It is a matter of utmost satisfaction to note that none other than the Supreme Court has itself taken very strong exception of the adjournment culture prevalent in our country especially in the lower courts and in an extremely laudable, landmark, latest and learned judgment titled Ishwarlal Mali Rathod vs Gopal and Ors. in Special Leave Petition (Civil) Nos. 14117-14118 of 2021 delivered as recently as on September 20, 2021 has urged the courts not to grant repeated adjournments in routine manner. The Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice MR Shah and Justice AS Bopanna minced just no words to observe that repeated adjournments break the back of the litigants and consequentially lose confidence in the justice delivery system. It was also made clear that a judicial officer has to bear in mind his duties to the litigants and shall not worry about ‘displeasure of bar’ for not granting unnecessary adjournments. The Bench also made it clear that, “Time has now come to change the work culture and get out of the adjournment culture so that confidence and trust put by the litigants in the justice delivery system is not shaken and Rule of Law is maintained.”
To start with, this cogent, commendable, composed and convincing judgment authored by Justice MR Shah for a Bench of Apex Court comprising of himself and Justice AS Bopanna sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “Present is the classic example of misuse of the adjournments granted by the court. Present SLPs have been preferred challenging the impugned order dated 17.02.2021 passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Bench at Indore in M.P. No. 107 of 2021 and M.P. No. 108 of 2021 by which the High Court has dismissed the said misc. petition preferred by the petitioner – original defendant, confirming the order passed by the learned Trial Court dated 21.12.2020 closing the right to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witness.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then herein puts forth in para 2 that, “Respondents No. 1 to 4 herein filed suit for eviction, arrears of rents and mesne profit against one Ramchandra (now dead) and the present petitioner on 14.08.2013. Petitioner herein – defendant filed the written statement and issues were framed. On 12.05.2014 plaintiffs filed an affidavit under Order XVIII Rule 4 of the CPC which was objected by the petitioner and again the plaintiffs filed an affidavit on 07.03.2015. From 12.05.2015 till 02.12.2019 at least times the defendants sought adjournments which were granted by the court. Lastly the adjournment was given with cost as a last opportunity. Despite the same the petitioner-defendant did not cross-examine the plaintiff’s witness. On 14.10.2019 time for cross examination was given with cost of Rs 5,000/- and with the condition that in any case they fail to cross examine, their right of cross examination would be treated as closed. Despite the same, the petitioner-defendant did not cross examine the plaintiff’s witness and therefore on 05.11.2019 their right was treated as closed. The petitioner approached the High Court by filing miscellaneous petition No. 6283 of 2019 by which the right of the petitioner-defendant to cross examine the plaintiff’s witness was closed. Though no leniency was required to be shown the High Court allowed the said petition by granting last opportunity to the defendants to cross examine the witness. Despite the same the petitioner-defendant did not even thereafter also cross examine the plaintiff’s witness. The suit was fixed for cross examination of plaintiff’s witness on 21.12.2020. On 21.12.2020 again the counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner-defendant filed an application seeking adjournment. Considering the fact that earlier number of adjournments were granted and the opportunity was given to the petitioner-defendant to cross examine the plaintiff’s witness and despite the same the defendant fail to cross examine the plaintiff’s witness, the learned Trial Court vide order dated 21.12.2020 closed the right of the cross-examining the plaintiff’s witness. The order passed by the learned Trial Court has been confirmed by the High Court by the impugned judgment and order.”
Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 4 that, “As observed hereinabove, present is a classic example of misuse of adjournments granted by the court. It is to be noted that the respondents herein – original plaintiffs filed the suit for eviction, arrears of rent and mesne profit as far as back in the year 2013. That thereafter despite the repeated adjournments sought and granted by the court and even twice the adjournments were granted as a last opportunity and even the cost was imposed, the defendant failed to cross examine the plaintiff’s witness. Although the adequate liberty was given to the defendant to cross examine the plaintiff’s witness, they never availed of the same and went on delaying the proceedings by repeated prayers of adjournment and unfortunately the Trial Court and even subsequently the High Court continued to grant adjournment and as such contributed the delay in disposal of the suit which as such was for eviction. High Court continued to grant adjournment after adjournment and as such contributed the delay in disposal of the suit which as such was for eviction. Such approach is wholly condemnable. Law and professional ethics do not permit such practice. Repeated adjournments on one or the other pretext and adopting the dilatory tactics is an insult to justice and concept of speedy disposal of cases. Petitioner-defendant acted in a manner to cause colossal insult to justice and to concept of speedy disposal of civil litigation.”
No doubt, the Bench then makes it clear in para 5 that, “Grant of repeated adjournments in routine manner and how it affects ultimately the justice delivery system as such came to be considered by this court in catena of decisions and asking/grant of repeated adjournments have been repeatedly condemned by this court.”
