The Delhi High Court, while dismissing a suit filed by NDTV for non-prosecution against MJ Akbar and other journalists of The Sunday Guardian, has observed that the procedure and time of the court is not for sale and is not to be regulated by the litigants but is to be regulated by the court.
The suit was filed as early as in 2011, and NDTV had obtained an interim injunction in December 2011, restraining defendants from republishing or re-circulating the article in The Sunday Guardian which shows the media house in bad light. The defendants entered appearance and issues were framed in September 2012, the case was adjourned several times and finally it was only in January 2014, the NDTV filed affidavits. As none of these witnesses appeared till January 2016, the registrar closed the plaintiff evidence.
Finally, NDTV’s application for condonation of 543 days’ delay in filing the chamber appeal came before the court.
The senior counsel tried to convince the court with these contentions:
Court and litigants suffered prejudice
As regards these arguments, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw observed: “I have also enquired from the counsel for the plaintiff with respect to the first and the third arguments urged by him, whether a litigant, by paying court fees of lacs of rupees, gets a right to purchase the time of the Court. Obviously, no answer in the affirmative could be given. Thus, the argument urged of “no prejudice will be caused to anyone” is of no avail. Prejudice is indeed suffered by the Court, which incurs cost of thousands of rupees for each listing of a case. Prejudice is also suffered by the Court by such cases adding to the inventory of the Court and being shown as arrears of pendency in the Court and bringing a bad name to the Court. Prejudice is also suffered by other litigants pursuing/defending their bonafide disputes in the Court and who, owing to such nonserious litigants as the parties herein are, are unable to get expeditious listings as they deserve. Such conduct of litigants is thus affecting the administration of justice. The argument of “none suffering prejudice” is again self-centered and forgetting that the Courts are public institutions and not fiefdom of the rich who can afford to inflate their claims.”
The court further said: “Even under Order XXIII Rule 3 of the CPC is not bound to put its seal of approval to a compromise arrived at between the parties and is entitled to refuse the same if finds the same to be unlawful, so is the Court not bound to keep on allowing adjournments or not to close the right of any party to lead evidence, merely on the ground that the other party has been agreeing thereto. I reiterate that procedure and time of the Court is not for sale and is not to be regulated by the litigants but is to be regulated by the Court. The plaintiff, owing to the defendants also cooperating with the plaintiff, has already availed undue eleven opportunities spanning over three years four months and 26 days for leading its evidence, when ordinarily not more than two or three opportunities are given. Though such cooperation of defendants earned the plaintiff extra time and opportunities but cannot earn the plaintiff endless time as the plaintiff expects. The Court, before closing the right of plaintiff, had repeatedly cautioned the plaintiff, by imposing costs or by making the opportunity a ‘last and final one’ and was not required to do any further. CPC, as amended with effect from the year 2002, in Order XVII Rule 1 prohibits adjournment more than three times to a party, during the hearing of the suit.”
Dismissing the plea to condone the delay, the court said: “The plaintiff in the present case appears to have woken up from its slumber insofar as the present suit is concerned, only on realizing that the game of “tarikh pe tarikh” which it had been playing, was about to come to an end. Need was then felt to file the Chamber Appeal along with the application for condonation of delay so that the game can continue.”