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Burden of new laws bothers SC

New Delhi, Aug. 2: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to assess the burden on courts while enacting a new law, in a move that could speed up justice.

As on December 31, 2004, about 50 lakh cases were pending in courts across the country, many for years. Indiscriminate enactment of laws ' 130 new laws were passed by Parliament in the past decade, according to a source ' is blamed for much of the delay.

A three-judge bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal, D.M. Dharmadhikari and Tarun Chatterjee today asked the Centre to provide for finance and infrastructure to deal with additional cases every time a new law is enacted.

“For the last 50 years, the judicial impact assessment has not been done,” said Justice Sabharwal, writing the judgment for the bench.

The ruling came on a petition filed by lawyers’ associations, mainly the Salem Advocate Bar Association from Tamil Nadu, challenging amendments made to the civil procedure code.

Seven years ago, the Centre had amended the code to include mediation, conciliation and arbitration provisions ' known as “alternative legal remedies” ' but this sparked a countrywide protest by lawyers. The judges upheld the conciliation and mediation clauses, but asked the Centre to bear the costs.

The court also said:

• Amendments 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.

• Section 89 which provides for arbitration, conciliation and mediation cannot be imposed. Arbitration would be done only when the litigants agree. But after opting for arbitration, litigants cannot revert to proceedings in courts of law.

• Amendments to Order 41, Rule 9 are struck down. Under this amendment, an appeal against the decision of a district or municipal court should be made in the same court. The current practice is to appeal to the high court and get an interim order on the same day or within a week. The current practice is upheld.

• Amendment to Order 7, Rule 11(e) also goes. Under this, a plaintiff has to file two original plaints. If only one is filed, the petition is dismissed. One plaint will do.

• Witness giving evidence on affidavit is done away with. Witnesses can give evidence either on affidavit or from the witness box. Evidence could also be recorded on audio and/or video tapes and admitted in court.

The judges said the government should either implement the suggestions and orders in four months and file an action taken report or approach the apex court for modification.

The court had earlier referred the civil code amendments to an expert committee headed by the law commission chairman and including jurist K. Parasaran and senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, Arun Mohan and K.V. Viswanathan. The committee submitted its reports on “judicial impact assessment”, “alternative dispute resolution mechanism” and “case flow management plan in high courts”.

As law after new law has been made, the number of courts to hear the cases has remained stagnant. The only new courts established were the 1,730 fast-track courts which, too, were sought to be dissolved. Besides, these are meant for criminal cases. For civil cases, there has been no increase in the strength of courts in the past decade.

“There must be a judicial impact assessment whenever any legislation is enacted,” the apex court bench today said. Observing that frivolous litigation is responsible for enormous delay in civil cases, the judges said courts should make people pay for wasting judicial hours.

The bench also said that in civil cases involving the government, if it did not respond to statutory notices as is often the case, courts should impose heavy penalty.

Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj was not available for comment. But a law ministry official said the Centre would “study the judgment” and suitably appeal to the apex court for clarifications/modifications.

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