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SC defends time limit on petition response
December 25, 2005 20:13 IST
In a defining judgement, the Supreme Court has held that the amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure fixing a time limit of 90 days for filing a written statement in response to a suit did not take away the power of courts to extend the deadline in the interest of justice.
"Procedural law is not to be a tyrant but a servant, not an obstruction but an aid to justice,'' a bench comprising Mr Justice Arijit Pasayat and Mr Justice R V Raveendran said while stressing that a procedural law should not ordinarily be construed as mandatory.
''Merely because a provision of law is couched in a negative language implying mandatory character, the same is not without exceptions,'' the court said, while interpreting the amended order VIII Rule 1 which casts an obligation on defendants to file their written statements within 90 days of the service of summons.
The provision neither dealt with the power of courts nor it did specifically take away the power of courts to take on record written statements filed beyond the time provided for, the court said.
Setting aside a Bombay High Court judgement, the bench noted that while interpreting the provision inserted vide an amendment in 1999, courts have to keep in view the entire context in which it came to be enacted.
The judgement, written by Mr Justice Pasayat, pointed out that the amendments, which came in force in 2002, were made as per the recommendations by the Law Commission. ''Anxiety of Parliament as evident from the amendments is to secure an early and expeditious disposal of civil suits and proceedings without sacrificing the fairness of trial and the principles of natural justice in-built in any sustainable procedure,'' it said.
The provision was in the nature of procedural law intended to curb the mischief of unscrupulous defendants adopting tactics to delay the disposal of cases, causing inconvenience to those approaching courts for quick relief, the court pointed out.
"The language employed by the draftsman of procedural law may be liberal or stringent, but the fact remains that the object of prescribing procedure is to advance the cause of justice,'' the court said, adding that a party should ordinarily not be denied the opportunity to participate in the process of justice dispensation unless compelled by express and specific language of any statute.
The ruling was delivered while disposing of two appeals against the High Court order which held that there was no scope for granting extension of time beyond the period of 90 days to file a written statement in view of the amendment to the CPC.