There can't be automatic vacation of stay orders of lower courts, HCs in civil, criminal cases: SC

Supreme Court
Supreme Court. File Photo: AFP

New Delhi: In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court on Thursday held that there cannot be an automatic vacation of stay orders granted by a lower court or high court in civil and criminal cases after six months.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud also ruled that the constitutional courts -- the Supreme Court and high courts -- should ordinarily refrain from fixing a schedule for disposal of cases by courts below.

"The superior courts may issue directions for the timeout disposal of cases only in exceptional circumstances. The issue of prioritising the disposal of cases should be best left to the discretion of the concerned courts where the cases are pending," held the bench, which also comprised justices A S Oka, J B Pardiwala, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra.

Justice Oka and Justice Misra pronounced two separate but concurring judgements in the case. The top court set aside its 2018 judgement in the Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency P Ltd Director Vs CBI case in which a three-judge bench had held that the interim order of stay granted by courts, including high courts, will stand vacated automatically unless specifically extended.

Consequently, no trial or proceedings can remain stayed after six months. However, the top court later clarified that the judgement would not be applicable if the stay order was passed by it.

Pronouncing the judgement on Thursday, Justice Oka said, "We have held that we don't agree with the view held in the Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency P Ltd Director..."

The bench framed two questions for adjudication in the case and said, "The first is whether this court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution can order automatic vacation of all interim orders of the high courts of staying the proceedings of civil and criminal cases on the expiry of a certain period."

The second issue was whether the Supreme Court, under Article 142, can direct the high courts to decide the pending cases, in which interim orders of stay of proceedings have been granted and a direction is given to either hear a case on a day-to-day basis or decide it within a fixed period.

"What we have said... is that the constitutional courts should not normally fix a schedule for disposal of cases pending in any court," the bench said.

Article 142 of the Constitution empowers the top court to pass "any decree or order necessary for doing complete justice in any case or matter pending before it" within the territory of the country.

The verdict said the nature of the pendency of various types of cases in every court, including high courts, is different and can be assessed by the concerned court only.

"Therefore, the issue of giving priority to certain cases should be best left to the concerned courts," Justice Oka said, adding "The orders fixing the outer limit for the disposal of cases should be passed only in exceptional circumstances to meet extraordinary situations."

Reading out conclusions, Justice Oka, who wrote the judgement for himself, the CJI and justices Pardiwala and Mithal, said he was unable to concur with the findings of the 2018 judgement.

The verdict also laid down the guidelines for the exercise of powers under Article 142 by the top court, he said. The detailed judgement is awaited.

The top court had on December 13, 2023, reserved its judgement in the case after hearing senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for the High Court Bar Association of Allahabad, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and other lawyers on the issue.

The court had on December 1 last year referred to a five-judge bench its 2018 judgement for reconsideration.

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