This article is written by Harshada Sanjay Ghode, pursuing Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from Lawsikho.com.
The High Court stands as the head of the judiciary at the State level. The High Courts in India enjoy civil, criminal, original, appellate, ordinary as well as extraordinary jurisdiction. High Courts were first established in India under Indian High Court Act, 1861 at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1862. At present, there are twenty-five High Courts in India with an appropriate number of benches in respective states.
The High courts exercise Ordinary Jurisdiction conferred on it by various statutes as well as extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue writs. Every High Court enjoys Original Jurisdiction, that is, it has the power to hear and decide the case in the first place without going to any intermediary stage, as well as it enjoys appellate jurisdiction, that is, it entertains an appeal against the verdict of a court subordinate to it. The procedure of the Original and Appellate Jurisdiction of the High courts is governed by its Original Side rules and Appellate side rules, respectively. Every High Court in India has its own and separate set of Original Side rules and Appellate side rules with minor differences.
What are High Court procedures?
The High Court procedures can be understood through the steps elaborated as under:
Every High Court has a Registry that is headed by Registrar/ Joint Registrar/ Deputy Registrar or any other officer specially authorised on that behalf. All plaints, petitions, applications, memorandum of appeal shall be presented by the plaintiff, petitioner, applicant, defendant, respondent, appellant or filing party in-person/ his duly authorised agent/ an Advocate, duly appointed by him for that purpose, at the filing counter of the Registry. Thereafter, the officer in charge of the filing counter shall endorse the date of receipt on the document (i.e., petition, petition, memorandum of appeal or application, etc.) presented and also on the duplicate copy of the index and return the same to the filing party.
The registry soon places the presented plaints, petitions or applications in the appropriated part of the concerned files. The registry conducts close scrutiny of the presented pleadings and ensures that the pleadings have no defects. On finding the defects, the Registrar/ Deputy Registrar/Assistant Registrar/Officer in Charge will specify the objections to the filing party through notice and ask to correct or remove the listed defects and present the amended pleading/ document within the specified time. These defects can be with respect to payment of inadequate court fees or documents filed are in a language other than English (any document in a language other than English should essentially be filed with an English translation of such document) or when the pleadings or documents do not comply with the High Court Rules.
If such a pleading or document on notification of objections is not taken back for amendment or is not presented with amendments within the specified time, it shall be registered and listed before the Court for its dismissal for non-prosecution.
Once the pleadings, applications, documents are presented appropriately in a required manner, they are ready for filing; the Registrar makes the registration of the same and prepares a list of cases for the hearing.
Writ of Summon
The Writ of Summon is issued on the opposite side to appear and file a response to the application/ pleading filed against them. The service of summons is affected in the manner provided in Order 5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. If the Writ of Summons is not appropriately served within the reasonable time, the suit is placed on board for dismissal. Replication can be filed by the party instituting the suit as a reply to the response filed by the opposite party.
Pre-admission hearing is generally seen in the matter of appeals and writ petitions. At this stage, the party filing the parties presents their arguments convincing the court that the case presented has merits and; qualifies for the admission and the remedy they have applied for.
On hearing the arguments presented by the party for the admission of the case, if the court is satisfied that the case is baseless and has no merits or issues involved and does not qualify to be admitted or kept pending for admission, the High Court dismisses the case. On the other hand, if the court, after going through the arguments presented by the petitioner or applicant or appellant, comes to the conclusion that the case involves a valid legal issue or is convinced that the case is based on merits and involves a question of law to be solved, the court admits the case. Thus, this is called an admission of the case.
On the admission of the case, a regular hearing of the case commences. At this stage, the court examines the pleadings, i.e., the written arguments filed by the parties. Once a brief narrative of the case is presented by the petitioner/ applicant/ appellant before the court through their pleadings, the opposite party is asked to present a reply to such pleading. A written reply is then filed by the opposite party which is generally called a ‘reply on affidavit/ affidavit in reply’. A counter reply can also be filed to such a reply on affidavit by the first party. However, it is pertinent to note that such replies are presented only when the court grants permission to file such replies. Once the court closely examines the pleadings presented by the parties to the case, the court may allow an oral hearing. These oral hearings essentially involve oral arguments, putting forward newly discovered facts, and submission of evidence. An oral hearing may not essentially be completed on a single day, but it may continue for a number of days. After critically examining the pleadings presented by the parties, the oral arguments and averments, the court comes to the conclusion that the case requires further detailed hearing of case; evaluation of facts and evidence, the court admits the case for Final Hearing.
