A silence of around 10 months, creating confusion around a judgment, has prompted the Supreme Court to criticise delays by high courts in releasing detailed orders with reasons. A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Sanjay K Kaul termed it “unacceptable” that the top court was repeatedly finding itself constrained to investigate how, when and where a judgment was delivered and then released on the websites.
“It is an unacceptable situation. How can an order remain unpronounced for months together? Judicial discipline requires promptness in delivery of judgments,” rued the bench when it came across one such appeal in a motor accident claim case during a hearing on Friday.
The controversy in this matter was about the actual date when the judgment was delivered by the Delhi high court.
Oriental Insurance, the petitioner before the Supreme Court, claimed that this case was last heard by the high court on July 31, 2019. They next heard about it only in May 2020 when the judgment was already released on the high court’s website, without any notice to them. But this judgment was dated July 31, 2019 and not May 2020.
Moving the SC in appeal, the insurance company complained how this judgment could date back to July 31, 2019 when there was neither any order dictated by the judge in the open court on that date nor was the company’s lawyer told that the ruling was in favour of the other side.
This contention compelled the SC to seek a report from the registrar general of the Delhi high court. The high court official was asked to report about the dates when this case was heard; when the judgment was reserved; when the judgment was finally received from the office of the high court judge; and when it was finally released on the website. The report from the high court registrar, however, presented a sorry state of affairs.
The top court, read out from the registrar’s report that although the case was heard by the high court judge on July 31, 2019, it was only on May 15, 2020 that the file was sent to the branch concerned to release the judgment.
“We are talking about the period between July 31, 2019 to May, 2020. This is unacceptable. On this ground alone, this order has to go. We will have to set it aside on the very reason of delay in pronouncing the judgment,” said the bench.
It also took exception to a part of the registrar’s report which said that the final order was “indicated” by the high court judge when he heard this matter on July 31, 2019.
“Hence, it appears that even concluding paragraph was not penned down. The judgment is stated not to have been reserved. The file was, however, sent back to the registry after nine-and-half months, on May 15, 2020 and the judgment is uploaded on the same date,” noted the bench in its order. Even as the SC acknowledged that the high court judge appeared to be in some personal difficulty for some time, it lamented that the process, which was required to be followed, was not followed.
“If a judgment cannot be delivered on the same date or immediately thereafter, the judgment ought to be reserved to facilitate the judge to pen down the order. Result of not doing so is that the appellant (Oriental Insurance), being the aggrieved party, is not able to avail of legal remedies,” added the SC order as it set aside the high court judgment.
Earlier, in October this year, the apex court had to seek a similar report from the registrar general of the Bombay high court after it noted that while the petition in this matter was dismissed in January, a detailed order recording the reasons was yet to be released.
At that time too, the SC had passed a judgment, holding: “Judicial discipline requires promptness in delivery of judgments – an aspect repeatedly emphasised by this Court. The problem is compounded where the result is known but not the reasons. This deprives any aggrieved party of the opportunity to seek further judicial redressal in the next tier of judicial scrutiny.”