Justice GS Patel of the Bombay High Court has lashed out at elements in the testamentary department of the high court and stated that those indulging in any mischief with the original records maintained at the testamentary department will be dealt with through swift and unmerciful judicial action.
Justice Patel was hearing a testamentary petition and a complaint filed by advocate S Lakdawala which dealt with the issue of working of the testamentary department of the high court in the matter. As reported earlier, an advocate had accessed original court records and attempted to submit it in Justice Patel’s court. Patel J was extremely surprised by this and went on to pass directions to the prothonotary and senior master in an order dated April 23, 2018, to institute a quota system for accessing original court records kept at the department.
Accordingly, a system was put in place by the prothonotary and senior master in a judicial order dated May 7, 2018. However, Justice Patel noted that those in the department that were used to the status quo were upset with the new system and sought to blame Ketan Trivedi, Additional Prothonotary:
“I note this because there is an impression sought to be created that Mr Trivedi (Additional Prothonotary) has, in instituting the token system, acted erratically, irrationally, without authority, despotically and without any need; in short, without context. That is wholly and utterly untrue.”
Patel J stressed on the need for swift action against elements in the department that have contributed to serious allegations against the working of the department, including bribes being demanded for administrative work:
“Over many years, complaints, albeit informal, have reached us. These complaints are of different hues: unauthorised persons accessing the department, a few persons monopolising and dominating almost all departmental work, a lack of any system or orderliness in the functioning of the department, mishandling of papers, documents and files, records being taken away, a complete lack of security and supervision, and more. I am not venturing into even the broadest description of the second set of allegations, which relate to quite astonishing sums being demanded, and not just by lawyers, or not even by lawyers, for routine administrative work, down to demanding several tens of thousands of rupees to take an otherwise ready grant or certificate.
I have no concern with that today; perhaps on some other day I will. This is, therefore, an advisory or caution to all who work in and with the department. The administration of this court is not oblivious to what is going on. That we show restraint is not to be mistaken or misunderstood for weakness. We are keeping a close watch. At appropriate times, there will be administrative or even judicial intervention. All those who have legitimate business with the testamentary department will pay heed to this: that when the time comes, that intervention will be swift, and it will be unmerciful to those who attempt to ‘game the system’. Above all, we have a concern with maintaining orderliness in the functioning of every department. The testamentary department is no exception. Everything that happens in every court is guided by, and only by, reason, fairness, civility and orderliness.
Patel J explained how the functioning of the testamentary department is crucial because of the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 as there is a great deal of wealth involved with sizeable estates required to be administered. This is a department that deals with the administration of these estates in accordance with law.
The court then referred to the petition filed by Trivedi and noted that one GV Acharnekar was found in the testamentary department assisting the clerk of M/s Chitnis Vaithy. Acharnekar is an ex-employee of the high court. Although, he is not a registered clerk but was apparently being ‘assisted’ by Acharnekar.
The court observed that this was unacceptable and reiterated that access to the department by advocates and clerks was to be restricted. It also noted that in agreement with advocates of all parties concerned, it was decided to allocate separate distinct time slots for advocates and registered clerks.
Read the Judgment Here