IN RE: EXPEDITIOUS TRIAL OF CASES UNDER SECTION 138 OF N.I. ACT 1881 Supreme Court Case

IN RE: EXPEDITIOUS TRIAL OF CASES UNDER SECTION 138 OF N.I.  ACT 1881 Supreme Court Case


Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


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REPORTABLE
 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
SUO MOTU WRIT (CRIMINAL) NO. 2 OF 2020
IN RE: EXPEDITIOUS TRIAL OF CASES UNDER SECTION 138 OF N.I.
 ACT 1881
O R D E R
S. RAVINDRA BHAT, J.
1. By a judgment of the Constitution Bench of this Court in Re: Expeditious
Trial of Cases under Section 138 of N.I. Act, 18811 various directions were issued
with respect to the conduct of trials of complaints under Section 138 of the
Negotiable Instruments Act.
2. This court by its subsequent order dated 31.03.2021 had required High
Courts to file status reports indicating compliance with the directions contained
in the judgment and as to whether rules were framed appropriately in line with the
judgment. Similarly, the necessary amendments to the Police Manuals etc. had to
be carried out. As on date, all High Courts except the Patna High Court have
complied with the directions and proposed the amended Rules. In many states,
amended rules have even been notified.
3. On 16.04.2021, by the said judgment of the Larger Bench, an expert
Committee was constituted to consider various suggestions with respect to
streamlining the procedure of arresting the judicial docket, in regard to complaints
and trials for offences under the Negotiable Instruments Act. The Expert
Committee, by its report has suggested the creation of de novo Special NI Courts
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(2021) SCCOnline SC 325
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by the Central Government vide its powers under Article 247 to tackle the problem
of docket explosion. The Expert Committee proposed a scheme with two grades of
judges at the trial court level and two at the appellate/revision stage. According to
the Expert Committee’s calculations, the establishment ofthese special NICourts
would require recruitment of 1,826 special judicial officers and a total cost of Rs
126.59 crores.
4. The amici curiae urged, in the hearing that the suggestion of creation of
special courts with the proposed staffing pattern may not be feasible or practical,
as it would not be possible to immediately establish de novo courts and recruit fresh
candidates and support staff. It was urged that the option of appointing retired
judicial/administrative officers who have worked and discharged quasi-judicial
functions such as retired Tehsildars, Special executive Magistrates, Registrars of
Tribunals and statutory authorities and High Courts etc officers as Special
Judicial/Metropolitan Magistratesfor a fixed pay be explored.
5. Special Magistrate’sCourtsfor conducting trial of cases underthe NI Act can be
constituted under Section 18 of Cr.P.C, 1973 (along with S.13, Cr.P.C). There is
authority for this course of action – (ref.KadraPahadiya v.StateofBihar,[(1997)
4 SCC 287]. Retired public servants, such as tehsildars and magistrates can be
considered for appointment as Special Judicial/Metropolitan magistrates. Retired
government personnel and retired court staff could be appointed for
operationalising these courts.
6. The report of the Expert Committee disclosed that as on 08.11.2021,
26,07,166 complaints were pending at various stages before the Courts seized of
trial of offences under the NI Act. As on 13.04.2022, this pendency has increased
to 33,44,290. This is an increase in pendency of 7,37,124 cases in a period of just
over 5 months. As per the data available on 08.11.2021, NI Act cases contribute
to 8.81% of the total criminal cases pending in the courts. Further, 11.82% of the
total criminal cases that are stagnating due to appearance/service related issues are
NI Act cases.
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7. The amici curiae suggest a pilot study to test the scheme of employing retired
judicial officers and retired courtstaffto operationalise theSpecialCourts underthe
NIAct.Itwassuggested that thisscheme could be tested on a pilot basisin 5 judicial
districts with the highest pendency in the 5 states with the highest pendency
(namely, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh) and the
viability of utilising services of retired judicial officers can be examined based on
the results of the pilot study.
8. ThisHigh Court has by its order dated 27.04.2022 directed theHighCourtsin
the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to respond
to the suggestions of the amici curiae. Their responses are as under:
a. High Court of Bombay – The High Court has identified Nagpur,
Nashik, Thane, Pune and CMM, Mumbai as the 5 districts with highest
pendency.
b. High Court of Rajasthan – The High Court has identified Jaipur
Metro-I, Jaipur Metro-II, Jodhpur Metro, Udaipur and Ajmer as the 5
districts with highest pendency.
c. High Court Allahabad – The High Court has identified Lucknow,
Agra,Kanpur,GautambudhNagar and Ghaziabad as the 5 districts with the
highest pendency.
d. High Court of Gujarat – The High Court has given concurrence for
establishing one additional court to try cases under S. 138 of the N.I. Act as
per the pilot project.
e. High Court of Delhi: Delhi already has 72 Special Courts for cases
under the NI Act.
9. This Court had on 12.05.2022 indicated that the amici curiae may place a
detailed proposal for the pilot study, which has since been filed.
10. Having considered the suggestions made by the amici the Court hereby
directs that the pilot study shall be conducted in the manner hereafter indicated.
