Unnecessary adjournments in civil cases

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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Unnecessary adjournments in civil cases were a significant issue in the Indian legal system. An adjournment is the suspension or postponement of court proceedings to a later date. While adjournments are sometimes necessary due to legitimate reasons such as the illness of a party or their advocate, gathering additional evidence, or addressing unforeseen circumstances, frequent and unnecessary adjournments can lead to delays in justice and clog the judicial system.

There are several reasons why unnecessary adjournments occur in civil cases:

  1. Overburdened Courts: The Indian judicial system faces a massive backlog of cases, leading to overburdened courts and limited availability of judges. This situation often results in difficulty scheduling hearings, leading to multiple adjournments.
  2. Lack of Preparation: Some advocates or litigants may request adjournments because they are not adequately prepared for the hearing, need more time to gather evidence, or have not completed necessary paperwork.
  3. Tactical Maneuvers: In some instances, parties may seek adjournments strategically to delay the resolution of a case, hoping for a more favorable situation in the future.
  4. Absent Parties/Witnesses: Cases can get adjourned if a key party or witness is absent on the scheduled hearing date, leading to delays.
  5. Legal Formalities and Technicalities: Delays may occur due to the need to address technicalities, procedural issues, or pending legal formalities.
  6. Interlocutory Applications: Frequent interlocutory applications (applications made during the course of the main case) can lead to multiple adjournments.
  7. Continuance Culture: In some instances, courts may grant adjournments too readily, which reinforces a culture of seeking unnecessary adjournments.

The unnecessary adjournments contribute to the already overloaded backlog of cases in Indian courts and can lead to significant delays in the dispensation of justice. Delayed justice not only affects the parties involved in a case but also erodes public confidence in the legal system.

To address this issue, the judiciary has been making efforts to promote efficient case management, encourage strict adherence to timelines, and discourage unnecessary adjournments. Additionally, the use of technology to manage cases and the appointment of more judges to reduce the workload on existing ones have been some of the measures considered to address this problem.

Code of Civil Procedure prohibits unnecessary adjournments

Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) in India does indeed address the issue of unnecessary adjournments in civil cases. The CPC is a comprehensive legislation that governs the procedure for filing and adjudicating civil cases in India. While the CPC recognizes the necessity of adjournments in certain situations, it also lays down provisions to discourage and prohibit unnecessary adjournments to ensure expeditious and fair disposal of cases. Let’s take a look at some relevant provisions in the CPC that deal with this matter:

  1. Section 35A: This section was inserted in the CPC to impose costs for adjournments. It allows the court to impose “exemplary costs” for seeking adjournments without reasonable cause. The objective is to discourage parties from seeking frequent adjournments without valid reasons.
  2. Section 151: This is a general provision in the CPC that empowers the court to take any action necessary to do justice and to prevent abuse of the court’s process. Courts can use this section to regulate the grant of adjournments and prevent unnecessary delays.
  3. Order XVII: This order specifically deals with adjournments. It sets out guidelines for granting or refusing adjournments and provides directions to manage the process efficiently. The court can refuse an adjournment if it appears that the application for the adjournment is made with the intention of delaying the proceedings.
  4. Order VIII Rule 1: This rule pertains to the filing of written statements by the defendants. It requires the defendant to file the written statement within 30 days from the date of service of summons. Failure to do so can result in the defendant being barred from making any further defense unless the court allows sufficient cause for the delay.
  5. Order XI: This order deals with the discovery and inspection of documents. It outlines the process for parties to disclose and inspect relevant documents. Delays in complying with these provisions can be discouraged by imposing costs or penalties.

It’s important to note that while the CPC contains provisions to curb unnecessary adjournments, their effective implementation relies on the diligence of judges, lawyers, and all parties involved in the litigation process. Frequent use of these provisions can help reduce unnecessary delays and clear the backlog of cases in the Indian judicial system.