Constitutional Courts should refrain from directives unless exceptional circumstances warrant them.: Supreme court.

High Court Bar Association v. State of U.P. & Ors Judgement is been delivered by Chief Justice of India, Dr Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, Justice Abhay S. Oka, Justice J. B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra. The case involves an order dated December 1, 2023, where a three-judge bench expressed reservations about the Asian Resurfacing case, suggesting reconsideration by a larger bench. Asian Resurfacing dealt with the framing of charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and introduced the automatic vacation of stay orders after six months.

Asian Resurfacing held that the framing of charges is neither interlocutory nor final, granting High Court’s jurisdiction to review framing orders. It emphasized the deleterious effects of trial delays, issuing directives for stays, emphasizing exceptional cases, and setting a six-month limit on stays. The order of reference questions whether, under Article 142, the court can mandate the automatic vacation of all interim orders after a set period and direct day-to-day hearings within a fixed period. The court expresses concern about the potential miscarriage of justice arising from automatic stay vacation without judicial scrutiny.

Submissions and Arguments made by the appellant argues that automatic stay vacation is judicial legislation, and Article 226’s powers are integral to the Constitution. They contend that granting interim relief requires judicial discretion, and the six-month limit is unjust. The Solicitor General supports these arguments and adds that laws must respect principles of natural justice. The court reflects on the object of interim orders, emphasizing their aid to the final relief sought. It underscores the cautious approach in serious cases and the need to prevent unnecessary remands, contributing to docket explosion.

When a High Court grants an ad-interim order of stay, it is a provisional measure issued without providing an opportunity for all parties to be heard. Ad-interim orders have a limited duration and are not problematic in nature. The High Courts retain the authority to vacate or modify such orders after granting an opportunity for all parties to present their arguments. High Courts can consider vacating or modifying interim relief orders under various circumstances, including:

  • Delay Tactics:If a litigant intentionally prolongs proceedings by seeking unwarranted adjournments or remaining absent during hearings, exploiting the order of stay.
  • Suppression or Misrepresentation:If the High Court determines that the interim relief order resulted from the suppression or misrepresentation of material facts by the party benefiting from the stay.
  • Material Change in Circumstances:If there is a substantial change in circumstances that justifies interference with the earlier interim order. The passage of time may lead to such changes. These grounds are not exhaustive, and the High Court may find other valid reasons to vacate or modify an order of stay.

An interim order can come to an end if the main case, in which the interim order was issued, is disposed of by the High Court. The disposal can happen based on merits, for default, or other reasons such as the abatement of the case. A judicial order is required to vacate interim relief, and this order must be passed after hearing all contesting parties. The case stresses that vacating interim relief without hearing the beneficiary of the order goes against the principles of natural justice.

The importance of applying principles of natural justice in vacating interim relief or modifying it is highlighted. Orders should be made only after hearing all affected parties to ensure fairness and the proper application of legal principles. The case argues against the automatic vacation of interim orders based solely on the lapse of time, especially when the delay is not the litigant’s fault. It emphasizes that a lawfully passed interim order should not be rendered illegal simply due to the passage of time.

The case of Asian Resurfacing is cited, where directions were issued regarding the automatic vacation of interim orders passed by High Courts. The passage questions the applicability of such directions to all cases. Legislative attempts to provide for the automatic vacation of stay orders, as seen in the third proviso to Section 254(2A) of the Income Tax Act. In Pepsi Foods Limited case where such a provision was held to be manifestly arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It emphasizes that Article 142 powers should not be used to set aside valid interim orders without proper consideration.

In the case of Prem Chand Garg the scope of power under Article 142 is discussed, the court held that while the powers are wide, they cannot be used to ignore substantive rights or contradict statutory provisions. High Courts are constitutionally independent and not judicially subordinate to the Supreme Court. The case of Tirupati Balaji Developers is cited to explain the relationship between the Supreme Court and High Courts. In the case of L. Chandra Kumar is mentioned to highlight that the power of High Courts to review legislative actions is integral to the Constitution. The case also briefly touches on Clause (3) of Article 226, which deals with the vacation of interim orders. However, it notes that the clause is applicable primarily to ex-parte ad interim orders. The directions issued in Asian Resurfacing, where it was suggested that petitions with stays must be decided within six months.

In the case of Sanjeev Coke Manufacturing Company to highlight the reservations about answering academic or hypothetical questions, particularly on serious constitutional issues. The reference to the Abdul Rehman Antulay case elucidates the inherently relative nature of the term “speedy trial.” The passage posits that the swiftness of a trial depends on multifarious factors such as the complexity of the offense, the number of accused and witnesses, court workload, and logistical challenges. This complexity is underscored by a specific example involving the accused Ranjan Dwivedi, where the examination of 151 witnesses over five years is highlighted, emphasizing the impracticality of establishing universal time limits for criminal proceedings.

The subsequent discussion on the P. Ramachandra Rao case introduces the theme of prescribing periods of limitation for trial courts, beyond which proceedings must be terminated. The passage scrutinizes the court’s stance on such prescriptions, contending that such an endeavor constitutes legislation and falls outside the purview of judicial directives. The analogy to Chapter XXXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is drawn to illustrate the fine but perceptible line between the judiciary’s role in declaring and interpreting laws and the legislative prerogative to enact and modify laws.

The narrative then critiques the Asian Resurfacing case, particularly challenging the wisdom of certain directions issued. Notably, it questions the automatic vacation of stay orders solely based on the lapse of time and the directive to decide all cases with interim stays on a day-to-day basis. The passage argues that such sweeping directions amount to judicial legislation and asserts that only the legislature can establish specific time limits for case disposal. It raises concerns about the lack of consideration for the diverse nature of cases and the priorities of different courts.

The conclusion the Chief Justice of India emphasizes the limitations of Article 142 and the necessity to respect substantive rights and principles of natural justice. It underscores the caution required when contemplating fixed schedules for case disposal, asserting that Constitutional Courts should refrain from such directives unless exceptional circumstances warrant them. Thus, advocates for a nuanced, context-specific approach to case disposal, recognizing the intricacies involved in different legal proceedings.

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Judgement Reviewed by: Namratha Sharma

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