27 Dec 2010

Court can delegate ministerial functions: High Court

In a recently reported decision [NEW INDIA ASSURANCE CO. LTD. v. SHRI PREET PAL SINGH 2010 (173) DLT 113] the Delhi High Court has declared that it is open to a court to delegate ministerial functions and it cannot be argued that since the summons were sent by the court officers and not by the judge, the summoned person is not required to attend to summons. The High Court, setting aside the challenge to the summons as being unfounded, declared that the Court was not required to indulge in all such ministerial functions and the same could be legally delegated to the court staff.

The High Court inter alia observed as under;
4. Whenever a judicial officer or a Tribunal is on leave or is not able to hold the court due to some reason, the Court Master/Reader has to entertain the litigants and give them next date of hearing. This function of the Court Master/Reader is a lawful function being performed by an official of the court under the authority of the judge/Tribunal. This function is a ministerial function. The Court Master/Reader who gives dates to the litigants, in fact tells the litigants that they have to appear on the next date of hearing. The Court Master/Reader commits no wrong if he tells the litigant that on next date of hearing the matter will be taken up for the same cause for which the case was fixed on the date when the judicial officer was absent. Such an order is a perfectly lawful order. Neither the Court Master/Reader commits any illegality by telling the litigants that the previous order passed by the court, if has not been complied with, should be complied with. The purpose of Civil Procedure Code is not to harass the litigants but to see that the court is managed in a proper and effective manner and proceedings are done as per law. It is not in the interest of the litigants or justice that the Court Master/Reader fixes all the cases for proper order since the judge was absent. If he has authority to adjourn the case and give next date of hearing, he has authority to fix the case for the same purpose for which the case was fixed on the date when the judge was absent. Fixing cases for proper order means wastage of crucial time of the court on next date when the court has to take all those cases again and pass an order as to for what purpose the case would be taken up on subsequent date of hearing. An unscrupulous litigant can take benefit of such routine order of fixing cases for proper order and stop appearing on the ground that there were no directions of the court to appear and the court should has summoned him de novo. The court can delegate ministerial functions to its staff and these functions are routinely delegated. The summons of cases sent to various parties are not signed by the judge personally but are signed by the ministerial staff under the authority of the judge although summons sent to a party are the directions issued by the judge for appearance in the court on a particular date for discharging a particular function.
5. I, therefore, consider that when a Court Master/Reader, in case of Tribunal/judicial officer not holding the court passes an order directing parties to appear on a particular date and fixes the case for the same function which was to be discharged on that day and tells the parties to comply with the order passed by the court on previous hearing, he does no illegal act nor such an order can be considered as an illegal order or unauthorized order. I, therefore, find that Tribunal wrongly came to the conclusion that the Court Master/Reader’s order of fixing the case for 7th April, 1999 for compliance of previous order was technically wrong.
6. If the Tribunal had inadvertently again issued summons to the respondent/judgment debtor that does not amount to any illegality nor that gives a right to the judgment debtor to take the court for a ride and not to appear in the court or to evade service. The whole effort of the judgment debtor in this case had been to defy the court summons and not to appear. The court summons duly served on judgment debtor for his appearance on 7th April, 1999 did not mention that the summons were sent on an order passed by the Court Master/Reader, when the judge was on leave. The summons were sent in routine performa and received by the judgment debtor. The judgment debtor/respondent No.1 had no reason to ignore the summons and not to appear. If he ignored the summons and did not appear, he did so at his own peril. He cannot be heard to say that these summons were technically wrong and, therefore, he had a right not to appear in the court. The summons sent to a party, whether under the orders of the court or because of Reader’s order is an intimation to the party to appear in the court. The party cannot disregard the summons. Non-appearance of the party, therefore, has to be considered as a deliberate non-appearance and the consequences have to follow. The subsequent conduct of the judgment debtor/respondent in not receiving the registered cover sent to his address despite postman’s continuous visit to his house for seven days and not instructing his family members to receive the registered cover shows that the respondent had determined not to honour summons of the court and not to appear. No mercy can be shown to such respondent who deliberately defy court orders and do not appear in the court thinking and presuming that any order passed by the court can be got set aside on making lame excuses. It is because of this attitude that cases in this country do not get decided for years together and the get struck up at service stage for years together since the respondent defy court summons with immunity and the courts set aside ex-parte orders in a casual manner.

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