THE INTERPRETATION OF THE LAW OF LIMITATION BY THE INDIAN SUPREME COURT DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Category: Case Commentary
Paper Code: CC-SM-04
Page Number: 455 - 457
Date of Publication: February 10, 2021
Citation: Dr. Smarita Mohanty, The Interpretation of the Law of Limitation by the Indian Supreme Court during the COVID-19 Pandemic, 1, AIJACLA, 455, 455-457, (2021).
Details Of Author(s):
Dr. Smarita Mohanty, Member, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Odisha
INTRODUCTION The outbreak of Corona Virus or COVID-19 worldwide, including India, has demanded immediate adoption of measures to ensure social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Following the World Health Organization (WHO) directive to combat the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19) as a global pandemic, the government of India has taken several measures including lockdown and shut down. In the wake of COVID-19 in the country, the Indian judiciary has taken ingenious steps to maintain a balance between public health concerns with access to justice. Here the author discusses the extraordinary steps taken by the Apex court to alleviate the difficulties faced by litigants/lawyers in filing their petitions/applications/suits/appeals etc. within the period of limitation prescribed under General Law of Limitation or under Special Laws (both Central and/or State.
THE LAW OF LIMITATION Limitation Act, 1963 defines ‘Period of limitation’ under Section 2(j), as a period of limitation prescribed for any suit, appeal, or application under the schedule to the Limitation Act, which covers a range of claims and their timelines. The main objective of the statutory of the Limitation Act, 1963 is not to ruin or violate the rights of an aggrieved person but to serve the public most effectively as well as in a time-saving manner. It grants a specific time frame within which a person can file a suit in a court of law. In absence of such law specifying the period of limitation, it would lead to never-ending litigation. The issue of limitation was first addressed by the High Court of Delhi in the office order dated 23.3.2020 wherein the following directions were passed: “Lockdown/Suspension of work of Courts shall be treated as “closure” within the meaning of the Explanation appended to Section 4 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other enabling provisions of the Act and other Statutes, as may be applied to court proceedings. Thus, the limitation for any court proceedings shall not run w.e.f. 23.3.2020 to 04.04.2020 subject to further orders.”
FACTUAL ASPECT OF THE CASE The petition dated 23.3.2020 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court was taken up suo motu for hearing. Upon hearing the counsel the Court made the following observation: “This court has taken Suo Motu cognizance of the situation arising out of the challenge faced by the country on account of Covid-19 virus and resultant difficulties that may be faced by litigants across the country in filing their petitions/ applications/suits/appeals/all other proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the general law of limitation or Special Laws (both Central and/or State).”
SUPREME COURT EXERCISING INHERENT POWERS IN PUBLIC INTEREST In consideration of emerging difficulty and given the difficulties faced by lawyers and litigants across the country in filing petitions/applications/appeals etc. due to lockdown, the Supreme Court on the very same day “In re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation, on 23rd March 2020 took up a suo moto petition for hearing while exercising its inherent powers under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Indian Constitution, which allows it to pass a necessary decree or order for delivering complete justice in any cause or matter pending before the Court, took cognizance of challenges faced by lawyers, clients, and other court officials while filing legal documents (petitions/applications/suits/appeals, etc.) and adhering to other legal proceedings in Court which are barred by a limitation period under any General or Special Law (both Central and State) amid COVID-19”. The three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice S. A. Bobde, Justice L. Nageswar Rao, and Justice Surya Kant ordered that- “a period of limitation in all such proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the General Law or Special Laws whether condonable or not shall stand extended w.e.f 15th March 2020 till further order/s to be passed by the Court in present proceedings. We are exercising this power under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India and declare that this order is a binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all Courts/Tribunals and authorities.” This welcoming move of the Hon’ble Supreme Court has eased the lawyers/litigants as an immediate relief. In terms of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission was pleased to follow the said order from 15.3.2020 till further orders.
CONCLUSION Indian judicial bodies have taken immediate and necessary steps during the pandemic. This has opened a new avenue in the upcoming difficulty faced by lawyers/litigants. The Judiciary has a brilliant opportunity to foresee a judicial system that could function uninterrupted at all levels during any emergency. Therefore, there is an immediate need to re-organize the entire judicial system to make it accountable to the needs of a democratic progressive society.