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SC orders constitution of 25 special courts for cheque bounce cases

SC orders constitution of 25 special courts for cheque bounce cases

Published:19 May 2022

The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the constitution of 25 special courts with a retired judge in five states for expeditious disposal of cheque bounce cases.

New Delhi | The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the constitution of 25 special courts with a retired judge in five states for expeditious disposal of cheque bounce cases.
A three-judge bench of justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai and S Ravindra Bhat said the special courts under the Negotiable Instruments Act (NI) would be set up in Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in view of a large number of pending cases.
"The pilot study shall be conducted in 25 special courts in total. One special court shall be established in each of the five judicial districts which have been identified as having the highest pendency by each of the five high courts of the states with the highest pendency of NI Act cases.
"For operationalising the special courts under this pilot study, retired judicial officers and retired court staff, preferably those who have retired within the past 5 years, may be employed. The concerned high court shall ensure that no vacancy arises, during this period," the bench said.
The court said the infrastructural requirements, including information technology support for video conferencing facilities, should be identified and secured by July.
"Similarly, the presiding officers, support staff and human resources required for operationalising these special courts and their contractual terms should be finalised by the end of July 2022," it said.
On the issue of training, the apex court said the identified judicial officers, who are to preside over the special courts, would be imparted specialised modules.
"A four-week training programme by the state judicial academies on topics of substantive, procedure and evidence law related to the offences under the NI Act shall be conducted for them. Further, a detailed ready reckoner with governing case law and practice directions may be prepared and circulated to assist them in the adjudicatory exercise.
"The high court concerned should ensure that the presiding officers and court staff for operationalising the special courts can be hired on contractual basis for one year for the duration of the pilot study. It is further proposed that they be paid a fixed honorarium in accordance with their standing prior to retirement," the bench said.
It said the special courts shall adjudicate upon only those cases in which summons have been duly served and the accused has entered appearance through a lawyer or in person.
"The oldest pending cases in which service of summons is complete must be identified in a chronological manner (oldest first). It must be ensured that no case where service of summons is incomplete is sent to the special courts," the bench said.
The apex court said all such cases should be identified by July and a comprehensive list of these cases should be posted before the regular magistrates expeditiously so that cases which can be settled are referred to mediation immediately and are hence, not part of the cases to be sent to the special courts.
"The final comprehensive list of cases, where service is complete and the matters are not referred to mediation, must be identified by the end of July. An advance list of all matters to be taken up by the special courts should be circulated by the end of July to give adequate notice to all counsel that such matters shall be taken up on priority basis by the respective special courts.
"Further, weekly lists shall also be published notifying all the matters listed for final disposal. The working days and working hours of the special courts should be notified by the end of July along with the circulation of the advance list," the bench said.
The special courts set up for the pilot study shall follow the same procedure with respect to trial as mandated by the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, it said.
" In order to ensure speedy disposal of cases, adjournments should not be routinely given, especially on the grounds of lack of notice. Further examination of outstation witnesses may be conducted online by following appropriate protocol so that the delay in trial due to commute of the witnesses is avoided.
"A list or panel of mediators must be identified by the end of July and circulated to all the presiding officers of the special court. In the event that the accused indicates willingness to settle at the stage of trial before the special court, the presiding officer must refer the case to time-bound, online mediation before one of the identified mediators to prevent further delays," the bench said.
The top court also said a weekly statement of disposal shall be sent to the registrar general of the high courts concerned who shall actively monitor the progress of the pilot study.
"Quarterly statements of disposal must be sent to the SC. A facilitation officer may be appointed for the special courts to assist in collection of the data, in curating the cause lists and in conducting weekly review meetings with presiding officers to identify any additional bottlenecks or issues which need to be assessed for future planning purposes.
"The Secretary General of this court shall ensure that a copy of the present order is directly communicated to the registrar generals of the said five high courts, who shall place it before the hon'ble Chief Justice for immediate action. To report progress and compliance, each of the said five high courts shall file an affidavit on or before July 21, 2022. List on July 26, 2022 to review the further proceeding," the bench said.
The top court incorporated the suggestion of senior advocate Sidharth Luthra and advocate K Parameshwar, appointed as amicus curiae, that five districts in each of the states, where cases under the NI Act are high, can be selected and one court in each such district be established.
The top court had earlier directed the registrar generals of all high courts to file a status report regarding the compliance of directions issued by it to expedite the trial of cheque dishonour cases under Section 138 of the NI Act.
Earlier, the apex court had come out with a slew of directions to ensure speedy disposal of cheque bounce cases across the country and asked the Centre to amend laws to ensure clubbing of trials in such cases if they are lodged against a person within a year related to the same transaction.
The top court in March 2020 had taken cognizance of the humongous pendency of cheque bounce cases and had come came out with the directions to ensure speedy disposal of such matters, which stood at 35.16 lakh as of December 31, 2019, out of a total of 2.31 crore pending criminal cases in the country.
Earlier, the top court had termed the pendency of over 35 lakh cheque bounce cases as grotesque and suggested the Centre come up with a law to create additional courts for a particular period to deal with such cases.
On March 5, 2020, the top court registered a suo motu case and decided to evolve a "concerted" and "coordinated" mechanism for expeditious disposal of such cases.


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