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High Court Bar Association vs State of Uttar Pradesh (2024)

The clash over the period taken in a decision by the court had always been a highly debated issue. The issue over the delay in the orders and judgments are not only because of burdening of cases on courts but also of the long procedural way from framing to trial, inordinate tarry that impedes the smoother functioning of the court. The duration taken by the court varies in every decision. Sometimes it took months, sometimes years and sometimes even decades to pronounce the judgment. There is no threshold limit for a decision. But in the judgment "what only the time is concerned, and not the justice." The phrases like "Justice delayed is justice denied" and "Justice hurried is justice buried" only focused towards time not really towards how justice could be determined. The question still remains whether the time limit precedes justice.

In the recent landmark judgment, High Court Bar Association Allahabad v. The State of Uttar Pradesh 2024 INSC 150, the five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court, by taking it for reconsideration overturned the ruling of Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. & Another v. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) (2018), led by a three-judge constitution bench that ruled all pending cases where a stay order was in effect against civil and criminal proceedings, the stay would be automatically vacated at the end of 6 months unless it is extended by an order.

The Supreme Court in the judgment assesses the detailed aspect of the nature of interim relief, the scope of Article 142 of the Constitution and the position of High courts. The case was adjudicated by 5 judges constitution bench led by Hon'ble Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, along with Justice Abhay S. Oka, Justice J.B. Pardiwala, Justice Manoj Mishra and Justice Pankaj Mithal, unanimously held that the stay order against civil or criminal proceedings could not automatically collapse after 6 months. This case highlighted the need to not pressurize the courts by cramping them with time. Imposing a time limit may degrade the concept of justice and equity. It must be in consonance with the principles of the Constitution. Any stay order irrespective of civil or criminal proceedings will remain in effect till the judicial mind will not be implied further.

The two main issues were laid before the Hon'ble Supreme Court were:
  • Whether the Hon'ble Supreme Court under Article 142 can order automatic vacation of all interim orders of High courts of staying civil and criminal cases on the expiry of a certain period?
  • Whether the Hon'ble Supreme Court under Article 142 can direct the High courts to decide pending cases in which interim orders of stay of proceedings have been granted on a day-to-day basis and within a fixed period?
Contentions by Appellant:
Shri Rakesh Dwivedi raises some significant arguments describing the nature of automatic vacation of interim order as a judicial legislation and the Supreme Court could not engage in this kind of legislation. He strikes upon the Article 141 and Article 142 of the Constitution as it does not empower the Supreme Court to curtail Article 226 which is considered as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. He said the High Court is a Constitutional Court not a judicial subordinate of the Supreme Court.

He argues that without the application of mind, no order or relief could be passed as it is a prerequisite of judicial decision making and without it decision could be unjust, arbitrary and violative of principles of natural justice. Arguing over the time-barred decision due to the Asian Resurfacing case, he contends that the Hon'ble Supreme Court is not permissible to fix a time limit for completion of a trial. He further argues over the exercise of jurisdiction of Article 142 by the Hon'ble Supreme Court on abovementioned directions.

He asserted over the reading of the Article 226 (3) of the Constitution that an interim order cannot be automatically vacated unless a specific application is made for vacating the interim order. He claimed that the provision of automatic vacation if appeal was not disposed off after 365 days was struck down by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in the case of Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax & Anr. v. Pepsi Foods Ltd. on the ground of arbitrariness. He in his final contention, submits that automatic vacation of interim relief is unjust, unfair and unreasonable.

Shri Gaurav Mehrotra, another learned counsel, raises argument on Court's obligation to not decide any important question without there being a proper lis.

Shri Vijay Hansaria, the learned senior counsel, appearing on the behalf of Gauhati High Court Bar Association raises his arguments advanced over the interpretation of Article 226(3) of the Constitution on being specific of whether automatic vacation of stay order is mandatory or directory and he urges over the directory proviso. He supported the point of view of Shri Rakesh Dwivedi, that Asian Resurfacing case dealing specifically with the Prevention of Corruption Act not with all other subject matter. He also asserted that a successful litigant whose application of stay order is allowed by the High Court cannot be prejudiced only on the ground that the High Courts does not hear the main case within 6 months for reasons beyond the control of that litigant.

Shri Amit Pai, another learned counsel for appellant, contends that order of interim relief was given by the court was grant on some merits. He urges the Hon'ble bench that passing of an interim relief is a judicial act and should be vacated only by a judicial act.

