Supreme Court directs pilot study on Special Courts for trial of cases u/s 138 of NI Act

Supreme Court directs pilot study on employing retired judicial officers to operationalise Special Courts for expeditious trial of cases u/s 138 of Negotiable Instrument Act 1881

The Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court with reference to expeditious trial of cases under Section 138 of Negotiable Instrument Act 1881 (NI Act) issued various directions with respect to the conduct of trials of complaints under Section 138 of the NI Act.

Later, the Apex court by its order required all High Courts to file status reports indicating compliance with the directions contained in the judgment and as to whether rules were framed appropriately in line with the judgment. Similarly, the necessary amendments to the Police Manuals etc. had to be carried out.

Subsequently, the Apex Court constituted an expert Committee to consider various suggestions with respect to streamlining the procedure of arresting the judicial docket, in regard to complaints and trials for offences under the Negotiable Instruments Act.

The Expert Committee, by its report has suggested the creation of de novo Special NI Courts by the Central Government.

However, the The amici curiae had urged, in the hearing that the suggestion of creation of special courts with the proposed staffing pattern may not be feasible or practical. It was urged that the option of appointing retired judicial/administrative officers who have worked and discharged quasi-judicial functions such as retired Tehsildars, Special executive Magistrates, Registrars of Tribunals and statutory authorities and High Courts etc. officers as Special Judicial/Metropolitan Magistrates for a fixed pay be explored.

The amici curiae suggested a pilot study to test the scheme of employing retired judicial officers to operationalise the said Special Courts on a pilot basis in 5 judicial districts with the highest pendency in the 5 states.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court had directed the High Courts in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to respond to the suggestions of the amici curiae. 

After considering the response of the High Courts and suggestions made by the amici the Apex Court has directed a pilot study to be conducted. The guidelines covering the pilot study shall be as under:

  • Duration of Study: The pilot study shall be conducted for a duration of 1 year from 01.09.2022 to 31.08.2023.
  • Number of Courts: The pilot study shall be conducted in 25 Special Courts in total. One Special Court shall be established in each of the 5 judicial districts which have been identified as having the highest pendency by each of the five High Courts of the states (mentioned above) with the highest pendency of NI Act.
  • Presiding Officers and Staff: 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.
  • Timeline for Identification of Requirements: 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 tern1s should be finalised by the end of July 2022.
  • Training: The identified judicial officers, who are to preside over the Special Courts, be imparted specialised training. 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 Further, a detailed ready reckoner with governing case law and practice directions may be prepared and circulated to assist them in the adjudicatory exercise.
  • Pay and Service duration: 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 It is further proposed that they be paid a fixed honorarium in accordance with their standing prior to retirement.
  • Type of Cases: 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.
  • Timeline for Identification of Cases: 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 refe1Ted to mediation , must be identified by the end of July.
  • Advance List and Weekly List: 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 Court Further, weekly lists shall also be published notifying all the matters listed for final disposal.
  • Functioning of Courts: 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.
  • Procedure: 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. In order to ensure speedy disposal of cases, adjournments should not be routinely given, especially on the ground of lack of 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.
  • Mediation: 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 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.
  • Data Collection: A weekly statement of disposal shall be sent to the Registrar General of the concerned High Courts who shall actively monitor the progress of the pilot stud 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.

ABCAUS Case Law Citation
ABCAUS 3594 (2022) (05) SC

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