Ensuring speedy justice

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: May 2 2014, 09:38am hrs
Concerned with the huge pendency of more than 40 lakh cheque-bounce cases that clog the justice delivery system in the country, the Supreme Court has laid down slew of measures to streamline the procedure for speedy disposal of such cases and check unnecessary and unwarranted procedural delays.

In the landmark judgment, Indian Bank Association vs UoI, the top court for the first time allowed service of summons by email to accused, accepting affidavits of witnesses during evidence and directed completion of evidence of complainant within three months of assigning of case to the court besides asking magistrates to follow uniform practice throughout the country. Not only a magistrate is now required to issue summons on the same day he receives a complaint (provided documents are in order), summons should also apprise an accused that he could show up in the court and compound the offence on the same day. Besides, the lower courts need not call a complainant twicerecording his statement, once at pre-summoning stage and another after issuance of summonsand taking an appropriate affidavit from him should suffice.

The directions will go a long way not only in rendering speedy justice in cases instituted under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, but also improve functioning of the justice delivery system as a whole. In addition, it will also restore the confidence of the banking industry which finds it difficult to expeditiously recover thousands of crores that got blocked in the protracted litigations.

It is estimated that more than 30% of all the pending cases in courts across the country are either related to cheque-bounce or traffic challans.

Says Lalit Bhasin, who appeared for the Indian Banks Association, the representative body of banks in India with over 174 banks and financial institutions as its members, This would not only reduce the mounting arrears pressure on the courts below but also restore the confidence of consumers in trade, commerce and banking business in India, and the banks would have ample time to channelise their blocked funds.

Even the Delhi High Court has recently held that there is no legal bar to the compounding of a cheque-bounce offence at any stage prior to the execution of punishment, i.e. either during or even after disposal of an appeal filed either by the accused or by the complainant.

Since Section 147 of the Act does not require permission of the court for compounding such an offence, the parties therefore can enter into a compromise outside the court and then get the same recorded in the court at any point of time before the sentence is fully executed, the high court said.

Even the government has been mulling to bring an amendment to the 1881 Act that will make it easier for banks to recover the money through out-of-court settlement rather than dragging a person to court for a cheque dishonour offence. After the changes are effected, such cases will have to be decided only through alternative dispute resolution mechanism including settlement through Lok Adalats.

Such proposed amendment was also recommended by an inter-ministerial group, which was set up in 2012 to make suggestions for legislative changes to deal with mind-boggling pendency in courts.