Quite significantly, the Bench then hastens to add in para 5.1 that, “In the case of Shiv Cotex v. Tirgun Auto Plast (P) Ltd. (2011) 9 SCC 678, it is observed and held in paragraphs 14 to 17 as under:
“14. … 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 the control of the case to a party to the case who has decided not to take the case forward?
15. It is sad, but true, that the litigants seek – and the courts grant – adjournments courts grant – adjournments at the drop of the hat. In the cases where the Judges are little proactive 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 realise that adjournments do dent the efficacy of the 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 CPC. Adjournments have grown like cancer corroding the entire body of justice delivery system.
17…. 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 the plaintiff or the 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.””
Quite remarkably, the Bench then discloses in para 5.2 that, “Commenting on the delay in the justice-delivery system, although in respect of the criminal trial, Krishna Iyer, J. in the case of Babu Singh v. State of U.P. (1978) 1 SCC 579 has observed in paragraph 4 as under:
“4. … Our justice system, even in grave cases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to ‘fair trial’, whatever the ultimate decision. Speedy justice is a component of social justice since the community, as a whole, is concerned in the criminal being condignly and finally punished within a reasonable time and the innocent being absolved from the inordinate ordeal of criminal proceedings.”
To top it all, the Bench then most significantly envisages in para 5.5 what forms the cornerstone of this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment that, “Today the judiciary and the justice delivery system is facing acute problem of delay which ultimately affects the right of the litigant to access to justice and the speedy trial. Arrears are mounting because of such delay and dilatory tactics and asking repeated adjournments by the advocates and mechanically and in routine manner granted by the courts. It cannot be disputed that due to delay in access to justice and not getting the timely justice it may shake the trust and confidence of the litigants in the justice delivery system. Many a times, the task of adjournments is used to kill Justice. Repeated adjournments break the back of the litigants. The courts are enjoining upon to perform their duties with the object of strengthening the confidence of common man in the institution entrusted with the administration of the justice. Any effort which weakens the system and shake the faith of the common man in the justice dispensation has to be discouraged. Therefore the courts shall not grant the adjournments in routine manner and mechanically and shall not be a party to cause for delay in dispensing the justice. The courts have to be diligence and take timely action in order to usher in efficient justice dispensation system and maintain in rule of law. We are also aware that whenever the trial courts refused to grant unnecessary adjournments many a times they are accused of being strict and they may face displeasure of the Bar. However, the judicial officers shall not worry about that if his conscience is clear and the judicial officer has to bear in mind his duties to the litigants who are before the courts and who have come for justice and for whom Courts are meant and all efforts shall be made by the courts to provide timely justice to the litigants. Take an example of the present case. Suit was for eviction. Many a times the suits are filed for eviction on the ground of bonafide requirements of the landlord. If plaintiff who seeks eviction decree on the ground of personal bonafide requirement is not getting the timely justice and he ultimately gets the decree after 10 to 15 years, at times cause for getting the eviction decree on the ground of personal bonafide requirement may be defeated. The resultant effect would be that such a litigant would lose confidence in the justice delivery system and instead of filing civil suit and following the law he may adopt the other mode which has no backing of law and ultimately it affects the rule of law. Therefore, the court shall be very slow in granting adjournments and as observed hereinabove they shall not grant repeated adjournments in routine manner. Time has now come to change the work culture and get out of the adjournment culture so that confidence and trust put by the litigants in the Justice delivery system is not shaken and Rule of Law is maintained.
Finally, the Bench then holds in para 5.6 that, “In view of the above and for the reasons stated above and considering the fact that in the present case ten times adjournments were given between 2015 to 2019 and twice the orders were passed granting time for cross examination as a last chance and that too at one point of time even a cost was also imposed and even thereafter also when lastly the High Court passed an order with extending the time it was specifically mentioned that no further time shall be extended and/or granted still the petitioner-defendant never availed of the liberty and the grace shown. In fact it can be said that the petitioner-defendant misused the liberty and the grace shown by the court. It is reported that as such now even the main suit has been disposed of. In view of the circumstances, the present SLPs deserve to be dismissed and are accordingly dismissed.”
All in all, the Apex Court is hundred percent right in this case that the adjournments should not be granted at the drop of a hat in a routine manner. If adjournments are not granted quickly, it will definitely ensure that the case progresses at a much rapid speed and this in turn will ensure that the case is decided in time. This will undoubtedly go a long way in restoring the unflinching faith of the litigant in the justice delivery system! Rule of law will also thus be maintained. Of course, this is imperative also in the supreme interests of the justice and the litigants and so all out efforts must be definitely made to ensure that adjournments are rarely granted and that too when there are cogent, compelling and convincing reasons which necessitates for it to be given! The Bench also unmistakably conveyed it loud and clear that the judicial officers should always bear in mind their duties to the litigants and shall not worry about the ‘displeasure of bar’ for not granting unnecessary adjournments!