What makes litigants think they can miss Court appointments when they do not miss a train or a marriage? Madras High Court asks

"When litigants do not miss, say a train or a plane, a marriage or a cinema, what makes them believe that their appointments with the courts alone should figure the least in their list of priorities?"
What makes litigants think they can miss Court appointments when they do not miss a train or a marriage? Madras High Court asks
Madurai Bench

The Madras High Court on Monday lamented about litigants and lawyers who contribute to delays in case disposal on account of repeated adjournments and their failures to keep court appointments, leaving the judiciary alone to be blamed for judicial delays (Fathima v. Rahamutullah and ors).

While dismissing a revision petition to reopen an application to cross-examine a witness in a case before a trial court, Justice N Seshasayee of the High Court observed that the petitioner had repeatedly sought adjournments, appeared unprepared in hearings or failed to appear at all before the lower court finally dismissed her application.

Referring to the dismissal order, the High Court observed that it conveys a general statement, expressing the agony which the courts are put to by some litigants.

"May the Bar and the litigants be now told firmly, but not impolitely, that the appointment which the courts give them is as precious as an appointment a physician gives his patient, for the Courts are doctors of bleeding rights", said the High Court, while rejecting the revision application.

With pain it has to be stated that, for the sin of a section of the Bar and the litigants, the Courts are forced to carry the cross all alone...
Madras High Court

Justice Seshasayee went on to opine that Courts are not solely responsible for the delays in case disposal, although it cannot claim immunity. He added,

"... it is passed for, and derided as judicial delay. The same stakeholders who do not spare an opportunity to abuse and/or waste their appointments with the courts, and at times even with a design, blame them. With pain it has to be stated that, for the sin of a section of the Bar and the litigants, the Courts are forced to carry the cross all alone, struggling to explain the delay for the disposal of cases to the citizens of this country all the time."

Why are Court appointments low on the list of priorities?

The Bar and the litigants need to realise that every time the courts give a posting for hearing their case, it is an appointment, the High Court emphasised. As such, Justice Seshasayee remarked:

"The Bar and the litigants need to realise that everytime the Courts give a posting for hearing their case, it is an appointment the Courts give them. Professionalism of the Bar and the responsibility of the litigants should impel them to realise that no appointments with the Courts are wasted. Incidentally, do they miss an appointment with their physician? It is time they realised that Courts are doctors of injured rights, and the appointments they grant them are honoured and made use of. When the litigants do not miss, say a train or a plane in time, miss a marriage or other social events in time, miss a cinema or a live show in time, miss an examination or an interview in time - and the list is endless, what makes them believe that their appointments with the courts alone should figure the least in their list of priorities?"

The Court proceeded to further query, is it a problem of inadequate professionalism of the Bar, or plain irresponsibility of the litigants, or unmindful generosity of the Courts?

"Watch, weigh and value" when exercising Judicial Discretion

Justice Seshasayee emphasised that once litigants approach the courts, they need to follow a certain discipline and a reasonable timetable.

He acknowledged that the procedure should remain elastic to accommodate unforseen contingencies. As such, "the Courts cannot afford to assume a disciplinarian-attitude", he went on to observe.

However, to stretch the case beyond a limit would defeat the existential objectives of the courts and the promise they hold for the citizens, the Judge cautioned.

"We, the People, may not betray the trust the Constitution has reposed on us, and shame it", he said.

He pointed out that a primary challenge before the District Judiciary concerns the handling of procedural discretion, which if mindlessly applied would necessarily breed processual inequality among litigants. While overwhelming compassion to one litigant may appear fair, it may become an act of unfairness to the other litigant, he added.

He also proposed a possible strategy to guide how a court may exercise its judicial discretion i.e. to watch, weigh and value. Justice Seshasayee explained:

"The Courts may not ignore that we are a country chiefly made of illiterate and ignorant citizens, most of who have to combat economic and social disabilities for their meaningful existence under the Constitution. Their right to justice therefore, should not be killed by fitting them all in a common denominator. Every case has its flavour, and every litigant has his own share of misery. It is hence, imperative that the Courts should watch, weigh and value each of them for accommodating their request for exercising procedural discretion."

... imperative that the Courts should watch, weigh and value each of them for accommodating their request for exercising procedural discretion.
Madras High Court

As far as the case at hand was concerned, however, the High Court found no reason to provide succor to the litigant, upon noting that she had developed a habit to abuse the appointments given by the court.

"Or, is it her Advocate’s strategy?", the Judge asked, commenting further that,

"The courts have been charitable to evolve a doctrine that for the fault of the counsel the litigant should not suffer. The point is, what is that point where a just compassion turns into an undeserving charity? And, is it not true that a section of the bar that has once abused the procedural opportunity is helped with unending opportunities to escape from their inadequate responsibility? Strong expressions they surely are, but this Court considers them as essentially just."

Ultimately opining that the litigant's attitude, in this case, has been plainly and painfully nonsensical, the High Court dismissed her plea, remarking, "somewhere this game should end. And it has ended now."

Read the order:

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Fathima v. Rahamutullah and ors.pdf
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