Contentions by Respondents:
Shri Tushar Mehta, the learned Solicitor General appearing for the State of Uttar Pradesh, contends laws of procedure are grounded in principles of natural justice, which require that no decision can be reached behind the back of a person and in his absence. He further argues that if the condition imposed by a provision of a law to do a certain thing within a time frame is upon the institution and the consequences of that institution failing to comply with the condition are to fall upon someone who has no control over the institution, the provision of law will have to be construed as directory.

He moving on interim relief said that it is always granted after considering the three factors: (i) prima facie case (ii) the balance of convenience and (iii) irreparable injury to the aggrieved party. So, once an applicant gets the entitlement of stay order after due findings, the order could not automatically become bad on the ground that it has lived for 6 months.

Court's Reasoning:
Nature and object of interim relief
Interim relief order is usually granted in the aid of the final relief sought in a civil or criminal proceedings. It passes during the proceedings normally when the High Court is dealing with a challenge to an interim or interlocutory order passed during the pendency of the main case before a trial or appellate court. The judges had to keep in mind the three factors while passing an interim relief order. These orders passed generally, as a judgment could not be given in immediate effect until the final hearing took place. Also, to avoid the possibility of passing an order of remand, which increases delay and the litigation cost, the measure of stay order is called in many cases.

The court also clarifies about the ad-interim relief order which is passed by the High Court during proceedings issuing notice without giving an opportunity of being heard to the contesting parties. It is completely different from interim relief order, but could become interim relief order after an opportunity was provided for the hearing to the contesting parties. Ad-interim orders are for a limited period as of its very nature.

The High Courts are always empowered to vacate or modify an order of interim relief passed after hearing the parties on the following grounds-
  1. If a litigant, after entitling stay order, seeking adjournments on unwarranted grounds or by remaining absent, i.e. elongation of the case.
  2. The High Courts passed on misinformation or hidden facts,
  3. If there is material change in further findings of the case, and interim relief is earlier passed.
These grounds are not exhaustive. There are other valid grounds for vacating a stay order.

Interim order of stay can came to an end after:
  1. disposal of the main case
  2. judicial order of vacating the interim order of stay,
In the proceedings, any order whether it is interim or final, the judge has to apply his mind in adjudication. The phrase "audi alteram partem" means no one should be unheard, it is one of the principles of natural justice. So, an order for vacating an interim relief without hearing the party of the order is against the basic tenets of justice and contrary to fairness. Therefore, without application of mind, an order of interim stay cannot be vacated only on the ground of lapse of time when the litigant is not responsible for delay.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court also quoted the maxim "actus curiae neminem gravabit", which says no one shall be prejudiced by the act of the court. As a litigant could suffer due to automatic vacation of stay order due to the fault of the court.

Subsequently, the court highlights that it could adversely affect a litigant's right to the remedies under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India and such orders virtually defeat the eight of a litigant and to seek and avail of statutory remedies such as revision, appeals and applications under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 1973 as well as remedies under Civil Procedure Code.

Also, the court highlighted the case of Pepsi Foods Limited, where the Supreme Court already held that the provision of automatic stay order was arbitrary, discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Scope of exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution
The original issues were raised on the Hon'ble Supreme Court's exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution. Article 142 empowers the Apex Court to may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it. The directions in the exercise of powers under Article 142 cannot be issued to defeat justice.

The Supreme Court never invoked such a blanket order i.e. putting cap on stay order and its automatic vacation after 6 months which set at naught a very huge number of interim orders lawfully passed by the High Courts and that without hearing the contesting parties, as jurisdiction of Article 142 can only be invoked in very extraordinary situations for doing complete justice between the parties before the court.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court referred the case of Prem Chand Garg & Anr. v. The Excise Commissioner, U.P. & Ors., where this Court discuss of the scope of power under Article 142, an order which this Court can make in order to do complete justice between the parties, must not only be consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but it cannot even be inconsistent with the substantive provisions of the relevant statutory laws. Also, it is perceptible that exercise in these and similar other powers, this Court would not be bound by the relevant provisions of procedure if it is satisfied that a departure from the said procedure is necessary to do complete justice between the parties.

Also, in the Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr., this Court explains the grand powers of this Court under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution. This wide jurisdiction is, therefore, the residual source of power which the Court may draw upon as imperative whenever it's just and indifferent to do so and in particular to insure the observance of the due process of law, to do complete justice between the parties, while administering justice according to the law.

It's material to keep in mind, the powers conferred under Article 142 being restorative in nature and can not be demonstrated as powers which authorize the Court to ignore the substantial rights of a litigant while dealing with a cause pending before it. The veritably nature of the power must lead the court to set limits for itself within which to exercise those powers and naturally it can not disregard a statutory provisions governing a subject, except maybe to balance the equities between the disagreeing claims of the litigating parties by "ironing out the crimps" in a cause or matter before it.

