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Apex court prescribes reform pill for civil law

New Delhi, Oct. 25: The Supreme Court today suggested several amendments to the Civil Procedure Code and formed a high-power committee to be headed by a sitting judge of the apex court to make recommendations to the government.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal and Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and Arijit Passayat passed the order, naming Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, BJP spokesman and former Union law minister Arun Jaitley, the amicus curiae in the case, senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, and the chairman of the Bar Council of India as members of the committee. The Supreme Court judge who will head the committee will be appointed by the Chief Justice of India.

The bench also said the committee will be free to add more members.

Lawyers across the country have gone on strike in protest against the proposed amendments. The Salem Bar Association along with other bar councils and associations have also challenged them. Disposing of the case, the apex court today said:

nAmendments to Section 27 are nullified. Under these amendments, a respondent to a civil dispute should make his appearance in 30 days and pleadings should also be finished within that timeframe.

nSection 89, which provides for arbitration, conciliation and mediation as alternate forms of resolving disputes, cannot be imposed and arbitration will be referred to only when the litigants agree. However, after opting for arbitration, the litigants cannot revert to proceedings in courts of law.

nAmendments to Order 41 Rule 9 are also annulled. Under this amendment, an appeal against the decision of a district or municipal court should be made in the same court. Now, the plaintiff has to appeal to the high court and get an interim order on the same day or within a week.

nAmendment to Order 7 Rule 11(e) is also dropped. Under this, a plaintiff has to file two original plaints. If only one is filed, the petition is dismissed. Now, one plaintiff will do.

nThe condition that a witness can give evidence only on affidavit under Order 18, Rules 4 and 5 is also done away with. Witnesses can now give evidence either on affidavit or from the witness box. The court also said the evidence can be recorded on audio and/or video tapes.

The high-power committee will make further recommendations regarding these amendments, the apex court said, adding that it will be mandatory for the government to consider them.

The court said these amendments are not ultra vires of the Constitution and they will help in the speedy disposal of lakhs of pending civil cases.

Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi had earlier said at a press conference that there should be major civil law reforms like the ones the government is trying to bring about in criminal law so that pending civil cases outnumbering the pending criminal cases can be speedily disposed of.

As much as 60 per cent of the civil cases involve the question of fact rather than question of law and hence other mechanisms such as arbitration, conciliation and mediation should be used as alternate dispute resolving mechanisms, the Union law minister had said.

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