Cannot summon govt officials as a routine measure, SC tells HCs

The decision comes three years after the apex court orally said that judges cannot behave like “emperors”, summoning officials as a routine measure

Updated - January 03, 2024 01:50 pm IST

Published - January 03, 2024 12:39 pm IST - New Delhi

A bench comprising Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justices J. B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said the standard operating procedures (SOP) for courts emphasised that they needed to steer away from arbitrary summoning of officials.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justices J. B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said the standard operating procedures (SOP) for courts emphasised that they needed to steer away from arbitrary summoning of officials. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on January 3 issued specific guidelines for High Courts to ensure that government officials are not summoned to court at the drop of a hat.

The decision comes three years after the apex court orally said that judges cannot behave like “emperors”, summoning officials as a routine measure. The separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive should be maintained and good governance relies on mutual respect.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud said courts should not rush to demand the personal presence of officials even in contempt proceedings. A notice should be issued to them first, seeking an explanation for their actions.

The judgment advised caution and restraint.

Judges should not belittle officials who have appeared in person in court on the basis of a summons. Derogatory remarks from the Bench about the officials’ physical appearance, educational background or social status should be avoided. Officials need not remain standing throughout the proceedings, and need to be on their feet only while personally addressing the court, Chief Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment, laid down.

An official should not be summoned merely because the submissions in a government affidavit did not agree with the views held by the judge on the issue.

Courts can seek the personal appearance of an official in complex issues requiring expert evidence or in non-adversarial adjudication, including those concerning policy issues.

However, the personal presence of an official need not be required if the issues could be satisfactorily addressed by perusing government documents, records or affidavits.

The court could however summon officials if information is believed to be deliberately withheld or there was a misrepresentation or suppression of facts.

Courts should provide reasons in orders for summoning government officials, who should be allowed as a first option to appear through video conferencing. The court should to the extent possible designate a specific time slot for taking up the case in which an official has been summoned.

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