the High Court can make directions to the Registry in a case where the judgment is kept reserved and is pronounced sometime later. A section can be added in the judgment, on the first page, after the cause-title date of reserving the judgment, and the date of pronouncing it, stated separately by the concerned court officer.
- That Chief Justice of the High Courts, on their administrative side, should ask the Court Officers of the various Benches in the High Courts to furnish every month the list of cases where the judgments reserved are not pronounced within the time of that month.
- After the closure of the arguments, the judgment is not pronounced in the period of two months, and the concerned Chief Justice should draw the attention of the Bench concerned to the pending matter.
- When a judgment is not expressed within three months from the date of reserving the judgment, any of the parties in the matter is permitted to file an application in the High Court asking for early order. This application would be listed before the Bench concerned within two days, excluding the intervening holidays.
- If the judgment is not stated within a period of six months, any of the parties of the said list should be entitled to move an application before the Chief Justice of the High Court with a prayer to pull out the said case and to make it over to any other Bench for fresh arguments.
Application to Higher Courts
An early hearing application can be moved to the higher Court to dispose of the case within a certain time limit. The higher Court can give directions to the subordinate Court to dispose of the case in a quick manner, and it can even give a certain time limit to conclude the case. The application should clearly state what can be the reason for the delay, and it should request the Court to give directions for a fast and early judicial order. After getting the directions, the Judge considers the case a priority and tend to avoid giving any further dates for the hearing and tries to dispose of the case as early as possible. However, such an application can only be moved when the case is pending before the Court for a sufficient amount of time. The stage of the case also matters a lot as the application can only be moved when evidence has already been collected, cross-examination has been done, and the case has reached its final argument stage. Article 227 of the Constitution of India expresses that every High Court should have command over all the courts and tribunals in the territories regarding which it exercises jurisdiction.
Every person wishes for a right to a speedy trial, and refusal to timely justice leads to no justice. Pendency of cases for an extended time defeats the entire idea of justice and loses people’s confidence within the judiciary. There are some cases that have been pending in the Courts for more than ten or maybe 20 years. The alteration brought by the Amendments in 1999 and 2002 to the CPC is fundamental in nature yet have sweeping results in the working of Civil Courts in the nation if they’re properly followed. How long should it take to eliminate a case depends upon the facts and circumstances of every case. It is not suggested that justice is served quickly, but it should be with the proper observation by following the procedures of the Code and disposing of the case by the Judges only after considering the material evidence and due hearing in every case.