SC on Unreasonable Delay in Pronouncement of Judgment

Supreme Court on Unreasonable Delay in Pronouncement of Judgment
Supreme Court on Unreasonable Delay in Pronouncement of Judgment

1. Introduction

What is pronouncement of Judgment? What does it mean when Court says Judgment is reserved? For how long can Courts reserve Judgment in a case? Whether law prescribes any time limit within which a Court must pronounce judgment from the date of hearing final arguments? You will find answers to these and more such questions here.

  • Pronouncement: Definition
  • Pronouncement of Judgment: Meaning
  • Judgment is reserved: Meaning
  • Delay in pronouncement of Judgment
  • Impact of delay in pronouncement of Judgment
  • Time Limit for pronouncement of Judgment
  • Constitutional Right – Article 21
  • Supreme Court Guidelines

Whereas justice delayed is justice denied,
justice withheld is even worse than that.

Supreme Court

2. Pronouncement – Definition: It is an act of official announcement

In Oxford English dictionary – Pronouncement is defined as a formal or authoritative announcement or declaration.

In Collin’s Dictionary – Pronouncements are public or official statements on an important subject.

Though pronouncement and announcement sound similar, yet it is the element of authority that clearly distinguishes one from the other.

3. Pronouncement of Judgment: An act of formal declaration of Court’s final decision in a case

It is the rendition of judgment by the court. In simple words, the act of formally delivering the verdict in a case. Judgments are generally pronounced in open court on a specified date and may or may not be delivered on the same date on which the hearing concluded.

4. Judgment is reserved – Meaning: Pronouncement of Judgment at a later date

Judgment is said to be reserved when the Court specifies a subsequent date for its pronouncement instead of immediately pronouncing it after conclusion of hearing.

5. Delay in Pronouncement of Judgment

When reserved Judgment is not pronounced on the date specified by the Court, with no reason or information for same to litigants / pleaders then delay in pronouncement of judgment occurs.

In Sohagiya vs. Ram Briksh Mahto Patna High Court expressed its criticism in following words for a magistrate who took nine months to pronounce a judgment –

“The Magistrate who cannot find time to write judgement within reasonable time for hearing arguments ought not to do judicial work at all. This court strongly disapproves of the magistrate making such tremendous delay in the delivery of his judgement.”

Patna High Court
1961 BLJR 282

6. Impact of Delay in Pronouncement of Judgment

Any unreasonable delay between hearing of arguments and pronouncement of judgment is highly undesirable, unless explained by exceptional circumstances.[1] It not only erodes the faith litigants repose in the judicial system but it also does not augur well for pendency of cases in courts. Unless the judgment is pronounced the case cannot be considered disposed off.

Delay in pronouncement also violates principles of natural justice. The likelihood of some important points escaping notice of the Judge cannot be ruled out, for delay may reduce familiarity with intricacies of the case, eventually creating a material impact on the pronounced judgment.

Delay in pronouncement of judgment also violates the Constitutional Right to Speedy Trial. Litigants suffer despite participating in the entire process of justice delivery system.

7. Time Limit for Pronouncement of Judgment

7.1 Criminal Cases: Within 6 weeks

Section 353(1) of CrPC is silent on the time limit within which the Court must pronounce the judgment. It only stipulates that judgment in every trial in any Criminal Court of original jurisdiction shall be pronounced in open Court immediately after the conclusion of the trial or at some subsequent time of which due notice shall be given to the parties or their pleaders.

It was in Anil Rai vs State of Bihar that Supreme Court specified the time schedule within which a court must pronounce the judgment in criminal matters –

The words “some subsequent time” mentioned in Section 353 contemplates the passing of the judgment without undue delay, as delay in the pronouncement of judgment is opposed to the principle of law. Such subsequent time can at the most be stretched to a period of six weeks and not beyond that time in any case.

Supreme Court
(2001) 7 SCC 318

7.2 Civil Cases: Within 2 months

The Supreme Court also stipulated time limit for pronouncement of judgments in Civil cases in Anil Rai ‘s case (supra) –

The pronouncement of judgments in the civil case should not be permitted to go beyond two months.

Supreme Court
(2001) 7 SCC 318

8. Constitutional Right – Article 21

Article 21 is a Fundamental Right under the Constitution of India, as per which the State cannot deprive any person from its life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Such procedure ought to be fair and reasonable and must comply with principles of natural justice. Right to appeal in a criminal case is inherent part of criminal jurisprudence. Therefore any delay in pronouncement of judgment will adversely impact the fundamental right embodied in Article 21, especially when the litigants have participated in the entire justice delivery system and the only thing to be done is the pronouncement of judgment. [2]

9. Supreme Court Guidelines / Directions

Considering the various aspects and impact of delay in pronouncement of judgments, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Anil Rai’s case (supra) issued following directions –

(i) The Chief Justices of the High Courts may issue appropriate directions to the Registry that in case where the judgment is reserved and is pronounced later, a column be added in the judgment where, on the first page, after the cause-title, date of reserving the judgment and date of pronouncing it be separately mentioned by the court officer concerned.

(ii) That Chief Justice of the High Courts, on their administrative side, should direct the Court Officers/ Readers of the various Benches in the High Courts to furnish every month the list of cases in the matters where the judgments reserved are not pronounced within the period of that months.

(iii) On noticing that after conclusion of the arguments the judgment is not pronounced within a period of two months, the concerned Chief Justice shall draw the attention of the Bench concerned to the pending matter. The Chief Justice may also see the desirability of circulating the statement of such cases in which the judgments have not been pronounced within a period of six weeks from the date of conclusion of the arguments amongst the Judges of the High Court for their information. Such communication be conveyed as confidential and in a sealed cover.

(iv) Where a judgment is not pronounced within three months, from the date of reserving it, any of the parties in the case is permitted to file an application in the High Court with prayer for early judgment. Such application, as and when filed, shall be listed before the Bench concerned within two days excluding the intervening holidays.

(v) If the judgment, for any reason, is not pronounced within a period of six months, any of the parties of the said lis shall be entitled to move an application before the Chief Justice of the High Court with a prayer to withdraw the said case and to make it over to any other Bench for fresh arguments. It is open to the Chief Justice to grant the said prayer or to pass any other order as deems fit in the circumstances.

10. References

[1] R.C. Sharma vs Union of India – 1976 (3) SCC 574
[2] Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra : 1978 (3) SCC 544

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