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The Practice of Adjournments And Tactics Used By Advocates Leading To Delay In Justice

The age worn plywood takes repeated battering of the Judge's gravel as the same case goes on and on in a courtroom for years and years. Lawyers sweating, waiting in queue for their case to be heard, the court masters profusely passing on the files, the judges reading the old tattered pages from the files, fixing their reading glasses and adjusting their light lamp and in front of them stands an advocate, pleading adjournment. Adjournment for as frivolous a reason as his senior's car was stolen which contained the files for the matter.

And no it’s not a figment of imagination but rather a real event which occurred in the Delhi High Court. Of course the lawyer was rebuked by the judge, but instances like these forces a person to think whether creativity is the last option some will resort to for seeking adjournments and delaying matters in Court. And unsurprisingly enough, the same advocate in the same matter, just two days later argued the matter before another Bench of the High Court despite the files still remaining stolen!

Such is the brutal reality of the Adjournment Culture that is slowly but steadily creeping its way into the judicial system. The uninformed litigants who start their litigation journey and whose only source of knowledge is their lawyer on whom they are solely dependent, end up spending time and money well beyond their imagination and resources. According to statistics, cases generally take three years and nine months to get disposed.

In Delhi High Court, which is considered publicly as one of the best high court, sixty six thousand two hundred and eighty one caes are pending. It takes an average of two years and eight months to give its verdict in a case. This shows the urgency of speeding up the system but the curse of adjournment makes it impossible to do so.

It quite literally gives lawyers a legal way out, a lawful chance to not perform their required duty. A study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP) conducted on Delhi HC found that in 91 per cent of cases delayed over two years, adjournments were sought and granted.

A very famous saying that goes on behind the walls and is treated as a light hearted joke is whether litigation results in the punishment of another or to oneself! The truth hidden behind the face of humor leads one to ponder over is who is to blame - the advocates who seek adjournments or the judges that grant them?

Further, with armory like Natural Justice, Stay, Question of law and a new word called the Favorable Bench the destruction of democracy and fundamental rights is being done. Many cases can be seen on change.org where petitioners are quite literally begging you for your support for their campaign. One such case was of Neelam Tejpal where all the known delay tactics were used and the woman who had paid for her flat, all in cash, was neither given her home nor a hearing date.

Every lawyer and every court that she had been to in these past 20 years, says, "Yes, you are absolutely right and we agree that you have been robbed and cheated by the builder and here is your order against the builder. No go stand in the queue for another 5 years."

The Bombay High Court had, back around 2010, ordered that an adjournment will not come cheap, and imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on the Central Government, whose counsel sought an adjournment for filing an Affidavit-in-Reply to a Writ Petition filed by a petitioner. The point worth highlighting was that the Central Government had already been granted time and opportunity to file the same, but were not ready on the day of the hearing.

It was thought that it would serve as a deterrent but sadly enough, it failed. The lawyers kept on this practice and at last it was the court which had to compromise its position. What this incident signifies is that even the threat of monetary loss or government action was not enough to guarantee the smooth flow of justice.

When we dig deeper, we find that the law does provide various safeguards against adjournments. Order XVII of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) provides that only three adjournments will be granted to a party during the course of a suit. Further, it provides that adjournments will only be granted for a sufficient cause and where the circumstances are beyond the control of a party. Sadly enough even after the making of the law, it is the implementation and enforcement which is lacking.

Of course, similar problems were faced by the other countries also and we may/may not follow their example but we sure can analyze it and come up with our own model. For example, in Manhattan there are special night courts which mainly deal with criminal matters. To top it up, these courts are even located in high crime areas. Quick disposition of matter takes place here. Taking a cue from this, there was a similar proposal in the United Kingdom. In that proposition they demanded to set-up special courts which will hear matters from 10 a.m. till midnight. When the question of authority came up, it was decided that these courts will be granted special jurisdiction.

What we as a country need to do is tackle the problem head on. In the present situation, what seems most feasible and practical enough is that change should be proposed by the legislature or through orders given by the higher judiciary, i.e. the High Courts and the Supreme Court. The impact that it will create is that when people see the higher authorities standing together and taking a strict stand against this malpractice, it will create an apprehension of some sort in the minds of the people to not bring in usage such tactics.

There is some slacking from the side of the judges itself, they need to be more strict and stringent regarding adjournments and make sure that adjournments are given according to the procedure established by CPC only. Specific time limits should be set for filing of certain documents. In the present scenario, there is no rule regarding fixing of time limit for filing documents and hence advocates seek weeks and sometimes months for filing their documents.

What needs to be done is that specific time limits should be set for filing of certain documents. Same action needs to be taken in hearing of cases. Matters should be made specifically time bound. Enforcing this will discourage judges from granting adjournments as well as advocates from seeking it. Lawyers should take the responsibility on their own shoulders and advise their clients against seeking adjournments and help the courts in speeding up matters.

Seats lying vacant should be filled up to meet the required number of Judges in the Courts. For example, the latest data released by the law ministry reveals that UP has the highest number of positions vacant in the lower judiciary (1,360), followed by MP (706) and Bihar (684). Together, the three states account for 51% of all vacancies in the district and subordinate judiciary across the country. Further there should also be an increase in the number of seats for Judges for quicker disposal of matters. Also, Courts should be working for longer hours so that arguments can be completed and lawyers do not feel the need to take adjournments.

A study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP) came up with Jal di i.e. Justice, Access and Lowering Delays in India. It was an innovative way which proposed reducing government litigation, compulsory use of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. It mentioned simplifying procedures, recommending precise capacity reinforcements and use of technology. The goal was clear i.e. to find a way to clear all backlog in the courts within six years.

Of course, implementing such reforms will be a challenge in itself but it is critical that the public mindset around delays should change. Delay in courts is not just a legal issue but rather it is questioning of the growth of a culture that has made delays acceptable. It impacts the ethics of our society and points towards the downgrading morals.

Hearing the discussion from the time of independence we can infer that the Courts of India were supposed to be a temple of its citizen’s rights and its only savior. We cannot allow it to be disparaged and clogged by few unscrupulous people or practices, hell bent upon rendering the justice system useless for the common men in this country.

Simple yet effective measures like the above mentioned suggestions can not only reduce the burden on courts but also help them in providing the common people a speedier and more effective justice system as is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution for Rarely has there been an issue that cries out louder for the government and the judiciary to secure the constitutional mandate of speedy and effective access to justice.  

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