SC suggests law to create more courts to clear pendency of cheque bounce cases
- On Wednesday, the Centre had submitted a note prepared by Department of Financial Services (DFS) which did not agree with the Court’s suggestion to create additional courts as a solution to curb high pendency of Section 138 cases.
The Supreme Court on Thursday told the Centre that the backlog created by pendency of cheque bounce cases in the judicial system is “grotesque” and something must be done immediately to bring out a temporary law creating more courts or employ retired judges to handle the caseload.
Dealing with a suo moto petition to expedite trial in cheque bounce cases arising out of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde felt that before introducing the law the Parliament ought to have done a judicial impact assessment.
“The cases under Section 138 contribute to more than 30 per cent pendency in criminal cases before subordinate courts and High Courts….The backlog problem caused by Section 138 is grotesque. When this law was introduced an impact assessment was not made. Why can’t it be done now,” said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and S Ravindra Bhat.
The apex court referred to Article 247 which clothes Parliament with the power to create additional courts for the better administration of laws. “We want you (Centre) to exercise your power (under Article 247). A temporary legislation can be made for creating additional courts or you may appoint retired judges,” the bench observed.
On Wednesday, the Centre had submitted a note prepared by Department of Financial Services (DFS) which did not agree with the Court’s suggestion to create additional courts as a solution to curb high pendency of Section 138 cases. Instead, it argued that the backlog occurred due to delay in ensuring the presence of the accused for trial.
The Court was not happy with the note. By an order, the Court sought the presence of the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and observed, “Prima facie we are of the view that the aforesaid Article 247 (of Constitution of India) confers a power coupled with duty on the Union of India to establish additional courts, for better administration of laws made by Parliament. There is no doubt or dispute about the fact that matters under the N.I Act have posed what by now has become an intractable problem, accounting for close to 30 to 40 per cent of the pendency in the trial courts and a very high percentage in High Courts.”
Mehta appeared on Thursday and agreed that the suggestions given by Court were welcome but would require wide-ranging consultations at the highest level. The Court posted the matter for hearing on March 10 giving time to Mehta to come back with a response.
In October 2020, the Supreme Court received a preliminary report prepared by Court-appointed amici curiae senior advocate Sidharth Luthra and advocate K Parameshwar who delved deep into the issue and suggested systemic reforms in the judicial processes involved at the executive and judicial level. Setting up additional courts was one of the steps proposed for reforms. The Act prescribes a six-month deadline for completion of trial in Section 138 cases but such cases clog the judicial docket for more than three years, the amici curiae report suggested. The amici curiae suggested summary trial of cases, mediation and attachment of property to the extent of the cheque amount as other measures to expedite trial of cases under the N.I Act.