In a landmark decision aimed at accelerating civil trials in India, the Supreme Court (SC), in Yashpal Jain vs Sushila Devi, has introduced a set of comprehensive guidelines to streamline and expedite the country’s lengthy and cumbersome legal processes. These guidelines, if implemented well, would enable quicker and more efficient resolution of civil disputes.
All district and taluk level courts are now tasked with ensuring that summons are delivered, written statements and pleadings are filed, without undue delay. If a litigant seeks an adjournment, the necessity of it must be demonstrated to avoid the imposition of costs. To further minimise requests for adjournments, trial dates are to be fixed in consultation with advocates and proceedings are expected to continue on a day-to-day basis, ensuring a more consistent and efficient trial process.
One of the most significant shifts introduced by the guidelines is the emphasis on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). After the completion of pleadings, parties would be encouraged to opt for ADR methods such as arbitration, conciliation, judicial settlement and mediation. Any attempts to amicably settle the disputes outside the court are expected to be conducted in a time-bound manner, under the condition that trial proceedings will commence if such attempts prove unsuccessful. If parties opt not to engage in ADR, the courts are asked to frame the issues for determination within one week, ideally in the open court. This is aimed at enhancing transparency and ensuring that proceedings move forward without delay.
To improve caseload management, judicial officers have been instructed to maintain diaries to ensure that only manageable number of cases are handled each day to prevent overcrowding and to reduce the need for adjournments. Similarly, legal professionals are encouraged to stay updated with procedural provisions. Bar Associations and Bar Councils are expected to provide periodic refresher courses, preferably through virtual means, to keep professionals informed about the latest legal developments..
For better compliance of the directives, the SC has directed the creation of a two-tier monitoring mechanism, first at the trial courts and also at the respective High Courts (HC).
The apex court, in an attempt to address the backlog of pending cases, has directed the district-level courts to share statistics on cases pending for more than five years with the respective HCs. This continuous monitoring is to be supplemented with corrective measures regularly.
From a socio-economic perspective, the proper implementation of the SC’s guidelines holds the potential to make substantial improvements in the ease of doing business and the enforceability of contracts within India. Delays in the dispute resolution can increase the costs and uncertainty associated with commercial activities. However, with the new guidelines, businesses can expect quicker resolution of their disputes. This reduction in litigation time which translates to lower legal costs and less time spent on disputes, ultimately fostering a more business-friendly environment.
The guidelines represent a comprehensive and ambitious effort to expedite civil trials in India. By addressing delays, reducing adjournments, promoting ADR and improving case management, the directives aim to transform the Indian legal landscape. Notably, in 2021, the Supreme Court in Rahul S Shah vs Jinendra Kumar Gandhi rendered a slew of directions for quicker execution of decrees. With the two sets of guidelines in place, the district judiciary is well-guided on the efficient and effective conduct of the legal proceedings covering the complete lifecycle of a civil suit.
(The writers are advocates at Trinity Chambers, Delhi)