The guidelines covering the pilot study shall be as under:
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• Duration of Study: The pilot study shall be conducted for a duration of 1
year from 01.09.2022 to 31.08.2023.
• Number of Courts: The pilot study shall be conducted in 25 Special Courts
in total. One Special Court shall be established in each of the 5 judicial
districts which have been identified as having thehighest pendency by each of
the five High Courts ofthe states(mentioned above) with the highest pendency of
NI Act cases.
• Presiding Officers and Staff: For operationalising the Special Courts under
this pilotstudy,retired judicial officers and retired courtstaff, preferably those
who have retired within the past 5 years, may be employed. The concerned
High Court shall ensure that no vacancy arises, during this period.
• Timeline for Identification of Requirements: The infrastructural
requirements, including information technology support for video
conferencing facilities, should be identified and secured by July 2022.
Similarly, the presiding officers, support staff and human resources required
for operationalising these SpecialCourts and their contractual termsshould be
finalised by the end ofJuly 2022.
• Training: The identified judicial officers, who are to preside over the Special
Courts, be imparted specialised training. A four-week training programme
by the State Judicial Academies on topics of substantive, procedure and
evidence law related to the offences under the NI Act shall be conducted for
them. Further, a detailed ready reckoner with governing case law and practice
directions may be prepared and circulated to assist them in the adjudicatory
exercise.
• Pay and Service duration: The High Court concerned should ensure that
the presiding officers and court staff for operationalising the Special Courts
can be hired on contractual basis for one year for the duration of the pilot
study. It is further proposed that they be paid a fixed honorarium in
accordance with their standing prior to retirement.
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• Type of Cases: The Special Courts shall adjudicate upon only those cases in
which summons have been duly served and the accused has entered
appearance through a lawyer or in person. The oldest pending casesin which
service ofsummons is complete must be identified in a chronological manner
(oldest first). It must be ensured that no case where service of summons is
incomplete is sent to the Special Courts.
• Timeline for Identification of Cases: All such cases should be identified by
July and a comprehensive listofthesecasesshould bepostedbeforethe regular
Magistrates expeditiously so that cases which can be settled are referred to
mediation immediately and are hence, not part of the cases to be sent to the
Special Courts. The final comprehensive list of cases, where service is
complete and the matters are not referred to mediation, must be identified by
the end of July.
• Advance List and Weekly List: An advance list of all matters to be taken up
by the Special Courts should be circulated by the end ofJuly to give adequate
notice to all counsel that such matters shall be taken up on priority basis by
the respective Special Courts. Further, weekly lists shall also be published
notifying all the matters listed for final disposal.
• Functioning of Courts: The working days and working hours of the Special
Courts should be notified by the end of July along with the circulation of the
Advance List.
• Procedure: The Special Courts set up for the pilot study shall follow the
same procedure with respect to trial as mandated by the Criminal Procedure
Code, 1973. In order to ensure speedy disposal of cases, adjournmentsshould
not be routinely given, especially on the ground of lack of notice. Further
examination of outstation witnesses may be conducted online by following
appropriate protocol so that the delay in trial due to commute of the witnesses
is avoided.
• Mediation: A list or panel of mediators must be identified by the end of July
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and circulated to all the presiding officers of the Special Court. In the event
that the accused indicates willingnesstosettleatstageoftrialbeforetheSpecial
Court,thepresidingofficermustreferthecase to time-bound, online mediation
before one of the identified mediatorsto prevent further delays.
• Data Collection: A weekly statement of disposalshall be sent to the Registrar
General of the concerned High Courts who shall actively monitor the
progress of the pilot study. Quarterly statements of disposal must be sent to
the SC. A Facilitation Officer may be appointed for the Special Courts to
assist in collection of the data, in curating the cause lists and in conducting
weekly review meetings with Presiding Officers to identify any additional
bottlenecks orissues which need to be assessed for future planning purposes.
11. The Secretary General of this Court shall ensure that a copy of the present
order is directly communicated to the Registrar Generals of the said five High
Courts, who shall place it before the Hon’ble Chief Justice for immediate action.
To report progress and compliance, each of the said five High Courts shall file an
affidavit on or before 21.07.2022. List on 26.07.2022 to review the further
proceeding.
...........................................................................J.
 [L. NAGESWARA RAO]
…......................................................................J.
 [B.R. GAVAI]
..........................................................................J.
 [S. RAVINDRA BHAT]
New Delhi,
May 19, 2022.

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