Bar and Bench must join hands to find a cure to the malady of adjournments

The case Arjun Gopal vs Union of India was being argued before the bench of Justice M.R.Shah in the Supreme Court on April 19, 2022. This matter pertained to a ban of firecrackers. The bench felt that one of the reasons for pendency of cases was the frequent adjournment requests made by lawyers. Justice Shah reportedly said: “If we don’t grant time we aren’t liked, but we are least concerned whether we are liked, we don’t want to work according to certificate of others, as per our conscience we should work. ”

He added that every day 5-6 adjournment letters are filed on the ground of personal difficulty. We cannot ask, as to what is the personal difficulty. It is apparent that these observations of the Hon’ble Judge were prompted by his serious concern about frequent adjournments and heavy pendency.

This is indeed a matter of concern both for the Bar and the Bench. The Bar and the Bench are the two wheels. Both wheels must move in coordination and cooperation. Without this, the smooth operation of the justice delivery system is interrupted and dented. Therefore, this matter demands thoughtful consideration. It is a matter of common knowledge that some grants grant adjournments easily and liberally. Equally, there are some courts which do not grant adjournments so easily. I would like to share my own experience at the Bar in this context.

Adjournments impair justice

Lawyers normally (exceptions apart) do not make requests for adjournments in those courts in which they know that the adjournment will not be granted. Accordingly, the lawyers come prepared to argue the cases. They take the liberty of making requests for adjournments rather frequently in those courts where they feel that they would be accommodated. This should not happen.
It is a matter of common concern that the environment in the court should be such wherein the lawyers should be able to give their very best. At the same time, the judges should also be able to extract the maximum from the lawyers. The court craft is two way traffic. There must be smooth flow of traffic on both sides. No traffic jams or hurdles. A request for an adjudication halts the adjudication process. It must be avoided under all circumstances.

The Bench should consider a request for adjournment most sparingly. More so, no adjournments on the same day. The normal flow of judicial work must continue. What is genuinely bothering me is the observation of the Hon’ble Judge, “we are least concerned, whether we are liked or not.” This kind of feeling should never be generated in the Bar and the Bench.

If the judge has a feeling that he is not liked, will this feeling not shake the objectivity of his mind? Should such a feeling be allowed to creep in? Will this not disturb the balance between the Bar and the Bench? The members of the Bar would feel that they are not welcome in this court. This feeling itself is disturbing. It is the right of the judge to say a firm ‘No’ to an adjournment. That is the end of the matter. Why should the judge feel that he is not liked?More so, when the judge is uniform in declining the request. Believe me, many lawyers themselves do not like seeking adjournment. Equally, they hate it when such requests are made by other lawyers. This is a disease that spreads.

In fact, sometimes opposing lawyers join hands to seek adjournments. This is a most unhealthy practice. Judges must curb it.

Opportunity for junior counsel

There is another aspect to it. The senior counsel is busy in another court. Accordingly, a request is made to pass over or to adjourn the matter. The junior counsel making the request is asked to start with the case and the senior would join after finishing the arguments in another court. Invariably, the junior lawyer is not prepared with the case and says he has no instructions to argue the matter. This is an unfortunate situation. The junior counsel seldom gets the opportunity to argue the matter. In this process, even when he gets an opportunity, he is not prepared to avail it. This is double jeopardy. I strongly feel that each senior counsel owes a responsibility to nurture a team of young lawyers. Once the senior allots a case to a particular lawyer of his team, it becomes his responsibility. The senior needs to ensure that the instructing counsel must be thoroughly prepared with the case. He should be so well prepared that in case, he is required to argue the matter, he must be in a position to argue it.

Firstly, if the counsel is thorough with the case, he would be able to assist the senior counsel effectively as it ought to be. Secondly, the office of the senior is a laboratory for the junior counsel. Right from the initial stage of taking the factual canvas from the client to the conference with the senior and preparing the application becomes the duty of the junior counsel. The junior counsel even prepares the case note for the senior. Thus, the junior counsel should be mentally prepared to argue the case in case the senior is held up in some other court. It is a learning experience.

Many junior counsel have a different approach. They do not prepare the case thoroughly because they believe
they will not be arguing the matter. With this approach, a lawyer will not be able to mature even after decades.

Judges always encourage young lawyers. They give them the opportunity to argue. No one is a born lawyer. The life journeys of Nani Palkhivala, Kanhaiya Lal Misra, Ram Jethmalani and Fali S.Nariman are demonstrative of this. The young lawyers need to change their mindset. There is no substitute for diligence. They should help the system in curbing the malady of adjournments by assisting the senior counsel. If the judges allow the petition in their favour, the credit would go to the junior. And it would inspire the junior counsel to strive still harder. But if the petition is being dismissed, an opportunity may be given to the senior to address the court only on the issue on which the court is not in agreement with the junior counsel. Such indulgence would go a long way in encouraging the senior to depend upon the junior in case of difficulty. It would also reduce the frequency of adjournments.

At the end of the day, lawyers must do their very best for their clients. A lawyer who has never lost the case is yet to be born. In any case, if one lawyer wins, the other lawyer loses. It’s not because the lawyer was negligent but because the case could not be allowed in his favor on merits.

Avoid adjudications

Judges are humans. In case of sudden illness or death or emergency, the lawyers are always accommodated. But many times, a request is made for adjournment on the ground of ‘personal difficulty’, a term both vague and wide. Therefore, adjournment on this ground should be avoided.

There is need for co-ordination between the Bar and the Bench. The work load is mounting. It needs to be handled with discipline.

The basic malady is that once a lawyer gets a stay order in his favour, he does not wish to argue the matter, and continues to seek adjournments. The opposite counsel too does not oppose it. The judge also gives the adjournments willingly. The daily roster is so heavy. He cannot finish unless he grants adjournments. This mutuality will have to be broken.

Ultimately, it is the administration of justice that suffers. Members of the Bar must stop seeking adjournments. The judges in turn will grant adjournment only rarely and in exceptional situations. This work culture will be the best recipe to bring down pendency and ensure speedy justice. This is not impossible. All it requires is concerted effort and discipline.

Justice Vineet Saran while speaking at the farewell function on May 10, 2022 beautifully described the relationship between the Bar and the Bench , saying “Bar is the Lord Krishna. It guides Arjun. Arjun is the Bench.” This in short is the essence of the relationship. The Bar guides and assists the Bench. The quality of judgment depends upon the quality of assistance. The lawyers learn the court craft. The judges also need to develop court craft. The court craft of Justice Saran was, he would show that he was angry during the hearings. In reality, he was not. The showing of anger was only to caution the lawyer. This is judge’s court craft. This recipe could also be applied in managing the requests for frequent adjournments. The judge ought to show his annoyance at requests for adjournments. The Bar must realise it is wastage of court time. Not to delay justice should be part of rule of law. Both the Bench and the Bar must work together for this common goal.

The writer is Professor Emeritus, Senior Advocate and Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy

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