Stay orders can’t be limited to six months: Constitution Bench | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Stay orders can’t be limited to six months: Constitution Bench

Mar 01, 2024 01:05 AM IST

The five-judge bench held that there cannot be a generic direction for vacation of stay in all types of cases after six months.

A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside its 2018 decision that had directed that every order of stay in a civil or criminal trial must only last for six months, noting that even the highest court lacked the power to impose “judicial legislation” or disregard the litigants’ substantive rights.

The bench was headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud. (File photo)
The bench was headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud. (File photo)

The 2018 judgment of the top court implied that if a case involving stayed proceedings was not decided within six months, the temporary stay would be automatically lifted.

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The five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, held that there could not be a generic direction for vacation of stay in all cases after six months, and that it should be best left to the wisdom of the courts concerned to prioritise certain categories of cases. The bench also comprised justices AS Oka, JB Pardiwala, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra.

“We hold that there cannot be automatic vacation of stay granted by the high court. We do not approve of the direction issued to decide all the cases in which an interim stay has been granted on a day-to-day basis within a time frame. We hold that such blanket directions cannot be issued in the exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution of India,” held the bench.

The court emphasised that even the apex court could not take away the substantive rights of individuals in exercise of its authority under Article 142 that empowers the Supreme Court to pass any order to do complete justice in a case.

“All interim orders of stay passed by all high courts cannot be set at naught by a stroke of pen only on the ground of lapse of time...The right to be heard before an adverse order is passed is not a matter of procedure but a substantive right. The power of this court under Article 142 cannot be exercised to defeat the principles of natural justice, which are an integral part of our jurisprudence,” said the Constitution bench.

Limiting the life of a stay order passed by a high court will also amount to making a dent on the latter’s jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, said the court, adding the writ jurisdiction under Article 226 was recognised an essential feature that formed a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

The judgment added that constitutional courts, in ordinary course, should refrain from fixing a timebound schedule for the disposal of cases pending before any other courts.

“No court of law is inferior to the other. This court is not superior to the high courts in the judicial hierarchy. Therefore, the judges of the high courts should be allowed to set their priorities on a rational basis. Thus, as far as setting the outer limit is concerned, it should be best left to the concerned courts unless there are very extraordinary circumstances,” said the bench, adding that high court orders of stay, at the same time, ought to show application of mind.

Ateev Mathur, partner-head dispute resolution, SNG & Partners, welcomed the judgment. “In a country like India where dockets of the courts are always overflowing, it is not always a litigant’s fault for a prolonged litigation. The Supreme Court has today clarified that interim order granted by it or a high court would continue to remain in operation until and unless they are modified or varied by a judicial order by such courts. It is in line with the cardinal principle of law that no one should be condemned unheard,” Mathur added.

The court allowed an appeal filed by the High Court Bar Association of Allahabad against its 2018 judgment in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Vs CBI by a bench of three judges, who felt that limiting the life of a stay order could be an effective method of cutting long delays in trials.

The 2018 judgment had held: “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.” Such a speaking order was required to show that the case was of such “exceptional nature” that continuing stay was more important than having the trial finalised.

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