Monday, April 19, 2021

Centre agrees to set up more courts to clear backlog of cheque bounce cases

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To expedite trial in cheque bounce cases, the Centre has agreed “in principle” to the suggestion by the Supreme Court to set up additional courts.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta conveyed this decision to a five-judge bench hearing a suo moto petition on measures to expedite trial in cheque bounce offences under the Negotiable Instruments Act. Earlier this month, the Court had termed the pendency of cheque bounce cases at all levels in the judiciary to be “grotesque” and urged the Centre to use its power under Article 247 of the Constitution to create additional courts for better administration of the Act.

Mehta informed the Court that in principle, the Centre had no difficulty in setting up additional courts for trial of cheque bounce cases. Presently, these cases constitute 30 per cent of the criminal cases in trial courts and much more in the High Courts. The law officer informed the Court that modalities in this regard were still to be worked out.

The five-judge bench also considered setting up a Committee headed by retired Bombay High Court judge, Justice RC Chavan to deliberate and work out steps needed in the court processes to facilitate early disposal of cases. Justice Chavan is currently the Vice-Chairman of the e-committee of the Supreme Court.

The Justice Chavan Committee would further comprise of an officer not below Additional Secretary rank drawn from the Department of Financial Services, Department of Expenditure, Department of Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and a representative from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). In addition to this, the Court proposed having a nominee of the Indian Banks Association (IBA) in the Committee. As the names of the officers to be nominated to the Committee were not readily available, the bench posted the matter for Friday.

The five-judge bench comprised of Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna, and S Ravindra Bhat. To arrive at solutions to remedy the ill of grave pendency caused by the Negotiable Instruments Act, the CJI-headed bench had nominated senior advocate Sidharth Luthra and advocate K Parameshwar as amici curiae to examine the flaws existing in the system and propose remedial measures.

The Committee submitted its preliminary report in October 2020 and later backed it with supplementary notes proposing a slew of measures for reforming the system. Setting up additional courts was one of the steps they had proposed. In addition, they demanded summary trial of cases, mediation and attachment of property to the extent of the cheque amount as steps to expedite trial in cheque bounce cases.

The Court directed all suggestions and submissions made by the amici curiae, RBI and IBA to be forwarded to the Justice Chavan Committee.

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