Select Page

Automatic Vacation of Stay – “ACTUS CURIAE NEMINEM GRAVABIT” An Analysis of High Court Bar Association, Allahabad vs. State of U.P. & Ors. (Criminal Appeal No. 3589 of 2023)

Article by Vijay K Singh & Himanshu Dubey

“Sometimes, in quest of justice we end up doing injustice” – Hon’ble Mr. Justice Pankaj Mithal

A. BACKGROUND

Three judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency (P) Ltd v CBI[1] vide order dated 28.03.2018, inter alia issued the directions in para 35 & 36 of the judgment that in all matters, civil or criminal, orders of stay which have once been granted should not continue beyond a period of six months unless specifically extended and the stay shall stand vacated automatically.  Pertinently, the said direction was issued with the view to remedy the proceedings remaining pending for long time on account of stay causing unnecessary delay in completion of trial.

In Miscellaneous Application No. 890 of 2021[2], another three-judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court vide order dated 02.07.2021 again directed to follow the direction issued Asian Resurfacing case (supra)..

Interestingly, the matter concerning the adverse effects experienced by the litigants upon the automatic vacation of the stay order was brought before the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court in the matter of Chandrapal Singh vs. State of U.P. and Another,[3] wherein the  Hon’ble Allahabad High Court vide judgment dated 03.11.2023, framed substantial question of law for consideration by the Hon’ble Supreme Court under Article 132 of the Constitution of India and granted a Certificate for Appeal to the Supreme Court to the applicants therein.

Hon’ble Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No(s).3589/2023 titled as High Court Bar Association Allahabad Vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh & Ors., vide its order dated 01.12.2023, referred the matter to the Constitution Bench of five Judges to examine the correctness of the directions issued in para 36 and 37 of by the Coordinate Bench in Asian Resurfacing case (supra). The Hon’ble Supreme Court while referring the matter to the Constitution Bench duly noted that the delay may also be occasioned due to the inability of the Courts to take up proceedings expeditiously and automatic vacation of stay without application of judicial mind will result into serious miscarriage of justice.

Eventually, the Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India vide its judgment dated 29.02.2024 overruled the directions issued in the case ofAsian Resurfacing case (supra) i which provides for  automatic vacation of stay orders granted by High Courts unless extended by a speaking order and day-to-day hearing of cases in which stay has been granted.

B. CRITICAL ISSUES:

  1. Limitation to exercise power under Article 142Article 142 of the Constitution of India which confers jurisdiction on the Apex Court to pass such a decree or order necessary for doing complete justice in any case or matter pending before it however there are some limitations to the same:
    i. It cannot be exercised to nullify the benefits derived by a large number of litigants based on judicial orders validly passed in their favour who are not parties to the proceedings before this Court.
    ii. It does not empower the Court to ignore the substantive rights of the litigants.
    iii. It cannot affect the substantive rights of those litigants who are not parties to the case before it. The right to be heard before an adverse order is passed is not a matter of procedure but a substantive right.
    iv. The power under Article 142 cannot be exercised to defeat the principles of natural justice, which are an integral part of our jurisprudence.
    v. Only the legislative body holds the authority to designate certain categories of cases to be adjudicated within specified timeframes.
  2. Object of Passing the Interim orders:i.Object of passing interim orders is to allow courts to aid the final relief sought in a case only where three factors i.e. prima facie case, irreparable loss, and balance of convenience are made out.
    ii. Remedy before the High Court would become ineffective if the pending trial is not stayed and the Trial Court decides the pending case.
    iii. Courts, while passing orders of stay in serious cases like the offences under the PC Act or serious offences against women and children, must be more cautious and circumspect.
    iv. Our legal system, which is facing a docket explosion of pending cases, the grant of stay of proceedings is called for in many cases.
  3. The Hon’ble Apex Court observed that the Hon’ble High Courts can vacate interim orders on various valid grounds such as deliberate prolongation of litigation by a litigant, interim order has been granted on suppression or misrepresentation of material facts, etc.
  4. It is essential that significant legal matters are not adjudicated upon without a genuine dispute between the parties as such Courts should refrain from passing the judgments on the issues without the lis before it.
  5. Interim order of stay can come to an end by way of disposal of the main case or judicial order vacating interim relief, passed after hearing the contesting parties on the available grounds.
  6. A High Court, as per the constitution, maintains independence from the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and does not operate under its authority. The authority vested in the High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution includes power to stay the proceedings before its subordinate courts.

CONCLUSION –

The Hon’ble Supreme Court overturned the directives issued in the Asian Resurfacing Case (supra) inter alia directing that there should not be an automatic vacation of stay granted by the High Court. Additionally, the Supreme Court expressed disapproval of the mandate to adjudicate cases on a daily basis when interim stay had been granted by the High Court. Such broad directives cannot be issued under the jurisdiction granted by Article 142 of the Constitution of India. Justice hurried is Justice buried. Judgment dated 28.03.2018 Asian Resurfacing is a clear example of the same.

Pertinently, earlier also. the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax & Anr. v. Pepsi Foods Limited[4]  struck down the provision of automatic vacation of stay on the ground that such provision is manifestly arbitrary.

The directions issued in Asian Resurfacing (Supra) undermined a litigant’s entitlement to remedies under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India, essentially nullifying a litigant’s right to pursue and utilize statutory remedies under Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 respectively. It is highly unreasonable and prejudicial to invalidate all interim stay orders issued by High Courts solely due to the passage of time. Not all litigants have the financial means to initiate proceedings in the Constitutional Courts. Those who can afford to approach these Courts should not be permitted to gain unfair advantage by obtaining orders for expedited disposal of their cases, while other litigants wait patiently in line for their turn to be heard. The reality of the backlog of cases in our courts is daunting; simultaneously, it is impractical to expect that the High Courts would prioritize or expedite exclusively those cases where proceedings have been stayed, while overlooking numerous other categories of cases that may warrant greater urgency.

The issue of delays in the Indian judiciary refers to the prolonged duration it often takes for cases to be resolved or for legal processes to be completed within the judicial system of India. As such the Hon’ble Supreme Court while noting “Ideally, the cases in which the stay of proceedings of the civil/criminal trials is granted should be disposed of expeditiously by the High Courts. However, we do not live in an ideal world” has also issued guidelines to prevent prejudice to the opposing parties when granting ex-parte ad-interim relief without hearing the affected parties that ad interim relief shall be passed for a restricted duration. Subsequently, upon hearing the contesting parties, the Court may decide whether to confirm the initial ad-interim order or not. The vacating or affirming of ad-interim relief, once granted, should only occur after careful consideration by the Court. Applications for vacating interim reliefs shall not be kept pending for long time and recourse to the easy option of directing that the same should be heard along with the main case should be avoided.

[1] (2018) 16 SCC 299.
[2] Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, Miscellaneous Application No. 890 OF 2021
[3] Application No. – 28574 of 2019.
[4] (2021) 7 SCC 413.
077765