Deterring filing of bogus petitions

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: May 15 2014, 02:11am hrs
Bogus petition filers, beware! The cost of litigation is set to become sky-high, as frivolous litigations clog the judicial system, the Supreme Court has said. The apex court said that the legislature check the abuse of law and put in place a mechanism that will make it prohibitively costly for people who file such vexatious petitions. The purpose to impose compulsory costs is that a successful litigant must be compensated by the one who has lost. The effort is not to discourage a litigant, but only to introduce consequences if the litigants cause is found to be unfair. The apex court feels this will ensure judges dont come under unnecessary pressure and their time is not wasted.

The suggestion comes in the context of the hearing of the Sahara case in which arguments went on for 81 daysfrom November 28, 2011, to April 21, 2014consuming hundreds of hours of the courts time.

While the apex court has suggested legislation for this, the judiciary already has powers to penalise such litigants and impose compensatory costs; institutional tools are in place to address this problem, say experts. Courts can throw out ill-conceived legal claims and that can begin at the trial court level. Such suits may still find their way to appellate courts and even the Supreme Court, but all the courts can impose exceptional costs on a litigant for wasting their precious time, according to a corporate lawyer.

The legal fraternity feels the definition of frivolous petition is debatable. How does one categorise it While it is imperative to check such vexatious claims, it is a matter of subjective satisfaction, says Ajay Bhargava of Khaitan & Co. According to him, the award of actual costs of litigation should be much higher than nominal or unrealistic costs granted as of now. The cost of litigation in such cases should be enhanced. Under the civil procedure code, such compensation is too meagre to be a deterrent. The code vests the courts with the power to impose compensatory costs but the amount is capped at R3,000, Bhargava adds.

This is not the first time that the judiciary has raised concern over the rising trend of filing senseless litigation to press illegitimate claims. The apex court had, in numerous cases in the past, held that costs are to be awarded, not as a punishment to the defeated party but to recompense the successful party for the expenses it had to bear. In the case Sanjeev Kumar Jain vs Raghubir Saran Charitable Trust, it dealt with the relevant provisions under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, for the award of compensatory and punitive costs in favour of the successful party. It suggested a hike in the quantum of costs on persons indulging in frivolous and vexatious litigations. In Salem Advocates Bar Association case, the SC held: the costs have to be actual reasonable costs including the cost of the time spent by the successful party, the transportation and lodging, if any, or any other incidental cost besides the payment of the court fee, lawyers fee, typing and other cost in relation to the litigation.

In Ashok Kumar Mittals case, the top court reiterated that the present system of levying meagre costs in civil matters is unsatisfactory and a realistic approach relating to costs is the need of the hour.

The time has come to remove the ceiling on exemplary costs through a legislation on the issue. But the Constitution has empowered the SC with special regulatory and jurisdictional powers. SC lawyer MR Shamshad says that the top court may add certain penal and compensatory provisions in the Rules to limit the abuse of judicial process. In case such provisions are made in SC Rules, it is important that they are invoked. If we expect Parliament to regulate the abuse of process of the SC by the litigants, that will certainly touch upon the inherent wide powers of the SC under a given circumstances, he adds.