National Litigation Policy

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 30 Apr 2018 12:02:49









IN THE judgement of the case – Union of India & Others v. Prithwi Singh & Others, delivered on April 24, 2018, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, at the Supreme Court, have drawn once again the Central Government’s attention to “an extremely unfortunate situation of unnecessary and avoidable burdening of the Supreme Court through frivolous litigation which calls for yet another reminder through the imposition of costs on the Union of India while dismissing the appeal in this case.”
The court has expressed hope that someday some sense, if not better sense, will prevail on the Union of India with regard to the formulation of a realistic and meaningful National Litigation Policy and what it calls ‘ease of doing business’, which can, if faithfully implemented benefit litigants across the country.

According to the court, the real question is: “When will the Rip Van Winkleism stop and Union of India wake up to its duties and responsibilities to the Justice Delivery System?
The Union of India had filed a batch of appeals, which were dismissed by the apex court by a judgement and order on December 8, 2017. The decision was delivered in the case – Union of India v. Balbir Singh Turn – 2017 (14) SCALE 189.After dismissal of these appeals, the Central Government filed yet another appeal on the same subject.
That appeal was dismissed in terms of the decision in the Balbir Singh’s case, on March 9, 2018. While dismissing the appeal it was noted that it was filed well after several similar matters were dismissed by the apex court. The conduct of the Union of India in filing Civil Appeals / Special Leave Petitions after the issue has been concluded by the court was not appreciated. The court had noted at that time that the Union of India must take full responsibility for unnecessarily adding to the burden of Justice Delivery System.

To ensure that the Union of India takes it somewhat more seriously, the Court imposed costs of Rs. one lakh with the observation that the Union of India must shape up its litigation policy. Unfortunately, the Union of India has learnt no lesson and has continued its non-cooperative attitude.This appeal was filed on March 8, 2018, well after the decision in the case of Balbir Singh Turn. The court would have expected that with the dismissal of the appeals relating to Balbir Singh Turn and another one, the Union of India would take steps to withdraw the appeal from the Registry of the court so that it is not even listed and there is no unnecessary burden on the judges. But obviously, the Union of India has no such concern and did not withdraw its appeal from the Registry itself.

The court has stated that the Union of India must appreciate that by pursuing frivolous or infructuous cases, it is adding to the burden of the Court and collaterally harming other litigants by delaying of their cases through the sheer volume of numbers. If the Union of India cares a little for the justice delivery system, it should at least display some concern for litigants, many of whom have to spend a small fortune in litigating in the Supreme Court.
On June 23, 2010, the Union of India released the ‘National Legal Mission to Reduce Average Pendency Time from 15 Years to 3 Years’ and this document is called ‘National Litigation Policy’.

  1. The National Litigation Policy is based on the recognition that Government and its various agencies are the pre-dominant litigants in courts and Tribunals in the country. Its aim is to transform Government into an Efficient and Responsible litigant. This policy is also based on the recognition that it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the rights of citizens to respect fundamental rights and those in charge of the conduct of Government litigation should never forget this basic principle.
    2. Government must cease to be a compulsive litigant. The philosophy that matters should be left to the courts for ultimate decision has to be discarded. The easy approach , “Let the court decide,” must be eschewed and condemned.
    3. The purpose underlying this policy is also to reduce Government litigation in courts so that valuable court time would be spent in resolving other pending cases so as to achieve the goal in the National Legal Mission to reduce average pendency time from 15 years to 3 years.
    Litigators on behalf of Government have to keep in mind the principles incorporated in the National mission for judicial reforms which includes identifying bottlenecks which the Government and its agencies may be concerned with and also removing unnecessary Government cases. Prioritisation in litigation has to be achieved with particular emphasis on welfare legislation, social reform, weaker sections and senior citizens and other categories requiring assistance must be given utmost priority.
    None of the pious platitudes in the National Litigation Policy have been followed indicating not only the Union of India’s lack of concern for the justice delivery system but also scant regard for its own National Litigation Policy.
    The website of the Department of Justice shows that the National Litigation Policy, 2010 is being reviewed and formulation of National Litigation Policy, 2015 is under consideration. When this will be finalised is anybody’s guess. There is also an Action Plan to reduce Government Litigation which was formulated on June 13, 2017.
    Nothing has been finalised by the Union of India for the last almost about 8 years and under the garb of ease of doing business , the judiciary is being asked to reform. The boot is really on the other leg.
    Interestingly, the Action Plan mentions,
    among others, two interesting steps to reduce pendency:
    (i) Avoid unnecessary filing of appeals – appeals should not be filed in routine matters – only in cases where there is a substantial policy matter.
    (ii) Vexatious litigation should be immediately withdrawn.
    These pendency reduction steps (particularly (ii) above) have been conveniently overlooked as far as this appeal is concerned.
    To make matters worse, in this appeal, the Union of India has engaged 10 lawyers, including an Additional Solicitor General and a Senior Advocate ! This is as per the appearance slip submitted to the Registry of the apex court.
    In other words, the Union of India has
    created a huge financial liability by engaging so many lawyers for an appeal, the fate of which can be easily imagined on the basis of existing orders of dismissal in similar cases. Yet the Union of India is increasing its liability and asking the taxpayers to bear an avoidable financial burden for the misadventure. Is any thought being given to this?
    The Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal with costs of Rs. one lakh, as before, to be deposited with the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee within four weeks from the date of this judgement, for utilisation for juvenile justice issues. The case has been directed to be listed for compliance after 5 weeks.