Registry Is Part And Parcel of The Judicial System: Supreme Court

In a fresh, welcome and interesting development, the Supreme Court has just recently on July 6, 2020 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled Reepak Kansal vs. Secretary-General, Supreme Court Of India & Ors. in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 541 of 2020 has taken a stern view of the increasing tendency to blame the Registry for listing some cases more swiftly as compared to others. Justice Arun Mishra who authored this notable judgment for himself and Justice S Abdul Nazeer observed that the Registry which is part and parcel of the judicial system, is blamed unnecessarily for no good reasons. Very rightly so!

To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this noteworthy judgment wherein it is observed that, “The petitioner, who is an Advocate practicing in this Court, has filed the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India against various officers of the Registry of this Court and the Union of India. Prayer has been made to issue an appropriate Writ, Order or Direction in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondents not to give preference to the cases filed by influential lawyers/petitioners, law firms, etc. Prayer has been made to direct the respondents to give equal treatment to the cases filed by ordinary lawyers/petitioners and not to point out unnecessary defects, refund the excess court fee and other charges, and not to tag the cases without order or direction of the Court with other cases. A prayer has also been made to direct the Secretary General of this Court to take action against the erring officers for their involvement in the listing, clearing and bench hunting.”

While mentioning the chief grouse of the petitioner, the Bench notes in para 2 that, “It is averred in the petition that equal treatment has not been given to the ordinary lawyers/litigants. They favour some law firms or Advocates for reasons best known to them.”

While mentioning of the first instance, it is then unfolded in para 3 that, “The petitioner’s first instance is that a Writ Petition (Civil) D. No. 10951 of 2020 was filed by him on 16.4.2020. The Registry pointed out three defects, i.e. (1) Court Fee of Rs 530 was not paid, (2) Documents to be placed as per index, and (3) Details given in index were incomplete and annexures were not filed, matter to be rechecked. The petitioner had clarified vide email dated 18.4.2020 that he had paid the court fee of Rs. 730/- and there was no annexure with the petition. However, the petitioner was forced to pay more court fees to get the matter listed. Despite the letter of urgency, the Registry failed to register and list the writ petition. The petitioner requested the Secretary, Supreme Court Bar Association, about not listing the writ petition. On 27.4.2020, the writ petition was listed before the Court.”

While mentioning of the second instance, it is then narrated in para 4 that, “The second instance given by the petitioner is that a Writ Petition (Civil) D. No. 11236 of 2020 was filed on 12.5.2020, which has not been listed by the Registry till today. He was informed that there were no defects in the writ petition, but a copy of the writ petition was missing. After that, no update was given by the Registry.”

Now coming to the third instance, it is then mentioned in para 5 that, “The third instance given is about Writ Petition (Civil) No. 522 of 2020 (Diary No. 522 of 2020) filed by the petitioner on 20.05.2020. The Dealing Assistant pointed out defects on 26.5.2020. The defects were pointed out by the Dealing Assistant after six days of filing, though the application for urgency was filed in the petition. The following note was made by the Registry:

“MATTER NEEDS TO BE RECHECK AS WHOLE INDEX IS BLANK, PETITION, AFFIDAVIT, VAKALATNAMA, MEMO OF APPEARANCE AND APPLICATION ALL ARE UNSIGNED AND DEFICIT COURT FEE ETC.”

The petitioner clarified that the signed documents were already uploaded. The matter was urgent, and he had uploaded them again along with signed documents on 26.5.2020. Again the defects were pointed out on 29.5.2020 by the Dealing Assistant to the following effect:

“APPLICATION IS NOT PROPER AS HEADING NOT TALLY WITH INDEX AND BE SPECIFIC ABOUT THE SUBJECT AND PRAYER OF APPLICATION.”

The petitioner cured the defects on 29.5.2020. After that, the Dealing Assistant did not recheck the matter. On 2.6.2020, the petitioner made a call and requested the Branch Officer concerned to direct the Dealing Assistant to recheck the matter. On 2.6.2020, the matter was rechecked and numbered as Diary No. 11552 of 2020. The case was verified on 6.6.2020 and listed for 6.7.2020 (computer-generated) which would make the case infructuous. The application for urgency was not considered. The petitioner was informed that the case was likely to be listed on 6.7.2020. He sent an email about the urgency. The Registry was not willing to list the Diary No. 11552 of 2020 despite the application for urgency. Hence, the writ petition has been filed.”

