Covid-19 Litigation Update

Updated: May 28, 2020

Considering the spread of Covid-19 in India and consequent lockdowns being declared across the country, litigants, corporates and citizens in general are facing a lot issues, legal and otherwise. This update covers the effect of Covid-19 on court functioning and its response.

Litigation Impact

A. Court updates

Covid-19 outbreak has had a huge impact on litigants and courts where the volume of people physically present including lawyers, judges, litigants and court staff, is polar opposite of the social distancing norms. The need of the hour is for all courts to enforce urgent measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Ever since the lockdown was announced by the government, Supreme Court of India (“SC”) and various other subordinate courts have issued numerous directions, circulars and notifications. The current position when it comes to courts in India, is provided below.

1. Supreme Court

Vide circular dated March 23, 2020 and March 26, 2020, the SC directed the constitution of a special to only hear matters of extreme urgency through video-conference. The SC, on April 15, 2020 released a circular whereby the procedure for e – filing, mentioning and hearing of urgent matters through video conferencing was revised and expounded. The circular clarifies that only extremely urgent matters would be taken by the SC and the same would be decided by the Hon’ble Presiding Judge of the bench on the basis of a synopsis, not exceeding one page, filed by the Advocate on Record (‘AOR’). The AOR is required to file the petition/miscellaneous application through e – filing mode available on the SC website. Subsequently, the mentioning – application would be submitted at mention.sc@sci.nic.inand a standard operating procedure is in place which provides relevant details regarding video conference. Once the urgency is approved, the matter will reflect in the cause list on the SC’s website and the hearing would take place through the video – conference link shared with the advocate-on-record or the party on the e-mail address mentioned in the urgency application.

The Supreme Court Bar Association has passed a unanimous resolution and appealed to the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and his companion Hon'ble Judges to declare cancellation of summer vacation as per existing calendar and instead treat the entire period covered under the same as working in the larger interest of the litigants and interest of justice. However, no decision on the said request has yet been taken by the SC.

2. National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (“NCLAT”)

In view of the complete lockdown, NCLAT, vide a notification dated March 20, 2020, had directed the adjournment of all matters up till April 01, 2020, except the listing of urgent matters upon mentioning. Further, vide orders dated March 30, 2020, the NCLAT has issued directions for extending interim orders in all appeals in insolvency matters, company matters and competition matters till next date of hearing. Although, no further notification has been issued by the NCLAT, however as per the information received from the NCLAT’s registry, the directions issued in the notification dated March 20, 2020 are being following as regards listing of regular matters and listing of urgent matters upon mentioning.

3. National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“NCDRC”)

NCDRC, vide its notification dated March 16, 2020 had decided to adjourn of all cases up till April 15, 2020. Vide another notification dated March 24, 2020, the NCDRC had directed listing of extremely urgent matters upon mentioning before the President, NCDRC, at 11:00 am at his residential office. The operation of both the aforementioned notifications have been extended till May 04, 2020 vide notification dated April 14, 2020.

4. Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (“DRAT”) & Debt Recovery Tribunal (“DRT”)

DRAT and a number of DRTs (Ahmedabad, Patna, Ernakulam, Delhi, Dehradun, Hyderabad etc.) have issued official notifications for adjourning all matters listed between April 15, 2020 and April 30, 2020/May 03, 2020, with provisions made for urgent hearing/relief through telephonic mentioning with court officials. The Ministry of Finance, vide notification dated April 24, 2020 has introduced online hearing using video conferencing with the support of National Informatics Centre (NIC) starting with 5 DRTs, i.e., DRT-3 Delhi, DRT-3, Kolkata, DRT Dehradun, DRT-1 Chennai and DRT-3 Mumbai. The same is being brought into effect by the respective DRTs and will shortly commence working.

5. Delhi High Court (“DHC”) & District Courts (“DC”)

DHC had suspended its functioning and of all subordinate courts for all pending matters listed between March 23 to April 15, 2020. Through its notification dated March 23, 2020 and subsequent notification dated April 04, 2020, the DHC would hear only extremely urgent matters through video-conference. For a matter to qualify as urgent, the parties have to first contact the registry officer(s) telephonically, explain the urgency and his decision on whether a matter is urgent or not shall be final. If urgent, thereafter the officer shall take all necessary steps to inform the party about the date and time of listing.

