Negligence of lawyer is sufficient cause to condone delay: Kerala High Court

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The Kerala High Court recently observed that negligence on the part of the lawyer is sufficient cause to condone delay in filing petitions, especially when no malafides can be attributed to the party in question [Rajesh Chandran v MR Gopalakrishnan Nair & Ors.].

Single-judge Justice CS Dias opined that parties who have reposed their faith in their counsel should not be made to suffer for the any inaction, omission or misdemeanor of the counsel.

“The Courts have been reminded that a party who, as per the present adversarial legal system, has selected his advocate, briefed him and paid his fees can remain supremely confident that his lawyer will look after his interest and such an innocent party who has done everything in his power and expected of him, should not suffer for the inaction, deliberate omission or misdemeanor of his counsel….It is true that even upon showing a sufficient cause, a party is not entitled to the condonation of delay as a matter of right, yet it is trite that in construing sufficient cause, the Courts generally follow a liberal approach particularly when no negligence, inaction or mala fides can be imputed to the party,” the Court said in its judgment.

The observation was made in the judgment on a plea to set aside an order of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) dismissing the petitioner’s claim petition under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, for non-prosecution.

The MACT had also rejected the petitioner’s subsequent applications to restore the claim petition and to condone the delay in filing the application.

Advocate VR Sreejith, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the petitioner had entrusted the matter to another lawyer and had reposed full faith in his counsel believing that the case would be properly contested.

Reliance was placed on the the decision of the Supreme Court in Ram Nath Sao alias Ram Nath Sahu & Ors. v Gobardhan Sao & Ors., in which it was held that Courts should not reject an application for restoring or setting aside the ex-parte decree in a slipshod manner order, or take a hyper technical view of the explanation furnished by the party and reject the application, causing enormous loss and irreparable injury to the party.

However, the MACT, without following the ratio in the above precedents, in a casual manner dismissed all the applications, he contended.

This was opposed by advocate VPK Panicker, appearing for the respondent, who contended that there were willful laches and negligence on the part of the petitioner in conducting the claim petition.

The Court observed that a full bench of the Kerala High Court in Jacob Thomas v Pandian had held that only if the MACT is genuinely satisfied that there was contumacious latches on the part of the claimant in prosecuting the claim petition, should it dismiss the same.

In the present case, the Court noted that the petitioner was bed ridden and it was his counsel who did not take the necessary steps to prosecute his claim petition.

Bearing in mind the benevolent nature of the enactment that the claim stems out from, and considering relevant precedents in the matter, the Court opined that a lenient consideration is to be given by affording the petitioner one more opportunity to contest the case on merit.

“..the Tribunal has got a paramount duty to render justice to the hapless victims of road accident as well as claimants of the deceased. The Tribunal should show human compassion and sympathy in such a situation and not set them ex-parte and leave them in the lurch,” the Court said in its judgment allowing the petition.

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