Civil/criminal pending cases cannot be stayed for more than 6 months; Extension can be granted only by speaking order: SC

Supreme Court: In order to ensure that the civil or criminal proceedings do not remain pending for unduly period at the trial stage, the 3-judge bench of A.K. Goel, Navin Sinha and R.F. Nariman, JJ directed that in all pending cases where stay against proceedings of a civil or criminal trial is operating, the same will come to an end on expiry of six months from today unless in an exceptional case by a speaking order such stay is extended.

The order of the Court came after it noticed that at times, proceedings are adjourned sine die on account of stay and even after stay is vacated, intimation is not received and proceedings are not taken up. Hence, remedy is required not only for corruption cases but for all civil and criminal cases where on account of stay, civil and criminal proceedings are held up.

Stating that the mandate of speedy justice applies to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 cases as well as other cases where at trial stage proceedings are stayed by the higher court i.e. the High Court or a court below the High Court, as the case may be, the Court, hence, directed:

 “In all pending matters before the High Courts or other courts relating to PC Act or all other civil or criminal cases, where stay of proceedings in a pending trial is operating, stay will automatically lapse after six months from today unless extended by a speaking order on above parameters. Same course may also be adopted by civil and criminal appellate/revisional courts under the jurisdiction of the High Courts. The trial courts may, on expiry of above period, resume the proceedings without waiting for any other intimation unless express order extending stay is produced.”

The directions issued by the Court for future cases are:

  • In cases where stay is granted in future, the same will end on expiry of six months from the date of such order unless similar extension is granted by a speaking order.
  • The speaking order must show that the case was of such exceptional nature that continuing the stay was more important than having the trial finalized.
  • The trial Court where order of stay of civil or criminal proceedings is produced, may fix a date not beyond six months of the order of stay so that on expiry of period of stay, proceedings can commence unless order of extension of stay is produced.

The Court was hearing the issue relating to the interpretation of Section 19(3)(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, and whether superior constitutional courts, namely, the High Courts in this country, are bound to follow Section 19(3)(c) in petitions filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India. Another question that the Court had to decide was whether the inherent powers of High Courts are available to stay proceedings under the Act under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Answering the questions, the Court said:

“the order framing charge is not purely an interlocutory order nor a final order. Jurisdiction of the High Court is not barred irrespective of the label of a petition, be it under Sections 397 or 482 Cr.P.C. or Article 227 of the Constitution. However, the said jurisdiction is to be exercised consistent with the legislative policy to ensure expeditious disposal of a trial without the same being in any manner hampered.”

The Court concluded by stating that the challenge to an order of charge should be entertained in a rarest of rare case only to correct a patent error of jurisdiction and not to reappreciate the matter. Even where such challenge is entertained, and stay is granted, the matter must be decided on day-to-day basis so that stay does not operate for an unduly long period. Though no mandatory time limit may be fixed, the decision may not exceed two-three months normally. If it remains pending longer, duration of stay should not exceed six months, unless extension is granted by a specific speaking order. [Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 310, decided on 28.03.2018]

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