As for DC, directions regarding extremely urgent and bail matters have been issued. All such matters shall be dealt with by phone. For fresh filings and extremely urgent matters, the officers of the court should be contacted by phone who, once satisfied with the reason for the urgency, will call the judicial assistant who, in turn, has to follow the procedure laid down for a Special Judge to be deputed to hear the matter on the same day.

Further, as per latest Office Order dated April 26, 2020, DHC has decided to take up several categories of pending matters subject to certain conditions mentioned therein. Further, DHC has also informed that e-filing of non-urgent matters/routine matters is also being permitted, however, the matters will be taken up by DHC upon resumption of regular hearing.

The DHC has now extended the directions issued in the earlier notifications vide notification dated April 15, 2020 and accordingly the functioning of the DHC and DC shall remain suspended till May 03, 2020, with only urgent matters being heard in the manner mentioned in the earlier notifications. Further, vide a notification dated April 09, 2020, the DHC has decided to cancel the summer vacations for the DHC and the DC in the month of June, 2020 in orderto make up for the loss of court working hours and to ensure restoration of normalcy in the functioning of the courts.

6. HighCourt of Judicature at Bombay (“BHC”)

The BHC has restricted it’s functioning to listing and hearing of urgent matters only and on limited days, however, the registry remains operational and filings continue in their usual course. Further, vide order dated March 26, 2020 passed in Writ Petition Urgent 2 of 2020, the interim orders in all matters have been extended upto April 30, 2020, subject to liberty to parties to move for vacation of interim orders only in extreme urgent cases.

Similar directions have been issued to the district courts of Maharashtra, State of Goa and Union Territory of Dadra & Nagar and Haveli and Daman & Diu, to take up only extremely urgent matters and to evolve suitable solutions on local basis.

Vide a notification dated April 15, 2020, the BHC has extended the operation of the earlier notification with respect to the restricted functioning of the court till May 04, 2020. Further, vide an order dated April 15, 2020, passed in Writ Petition Urgent 2 of 2020, the BHC has extended the operation of the order dated March 26, 2020, thereby extending the interim orders granted in all matters till June 15, 2020. BHC has also announced cancellation of the court summer vacations in orderto make up for the loss of court working hours and to ensure restoration of normalcy in the functioning of the courts.

7. High Court of Karnataka (“KHC”)

Vide Memorandum dated March 20, 2020, all benches of KHC were directed to take up and hear matters stated to be urgent by the members of the Bar. Vide Notification dated March 21, 2020, virtual courts were created at the principal bench of KHC in Bengaluru which would hear cases listed before all benches and vide notification dated March 23, 2020, the KHC created guidelines for hearing of urgent matters. Vide Notification dated April 13, 2020, all the District and Trial Courts, Family Courts, Labour Courts and Industrial Tribunals in the State of Karnatakahas been closed from April 15, 2020 to April 30, 2020 with only urgent matters to be heard during these dates.

Vide Notification dated March 30, 2020 KHC has appointed judicial officers in the district courts for decongestion of prisons by granting interim bail to under trial prisoners.

8. High Court of Judicature at Madras (“MHC”)

A comprehensive circular was issued directing that only urgent and fresh matters are to be taken up for hearing with all matters from March 24, 2020 to April 14, 2020 to generally adjourned unless considered urgent upon being mentioned by the counsel. Similarly, the directions also include the counsels to mention matters where interim orders are to expiring within this period and courts have been directed to issue orders for extending such interim orders. The MHC has issued another notification dated April 12, 2020, thereby extending the restrictive functioning of the courts in terms of the earlier notification dated March 24, 2020 up till April 30, 2020.

9. High Court at Calcutta (“CHC”)

As per the circular dated March 24, 2020, the functioning of CHC was limited to listing and hearing of urgent matters only, with general functioning suspended till April 9, 2020. Similar directions have been issued to the district courts therein. Subsequently, vide circular dated March 28, 2020, CHC has directed for hearing of urgent matters through video conference. The CHC extended the operation of the earlier notification dated March 24, 2020 till April 30, 2020 vide notification dated April 08, 2020.

Vide notification dated April 24, 2020, CHC has further extended the suspension of regular work in High Court and subordinate courts till May 15, 2020.

