Use Information Technology and Communication to reduce delay in service of summons: Vidhi report

According to a 2019 study, notice/summons stage account for 25 percent of the life cycle of a civil case and 18 percent in a criminal case.
Use Information Technology and Communication to reduce delay in service of summons: Vidhi report
Summons in the Digital Age

The Justice, Access & Lowering Delays in India (JALDI) initiative at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, has published a report highlighting the roadblocks in the process of serving summons and called for expediting and streamlining the process through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) integration.

The report titled "Summons in the Digital Age: Integrating Information and Communication Technology in the Process of Serving Summons" has placed reliance on another study undertaken by Vidhi and civil society organisation, Daksh in 2019 on the time spent by Bangalore Rural Courts at the notice summons stage.

According to that study, notice/summons stage account for 25 percent of the life cycle of a civil case and 18 percent in a criminal case. Further, courts spend 273 and 210 days on an average at this stage for civil and criminal cases respectively.

The JALDI report has examined the cases for such delay in detail and also suggested the way forward to tackle the same.

Causes for Delay

The JALDI report identified delay in five stages of summons — the issuance of summons by the court; internal processes of the registry and their interaction with the parties; the procedural issues of serving summons; the practical issues governing process servers; and other practical issues.

At stage one, i.e., at the issuance of summons by the court, some of the reasons for delay were the inadequacy of rules/regulations/notifications to govern the procedure, lack of clear mandate to provide next date of hearing and delay in submission of process fee.

At the second stage, multiplicity of stages and participants, lack of intermediate correspondence between the court and the petitioner, and incomplete recording of email id and phone number of the party being served are few of the causes for delay.

Procedural issues such as serving summons to outstation parties, delay in serving foreign summons and issues arising when a party served, refuses the summons can also add to the delay.

"In the event that the party being served (or her agents) simply choose not to accept summons or sign the acknowledgement, reserving of summons becomes another futile exercise and only adds to the amount of judicial time that has to be spent. In such cases, to procedurally conclude the service process, a copy of the summons has to be prominently affixed on the house/office and then, ideally, also be published in a widely circulated newspaper, report stated.

It further said that lack of right incentives for process servers, inadequate training, duplication of work for process servers, out-dated address and directories of panel advocates are some of the other reasons that can be attributed to the delay in serving the summons.

Judicial recognition for summons through e-mail and other messaging apps

On service of summons through email and whatsapp, the report noted that in 2010, the Supreme Court in, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission v National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd had permitted email notice to be served along with the ordinary mode of serving notice.

The Court further ruled that this practice should be followed in commercial litigation and in cases where urgent interim relief is sought in the Supreme Court.

Additionally, courts such as Bombay and Delhi High Courts have also begun acknowledging the utility of services like WhatsApp for service of court notice, the report said.

However, while these methods indicate the movement towards electronic methods of serving summons, the report opined that, it is difficult to obtain proper proof of delivery of service in such cases.

Diversifying methods for information collection

As one of the key causes for delays at summons stage, is the lack of proper information about the party being served, the report made a few suggestions to rectify this:

Collaborate with other government departments to access databases: Each High Court, in collaboration with other government departments, can develop an application that allows access to their independent databases of contact information.

Solicit information from public through subscription: Another method for the High Court to obtain information is to solicit it from the public through a subscription model. High Courts can allow individuals to subscribe to their website to receive e-Summons issued against their name.

Register of panel advocates: State Governments and Departments in the Central Government have panel advocates at every High Court. In collaboration with the Central Agency, the High Court Registry can maintain a regularly updated register of the contact information of such individuals.

On the point of digitalisation of the summons procedure, the report said:

"One of the primary methods of ensuring further digitisation of the summons process is by the wider implementation of auto generated summons through the CIS. CIS can be further updated to minimize human intervention and enable a completely digitised process to generate summons. These electronically generated summons can also be hosted on the High Court website, regardless of the method being used to deliver them. Generating summons and hosting it on a singular source will also allow for a comparison of the results arrived from different methods through which service is attempted."

Recommendations

The report gave recommendations to be implemented at every stage of serving summons. Some of the recommendations are:

  • Formulate comprehensive rules specifically to address the service of summons to govern the High Court and the district courts within its jurisdiction.

  • Issue regular notifications and amendments to adapt to technological changes.

  • Provide the party being served with the next date of hearing while serving summons.

  • Allow for one-time payment of process fees and streamline the process of payment

  • Ensure compliance with e-filing norms across all courts and setting up the infrastructure to allow for further technological integration with the judiciary. Incrementally, reduce reliance on paper and encourage submission of digital copy of the plaint.

  • Maintain a regularly updated directory of panel advocates for the various government departments and centralised e-mail addresses of all ministries, departments, and regulatory authorities.

  • Collaborate with the government departments to access contact details of registered entities from Government databases.

  • Internal procedure to rectify the contact details between court hearings with better correspondence between the process servers, the Registry, and the serving party.

  • Generate digitally certifiable seals for the High Court for utilisation in all official documentation and communication.

  • Expand the direct methods of delivery of summons by enabling the service of summons through messaging applications, SMS, and email. Enable automated service of summons by these modes of communication.

  • Expand the use of NSTEP and geo-location by the process servers and ensure compliance

  • Conduct training of process servers to sensitise them to the importance of the job and educate them on procedures

This apart, the report also put forth a Model Service of Summons Rules, 2020, which recommend an ideal legislative framework for High Courts to effectuate process re-engineering and establish an efficient summons process.

Read the full report here.

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