Provisions of Adjournment under CPC
By: Pulkit Taneja
While we get to hear this phrase quite often, ‘the wheels of justice move slowly, it is also essential to understand the reason behind it. Many jurists in India have a firm belief that the provisions of adjournment in the code of civil procedure are one of the primary reasons behind the delays in deciding cases. Adjournment of an issue means postponement of the case proceedings for a given day. The power of adjournment is a discretionary power of the court using which the court grants time to either party of the case if there is sufficient cause. Considering adjournment is a discretionary power, it is not possible to develop a set of strict guidelines or tests to determine the validity of the court’s discretion. In the case of Sk. Makbul vs Sk. Sidik And Ors, the court, focus on this argument. Adjournment is often used by lawyers to delay the proceedings of the court for strategic gains deliberately. They are taking the example of a witness who is called by the court and is bound to provide testimony against the accused. The defense, to protect his client and delay witness testimony, asks the court for an adjournment, which is later granted. The witness who came to assist the court gets his time wasted and has to appear again. This arrangement can also result in witness tampering by the defense to benefit the accused person. Unnecessary and repeated adjournments will univocally lead to delay in justice, moreover, resulting in losing faith in the judicial system of this country.
The Code of Civil Procedure and Adjournment
Order XVII of the code of civil procedure deals with the provisions of adjournment. Any party who is willing to file a motion to adjourn has to request it as soon as the hearing of that day begins. A request for adjournment can be made any time after the case proceedings have begun and before the day of the judgment. The court cannot, with its own intent, adjourn the proceedings without any request of doing so by either party.
The party which is seeking adjournment of the proceeding must be able to satisfy the court that the adjournment is necessary. The court, only after checking the relevance of the said reason for adjournment and making it a formal part of the case record, can grant the adjournment. The court also has the duty to inform the parties about the date on which the court will resume the proceedings and also has the authority to impose costs that would be incurred due to adjournment of the proceedings.
Post its amendment in 1999; the CPC now obligates the courts to record the reason behind adjournment and also has limited adjournments to three times. This provision of the CPC was questioned about being unconstitutional. It is critical to understand that despite the misuse of adjournments, it would be detrimental to the justice system if we decide to remove this provision. Indian justice system follows the principle of ‘presumption of innocence, which means that the court presumes the defendant to be innocent until it is proven otherwise. Therefore, the court must not take any decision without hearing the defendant, examining all the witnesses and evidence in favor of the defendant. The courts have to pass the judgment after making sure that both the parties are in complete satisfaction with their representation of facts. In the case of Salem Advocate Bar Association v Union of India, the court was faced with an issue in regards to a provision that restricts the number of adjournments post the 1999 CPC amendment. The court expressed their view of not holding this provision unconstitutional or unfair, as they clarified that in extreme cases if need be, adjournments may be granted even if all three adjournments were previously granted.
The Adjournment Culture can turn out to be harmful to the justice system of this country. The provisions of adjournment, although requires the court to assess the reasonableness of the reason behind adjournment, any circumstance which is argued to be beyond the control of the parties and is hampering the proceedings will result in an adjournment. The legislation or the supreme court has to formulate a system of arrangements to stricken the procedure of granting adjournments.
It is often said that denial of timely justice is a denial of justice itself, with repeated cases of misuse of the provisions of adjournment, which is to blame, the lawyers trying to best represent their clients or the judges to grant adjournments. Limiting the request for adjournments to three times and mandatory recording, the reason behind adjournment was the part of the 1999 CPC amendment, which sought to prevent the misuse of this provision.
Another step that was taken in parlance was by the Bombay high court in 2010. In a case, The Bombay High Court, in order to prevent repeated adjournment requests made by the state, imposed a cost of Rs.25000 on the central government. Relation to this case of the Bombay High Court, a minimum cost of adjournment must be set in order to prevent repeated requests for adjournment.
The costing system, however, must not be in absolute numbers considering a litigant might have a genuine reason for requesting an adjournment and may be poor. A percentile system of determining the cost of adjournment for a person must be formulated. Deterrence is an essential element to prevent misuse. Monetary deterrence is a viable option for the courts to apply.
 Sk. Makbul vs Sk. Sidik, AIR 1966 Ori 41.
Salem Advocate Bar Assoc. v. Union of India, AIR 2005 SC 3353.