Truth be told, para 6 then states that, “It is averred that on 23.4.2020, W.P. Diary No. 11006 of 2020 titled as Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. UOI was filed at 8.07 p.m. without annexure. The Registry had chosen not to point out any defects, and a special supplementary list was uploaded on the same day. The category was not specified in the notification to be heard during a nationwide lockdown. No procedure was followed by the Registry for urgent hearing during the lockdown. The petitioner made a complaint to Secretary-General against illegal activities of the Registry but the same is without response.”

To put things in perspective, it is then illustrated in para 9 stating that, “Although defects were noted, Writ Petition (C) Diary No. 10951 of 2020 was listed, heard and finally decided on 27.4.2020. It was filed on 17.4.2020. 18th and 19th April 2020 were the holidays. There were only five working days, and during the nationwide lockdown, the court functioning was minimal. The case was mentioned in the cause list on 26.4.2020 to be listed on 27.4.2020. Thus, it could not be said that there was delay much less inordinate one by the officials of the Registry in listing the matter mentioned above.”

While continuing in the same vein, it is then revealed in para 10 that, “Concerning the second instance, i.e., Diary No. 11236 of 2020, which was filed by petitioner on 9.5.2020, the Registry has noted several defects on 14.5.2020. The petitioner is still lying with defects.”

Not stopping here, it is then further revealed in para 11 that, “Concerning the third instance i.e., Writ Petition No. 522 of 2020 (D. No. 11552 of 2020), the same was filed on 20.5.2020. Again, a defective petition and defects were pointed out by the Registry on 26.5.2020 that the whole index was blank. Petition, Affidavit, Vakalatnama, Memo of Appearance, and Application were all unsigned with a deficit court fee, etc. The petitioner removed the defects. However, other defects were caused, such as the application filed was not proper as heading did not tally with the index, and specific subjects and prayers were not mentioned. The defects were re-cured, and the petition was re-filed on 3.6.2020. The matter was processed and listed on 9.6.2020 and was heard and dismissed on 12.6.2020 as other matters on the similar issues were pending as such the matter was not considered to be necessary. The petitioner has not disclosed about listing of the case for 12.6.2020, and its decision and averred that the computer-generated date was 6.7.2020. The Registry did not follow the computer-generated date, and the case was listed for 12.6.2020 on which it was dismissed. The petitioner himself was responsible for 12-13 days of delay in removing the defects.”

While dwelling on the out of turn hearing given to eminent journalist Arnab Goswami, it is then pointed out in para 12 that, “As to case of Arnab Goswami, it was listed urgently in view of order of competent authority. It pertained to liberty and freedom of media.”

Of course, it is then also very rightly pointed out in para 13 that, “In the aforesaid circumstances, considering the ongoing pandemic caused by COVID-19, the Registry of this Court is working with less strength, and because of the facts described above and circumstances, we find that there was no justification for the petitioner to allege discrimination vis-à-vis to him and to favour any particular individual. The defects were there in all the three cases filed by the petitioner.”

Furthermore, it is then envisaged in para 14 that, “The petitioner has filed this writ application in a hurry. When it was listed, he circulated a letter to the effect that, as per procedure, he expected that he would be called for interaction by Registrar of this Court to find out his fitness whether he could argue a case in person. The petitioner ought to know that he is an Advocate of this Court and argues the matter in this Court. As such, it was not necessary to summon him for adjudging his capability as to whether he could argue the case. Be that as it may circulating such a letter was not appropriate at his stance and why he doubted his ability to argue. There was no justification to entertain this kind of apprehension in mind. He ought to have been careful in circulating such a letter seeking a wholly unjustified adjournment.”

