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Kerala HC Issues Guidelines to Family Courts for Early Disposal of Cases [READ JUDGMENT]

Kerala HC Issues Guidelines to Family Courts for Early Disposal of Cases [READ JUDGMENT]

The Kerala High Court in a significant judgment on Tuesday ( March 22, 2021) issued guidelines to streamline and prescribe a uniform procedure for disposal of cases before Family Courts in the State.

The order has been passed by a Division Bench comprising of Justices A Muhamed Mustaque and CS Dias, who noted:

We  are,  inthis  batch  oforiginal  petitions, asked   to  resolve   the   difficulties   caused  to   the litigants  dueto  the  inordinatedelay  in  disposalof cases  by  theFamily  Courts  inthe  State.

These  original petitions  speakabout  the  varioushurdles  faced  by  the parties  in  resolvingtheir  matrimonial  disputes.

The Bench further observed that:
 

The supervisory jurisdiction of this Court impels us to issue directions to streamline the procedure as conceived under law to avoid failure of justice. Failure of justice in this context is to be understood to the non-adherence of rules which ensures the right of the disputants to get timely justice.These normative and procedural outlines, which are illustrative in nature, shall be scrupulously followed by the Family Courts.”

Causes for the delay:

The Court attempted to examine why proceedings before family courts were obstructed by delays.

The court observed that it was  a  routine practice  inthis  Court  tocall  for  reportsfrom  the Family   Courts  and   issue  directions  to  dispose of proceedingsin  a  timebound  manner.  Thishas  caused perceived  injusticeto  many,  asthose  who  approachthis Court  stand  inadvantageous  position  ingetting  their cases   disposedof  on  apriority  basis. 

The  delay involved  indisposal  of  casesbefore  the  FamilyCourts cannot  be  signifiedfor  a  singularreason.  The  problems faced  aremultifaceted  and  are  of  differentdimensions. Lack   of  infrastructure,  docketexplosion,  untrained officers  and  staff,inept  case  managementetc.,  are  a few to list.

The  partieswho  approach  theFamily  Courts with   theirgrievances,  with  ahope  to  getspeedy justice,  very  soonrealise  that  theirproblems  burgeon, cases  multiply,and  their  ordealunabatedly  continues due   to  the   adversarial   nature  and   circumstances surrounding the litigation.

Merely because  a  litiganthas  reasons  orthe  resources  to approachthis  Court  forspeedy  justice,  thesame  cannot be  atthe  peril  ofthose  adhering  tothe  queue.  Wehave felt  that  theritualistic  passing  ofdirections  for speedy  disposalof  proceedings  isdoing  more  harmthan good  to  thesystem  because  contestedand  deserving cases   arebeing  left  unattendedand  the  procedure framed  bythe  Family  Courtsfor  disposal  ofcases  is getting  unsettled.Untimely  interventions  areclogging the   system.   The  procedure   and   rules  envisage professionalmanagement  of matrimonialdisputes.  Such management  needsto  be  exhibitedat  all  levelsstarting from   filing   of  proceedings   till   the  decree   is satisfied.  Therefore,we  deem  itfit  to  directthe Family Courts to follow the outlines in this judgment,” the bench observed

Therefore, the Bench in its directions has expressly provided that parties who move applications for expeditious disposal of cases do so before the concerned Family Court prior to moving the High Court.

Additional reasons for delay were that lawyers and judges often carried their experience with adversarial litigation into family disputes, transforming proceedings from the envisaged harmony to an adversarial set up.

Pointing to the Objects of the Family Courts Act, which was enacted to help the parties to resolve their disputes in a harmonious way in preference to adversarial litigation, the Court prescribed a list of detailed requirements for family court proceedings.
 

The Bench on reasons for the rise of family disputes:

The state of Kerala, which accounts for 3% of Country's population, has one of the highest numbers of matrimonial cases in the Nation. The statistics available with the NJDG gives a clear picture of the story. At present, there is a staggering 104015 cases pending in the 28 Family Courts in the State. This data is alarming and if at all not shocking; it speaks about the disintegration of the family culture and the anomie our society is facing. We had a structured society in the past where everyone held hands to resolve such conflicts. Today, we witness alienation or aloofness of individuals from the larger family, society and the community as a whole. Disputes soar to fierce battles combated through the adversarial litigation. Causes are projected to establish one's rights sans their obligations, forcing the Family Courts to drift its role as conceived under law and to embark the lines of a normal court

The Bench reminisces its experiences during consultations with Presiding Officers of Family Courts:
 

We could feel the stress and pressure of the Presiding Officers of the Family Courts who are burdened with a huge backlog. Some of the Family Courts are compelled to board more than 200 cases a day in an attempt to clear the arrears. The delay in disposal of the cases has resulted in large number of interlocutory applications being filed on day-to-day basis. We apprehend that the backlog is leading to a collapse of justice delivery system, which stands portrayed in the large number of original petitions being filed before this Court seeking for the speedy disposal of the proceedings"

The court at the end disposed the original petitions by directing the family courts to comply strictly with some directions, which shall be implemented with effect from 1st June 2021.

 

[READ JUDGMENT]

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