10. High Court of Punjab and Haryana (P&HHC) 

P&HHC issued notifications dated March 22, 2020, March 24, 2020 and March 30, 2020 whereby it has been directed that only those matters which are urgent in nature will be taken up for the time being. Vide a notification dated April 13, 2020 the P&HHC has extended the operation of the earlier notification dated March 24, 2020 and has also directed the adjournment of all cases listed before the P&HHC and the district courts up till May 01, 2020.

11. High Court for the State of Telangana

Through Notification dated March 27, 2020 all matters listed upto April 14, 2020 before the High Court and district courts stood adjourned with only urgent matters to be taken up through vide conference. Further, all matters in which interim orders were subsisting as on March 20, 2020 and expired, or will expire thereafter, stand automatically extended upto June 07, 2020. Vide notification dated April 14, 2020, the operation of the notification dated March 27, 2020 has been extended till April 30, 2020. Similarly, it has been decided that the subordinate courts shall remain closed till April 30, 2020 as well and the cases listed during the said period shall be adjourned automatically en – bloc to a working day after one month.

Furthermore, HCT has decided to cancel this year's summer vacation for the courts in Telangana and accordingly, all the courts in the state will continue to function throughout May till June 5, this year.

12. High Court of Andhra Pradesh (“HCA”)

Through Notification dated March 26, 2020 all matters listed upto April 14, 2020 before the High Court and district courts stood adjourned with only urgent matters to be taken up through vide conference. However, no fresh notification has been issued with respect to matters listed post April 14,2020. Further, vide a separate order dated March 26, 2020, the HCA has directed that all matters in which interim orders were subsisting shall continue to operate for a further period of one month.

13. High Court of Judicature at Allahabad (“AHC”)

As per notification dated March 25, 2020, the functioning of AHC and all district courts have been suspended indefinitely till further orders, with only urgent matters to be taken up. Further, vide a separate order dated March 26, 2020, the AHC has directed that all matters in which interim orders have expired subsequent to March 19, 2020 or are due to expire within a period of one month from March 26, 2020 will continue to operate upto April 26, 2020. Vide a notification dated April 11, 2020, the AHC has given detailed instructions for mentioning and listing of urgent matters. Vide another notification dated April 12, 2020, the AHC has given details of oath commissioners, purchase of court fees and scanning of files.

14. High Court of Kerala (“KHC”)

As per notification dated March 25, 2020, the functioning of KHC and all district courts had been suspended till April 14, 2020, with only urgent matters to be taken up vide video conference. Further, vide order dated March 25, 2020, all the interim orders passed by all the courts/tribunals upon which KHC exercises supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227, which are due to expire during the lock down period of 21 days, have been extended by one month from March 25, 2020. Although no further notification has been issued by KHC, the functioning of the courts remains restricted and the directions issued in the earlier notifications are being followed.

15. National Company Law Tribunal (“NCLT”)

On March 22, 2020 NCLT issued a notification directing that all benches shall remain closed from March 23, 2020 to March 31, 2020 except for Chennai bench, which will hear urgent matters but without physical presence of any person. The party seeking urgent relief may approach the registry of NCLT Chennai through e-mail and the Acting President will examine and pass orders twice a week i.e., on Wednesday and Friday. The notification clarifies that matters pertaining to extension of time, approval of resolution plan and liquidation should not be construed as urgent. In view of the extension of lockdown by the Government of India, the directions given vide the notice dated 22.03.2020 have been extended by NCLT till May 03, 2020.

16. Real-Estate Regulatory Authority, Delhi (“RERA”)

On March 16, 2020, RERA issued a precautionary notice adjourning cases listed on various dates up to April 07, 2020 to avoid mass gatherings. No further notification has been issued RERA.

17. Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks (“CGPDTM”)

The office of the CGPDTM had issued a notification dated March 25, 2020 whereby it had directed the closure of all offices from March 25, 2020 upto April 15, 2020. Further, all trademark, patent and design hearings listed upto April 15, 2020 were adjourned. The office of CGPDTM had also introduced relaxations for filings in case of deadlines falling within the time period of closure in which case the time is to start again once functioning of the office resumes. The operation of the aforementioned notification has been extended up till May 03, 2020 vide a notification dated April 15, 2020.

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