Stay orders of High Courts will not automatically lapse after six months: SC 

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said it cannot unnecessarily fiddle with well-thought-out interim orders of High Courts staying criminal and civil proceedings

February 29, 2024 12:05 pm | Updated March 01, 2024 02:36 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on February 29 said it could not unnecessarily fiddle with well-thought-out interim orders of High Courts staying criminal and civil proceedings.

A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said the apex court had no power whatsoever to declare that a stay order passed by a High Court after due application of mind would automatically expire within six months.

The five-judge Bench was deciding a reference made to it about the correctness of a 2018 judgment in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Vs CBI. A three-judge Bench, in the 2018 verdict, had held that interim but open-ended stay orders would get vacated by default after six months unless their period of operation was extended periodically.

“Putting such constraints on the power of the High Court will also amount to making a dent on the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution, which is an essential feature that forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution,” Justice A.S. Oka, who authored the lead opinion, held.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Pankaj Mithal, an Associate Judge on the Bench, agreed that a “reasoned stay order, if not specified to be time bound, would remain in operation till there is a decision in the main matter or until and unless an application is moved for vacation and a speaking order is passed”.

The five-judge Bench, in its verdict, further clarified that the apex court cannot “normally” fix time bound schedules for High Courts or trial courts to dispose of pending cases. The reasons for pendency may vary from court to court. Pendency may be even due to the staggering workload.

“The situation at the grassroot level is better known to the judges of the courts concerned. Orders fixing the outer limit for the disposal of cases should be passed only in exceptional circumstances to meet extraordinary situations,” the Supreme Court held.

The judgment made it plain that the Supreme Court had no absolute power of hegemony over the High Courts. The Bench highlighted that the top court’s seemingly invincible power under Article 142 of the Constitution to do “complete justice” did not extend to excessive interference in orders passed by High Courts after due consideration. It said Article 142 should not be used to defeat justice or harm the substantive rights of a large body of people.

“The jurisdiction under Article 142 cannot be invoked to pass blanket orders setting at naught a very large number of interim orders lawfully passed by all the High Courts, and that too, without hearing the contesting parties. Article 142 can be invoked only to deal with extraordinary situations for doing complete justice between the parties before the court,” the apex court held.

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