Final disposal at Admission Stage: On taking into consideration, the submissions, averments and arguments presented by the first party to the case, if the court comes to the conclusion that the matter is capable of being disposed off within a short time at the admission stage itself, they place the matter in the Motion Hearing list. This step is taken for the ‘Final disposal of the matter at Admission Stage’. A notice of the same is served to the opposite party and they are asked to file a reply and appear before the court. After the Opposite party appears, the case is heard and finally disposed of. The procedure of ‘Final disposal at Admission Hearing’ is not a product of any High Court Rules but it is a scheme or rather a practice developed by The High Courts themselves. The practice is developed with the view to lessen the burden of the courts at the final hearing as a case which is capable of getting disposed at the admission stage itself is admitted for disposal at final hearing will prolong the disposal of such a case as they will be listed on the board of Final Hearing after a number of years as per their turn because of the huge pendency of Final hearing matters.
Rule nisi: After hearing a petition or an application at the admission stage if the court comes to the conclusion that the case involves such merits and issues which require and are worthy of hearing at the final hearing, the High court issued rule nisi. Such a rule may be issued in writ petitions, Civil Revision Applications, Contempt Petitions, Criminal Writ Petition or any other kind of Petition. If the court is of the opinion that a prima facie case for granting a petition or an application is made out, a rule nisi is issued calling upon the person or persons against whom the petition/ application is filed and order is sought, to appear on a specified day to show cause why such orders should not be made absolute. The summons or notice of the rule issued is then served on the person against whom the order is sought. Such a person is required to file a ‘Return’ i.e., a detailed reply to the petition/application as the case may be. Thus, the High Court by issuing rule nisi admits the petition/application for the final hearing.
Once the case is admitted for the final hearing, the matter is placed on the list of the final hearing. Every High Court has the Board of Final hearing which lists down the matters as and when their turn appears. At least one week before the date fixed for the final arguments, the advocates of the respective parties are required to exchange their respective list of judicial precedents to which they are likely to refer in the final argument. Also, the advocates of the respective parties are required to submit within the specified time a short synopsis listing the issues and details of the relied oral and documentary evidence in the case. On the day fixed for final hearing, both the parties to the case make a final argument on the issues framed. Such an argument is supported by evidence and judicial precedents. The final hearing does not essentially get completed in a day and may require a number of days depending upon the case and the arguments presented. The court may, on hearing the final arguments and on critically examining the evidence, pass a judgement or fix some other day for pronouncing the judgement.
Judgement and decree
A judgement with appropriate reasoning is formulated by the judge/judges after hearing the final argument. The judgement is pronounced by the court on the day fixed. It is not necessary for the court to read out the whole judgement but it shall be sufficient for the court to just read out the findings of the court on each issue and the final order passed.
In the cases where the court had issued rule nisi, if the judgement is drawn in favour of the petitioner/ applicant, such a judgement will mention after the reasoning at the end ‘rule made absolute’, while if the judgement is drawn against the petitioner/ applicant the judgement mentions at the end ‘rule discharge’.
A decree is drawn as per the Judgement pronounced. If it is considered necessary by the Registrar of the court that the draft of the decree should essentially be settled in presence of the parties to the case or if the parties require it to be settled in their presence, the Registrar shall, by notice in writing appoint a time for settling the same and the parties are required to attend the appointment and produce their respective briefs and documents as may be necessary to enable the draft to be settled.
E-filing at High Courts
E-filing system has been adopted by High courts in India which enables electronic filing of legal papers in both civil as well as criminal cases. The e-filing system can be used by any advocate enrolled to Practice in the Bar Council of any State in India or by any petitioner in person to file a case before the High court. The system aims at promoting paperless filing and creating time and cost-saving efficiencies by adopting technological solutions to file cases before various High courts in India.
It is evident to know that the Supreme Court e-committee has directed all High Courts to ensure that all petitions or cases filed by the government before High Courts are done only by way of e-filing from January 2022.
High Court procedures during COVID-19 pandemic
A nationwide lockdown was imposed due to the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. However, such an unprecedented challenge could not deter the judiciary from delivering justice. The High Courts adopted the virtual mode of proceeding. The cases were filed through the e-filing mechanism and the proceedings took place through video conferencing. The Judges of the High Courts adjusted to the digital infrastructure of the courts and delivered justice.
With the effect of COVID being lowered, the High Courts have now started conducting the proceedings in hybrid mode, i.e., both virtual as well as physical. However, most of the courts have restricted the physical hearing to only urgent cases.
High Courts in India are considered to be superior courts after the Supreme Court of India. Each High court exercises the power, functions, jurisdiction conferred on it by various statutes. High courts have their respective original and appellate side rules which explicitly mentions the procedures followed by the respective High court.
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