As if this was not enough, it is then further stated in para 15 that, “In the letter circulated by him, it was further stated that he wanted to collect the evidence and to file it, and for that purpose, he prayed for six weeks time. The conduct indicates that the petitioner was careless and not serious while he made the allegations. He filed writ application without due inquiries, and without collecting the requisite material. Such conduct was least expected of an officer of this Court. Petitioner ought to have been careful before cast of unnecessary aspersions on the Registry and staff of this Court.”

Making matters worse, it is then also brought out in para 16 that, “The petition as filed could not be said to be maintainable. The petitioner has impleaded the Secretary General, various Registrars, and officers of the Registry, SCBA, and Union of India in his writ application. In contrast, Writ is filed against this Court itself. He ought to have impleaded the Supreme Court of India in the Writ Application through Secretary General. The omission indicates careless conduct on the part of the petitioner. The petition was filed in undue haste.”

More significantly, it is then underscored in para 17 that, “We take judicial notice of the fact that a large number of petitions are filed which are defective; still, the insistence is made to list them and mention is made that they should be listed urgently. It happens in a large number of matters, and unnecessary pressure is put upon the Assistants dealing with the cases. We find due to mistakes/carelessness when petitions with defects are filed, it should not be expected that they should be listed instantly. To err is human and there can be an error on the part of the Dealing Assistants also. This is too much to expect perfection from them, particularly when they are working to their maximum capacity even during the pandemic. The cases are being listed. It could not be said that there was an inordinate delay in listing the matters in view of the defects. The Court functioned during the lockdown, the cases were scanned and listed by the Registry. The staff of this Court is working despite danger to their life and safety caused due to pandemic, and several of the Dealing Staff, as well as Officers, have suffered due to Covid-19. During such a hard time, it was not expected of the petitioner who is an officer of this Court to file such a petition to demoralize the Registry of this Court instead of recognizing the task undertaken by them even during pandemic and lockdown period.”

Let us discuss now in brief the salient points of para 18 wherein the Bench holds that, “We see, in general, it has become a widespread practice to blame the Registry for no good reasons. To err is human, as many petitions are field with defects, and defects are not cured for years together. A large number of such cases were listed in the recent past before the Court for removal of defects which were pending for years. In such situation, when the pandemic is going on, baseless and reckless allegations are made against the Registry of this Court, which is part and parcel of the judicial system. We take judicial notice of the fact that such evil is also spreading in the various High Courts, and Registry is blamed unnecessarily for no good reasons. It is to be remembered by worthy lawyers that they are the part of the judicial system; they are officers of the Court and are a class apart in the society.” Some relevant case laws discussed in detail in this para about the expectations from lawyers include R. Muthukrishnan v. The Registrar General of the High Court of Judicature at Madras, Writ Petition (C) No. 612 of 2016 and Kamini Jaiswal v. Union of India & Anr. (2018) 1 SCC 156.

Most significantly, the Bench then minces no words in para 20 to hold that, “We expect members of the noble fraternity to respect themselves first. They are an intellectual class of the society. What may be proper for others may still be improper for them, the expectations from them is to be exemplary to the entire society, then only the dignity of noble profession and judicial system can be protected. The Registry is nothing but an arm of this Court and an extension of its dignity. Bar is equally respected and responsible part of the integral system. Registry is part and parcel of the system, and the system has to work in tandem and mutual reverence. We also expect from the Registry to work efficiently and effectively. At the same time, it is expected of the lawyers also to remove the defects effectively and not to unnecessarily cast aspersions on the system.”

Be it noted, it is then held in para 21 that, “Thus, we find no ground to entertain the petition. We expect the petitioner to be more careful and live up to the dignity of the profession which it enjoys.”

Finally, it is then held in para 22 that, “We dismiss the petition and impose cost of Rs. 100/- (Rupees One Hundred only) on the petitioner as a token to remind his responsibility towards noble profession and that he ought not to have preferred such a petition.”

In essence, the long and short of this extremely laudable judgment is that lawyers must appreciate and admit that registry is part and parcel of the system and just like Bar is an arm of the Court. Lawyers must refrain from casting aspersions on Registry at the drop of a hat. For the system to operate smoothly, it is imperative that the Bar and the Registry work in tandem and mutual reverence as very rightly pointed out in para 20 that was discussed earlier! There can be no denying or disputing it!

Sanjeev Sirohi,