To epitomize over, the Court laid down many important parameters regarding Article 142 of the Constitution:
  1. Exercise to do complete justice without abating the benefits of large number of parties rested on judicial orders
  2. Can not ignore the substantial rights of the parties
  3. Disbursement of procedural directions of the court for streamlining procedural aspects icing prompt and speedy disposal of the cases
  4. Can not be denigratory of the principles of natural justice

Positioning of the High Courts
The High court is regarded as a constitutional court and not judicially inferior to the Supreme Court. In the case of Tirupati Balaji Developers (P) Ltd.v. State of Bihar & Ors., the Supreme Court explained the positioning of the High Courts. It was observed "under the constitutional scheme as framed for the bar, the Supreme Court and the High Courts, both are courts of record.

The high court isn't a court "subordinate" to the Supreme Court", unriddling the power of superintendence, the High Court possesses it under Article 227 of the Constitution over all subordinate courts and tribunals but the Supreme Court doesn't retain it. Also, talking about the jurisdiction, the High Courts are larger than the Supreme Court. So, such a mask direction can not be issued by this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, which could blackjack the jurisdiction of Article 226 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court also specifically deals with clause (3) of Article 226 of the Constitution of India to decide whether provision is obligatory or directory.

Adjudication under statutory time limit shouldn't be there
The 2018 judgment of Asian Resurfacing case, held that the High Courts has granted a stay of proceedings of the trial and must be decided within a maximum period of 6 months.However, then the interim stay order will be automatically vacated, If it can not be decided within 6 months. The court also directed that when the interim stay is granted, the case should be decided by the High Court on a day-to-day basis so that the stay doesn't operate for an overly long period.

The Supreme Court said that the High Courts can not be anticipated to decide, on a precedence basis, only those cases in which a stay of proceedings has been granted while ignoring several other categories of cases that may bear further precedence to be given.

In this case, the Supreme Court pertained Abdul Rehman Antulay and P. Ramachandra Rao case, where this court held it's neither judicious nor doable to draw or define an external-limit for conclusion of all criminal proceedings and "defining periods of limitations at the end of which the trial court would be obliged to terminate the proceedings and inescapably acquit or discharge the indicted, and further, making similar directions applicable to all the cases in the present and for the unborn measures to legislation, which, in our notion, can not be done by judicial directives and within the amphitheater of the judicial law-making power available to constitutional courts, howsoever freeheartedly we may interpret Articles 32, 21, 141 and 142 of the Indian Constitution."

The Supreme Court also took the consideration of judges strength, i.e. judges to population rate. The cases like, All India Judges ' Association & Ors.v. Union of India & Ors. and Imtiyaz Ahmedv. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. where, it was displayed that the pendency in trial courts are staggering and judges to population proportion is half of the limit specified in the below mentioned case. accordingly, constitutional courts shouldn't fix a time-bound schedule for disposal of cases pending in any Court.

Procedure to be followed by the High Courts
It's a veritably long way for a court to deliver the judgment. To avoid the prejudice, without hearing the querying parties, the court could grant ad-interim relief for limited duration. It's once granted, could vacate with the application of mind. The courts must give necessary precedence to the hail of the prayer for interim relief where ad-interim relief was granted. After hearing both the querying parties, now the order of interim relief can not be quashed without giving sufficient chance of being heard to the party whose prayer for interim relief was granted. The Court also handed that if an ad-interim order continues for a long- time, the affected party can always apply for vacating ad-interim relief and the High Courts is anticipated to take up indeed similar applications on a precedence basis.

Adjudication of a matter must be done with greater caution and conscience. The delivery of justice must be of utmost priority. The hindrance towards it could collapse our independent and integrated system of judiciary. The Hon'ble Apex Court has the onus to maintain it with upholding the constitutional values. It is his responsibility to keep fairness in the judicial system. The automatic vacation of interim order after the expiry of 6 months, could affect the party who claimed it, as his order was vacated without hearing and affect his right to fair trial. It does not only affect the claimant but also to the court's functioning. It constrains the High Courts to exercise its power and putting time caps on interim order would bind the courts to pronounce the order in time. But, whether we can compromise the justice for timely delivery. The Supreme Court, in this judgment overturns these constraints and refrain from fixing a time-bound schedule for the disposal of the cases pending before any other Courts. The Supreme Court understood the timely delivery of pending cases along with it safeguards the justice.


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