NEW DELHI: With three crore cases pending in courts, the government may consider changes in legal procedure to make it mandatory for a litigant to issue a notice to the opposite party before initiating formal proceedings to enable them explore the possibility of a pre-litigation settlement.
According to a Law Ministry document, this would help curtail "unnecessary litigation" as people would then approach courts to settle civil contractual disputes as a last resort. The Department of Legal Affairs and Legislative Department in the Law Ministry "may explore" the possibility of bringing changes in procedural laws to introduce a requirement of mandatory notice to the opposite party before initiation of legal proceedings, sources said.
"This will help in curtailing unnecessary litigation as many parties may choose to settle the cases even prior to the initiation of formal legal proceedings," a Ministry document states. According to the note, very often parties may be able to
resolve the contractual differences between them through direct negotiations, without resorting to any formal or informal dispute resolution mechanisms. It referred to an April, 2009 Law Commission report which made a "pertinent recommendation in this regard in its 221st report on the 'Need for Speedy Trial -- some suggestions'."
The law panel had referred to Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) which requires that a litigant who proposes to initiate legal proceedings against the State or a public officer must give two months advance written notice to the concerned party and suggested that a similar provision should be introduced for all categories of civil cases. "A provision of this nature is already seen in Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, which provides that a claim for dishonour of cheque can only arise after the claimant has issued prior written notice to the drawer of the cheque and the drawer has failed to make the payment of the relevant amount within 15 days of the receipt of the notice," it said.
The document, prepared for a recent meeting chaired by Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, states that "adopting such a provision with respect of all civil cases will help in curtailing unnecessary litigation as many parties may choose to settle the cases even prior to the initiation of formal legal proceedings.
"A provision of this nature would, however, need to be subject to an exception for urgent matters where the court can dispense with the notice after hearing reasons for the urgency." Legal dictionaries define civil litigation as a legal dispute between two or more parties that seek monetary damages or specific performance rather than criminal sanctions.
"The Department of Legal Affairs and Legislative Department may explore the possibility of introducing legislative changes to introduce a requirement of mandatory notice to the opposite party before initiation of legal proceedings," the agenda note said. The judiciary, including the Supreme Court and various subordinate courts, disposed of over 2 crore cases last year, and another 3 crore are still pending with them, Rajya Sabha was informed by the Law Minister on Friday.
Gowda said while the apex court settled 92,722 cases in 2014, the 24 High Courts disposed of 17,34,542 cases in the last calendar year. The subordinate courts settled 1,90,19658 cases in 2014, he said in a written reply. But at the same time, 62,791 cases were pending in the Supreme Court in 2014. Similarly, 41,53,957 cases were pending in the various High Courts. In the subordinate courts, 264,88,405 were pending in 2014.
He blamed vacancies of judicial officers/judges in various courts as "one of the main factors affecting timely disposal of cases."