Frivolous petitioners to pay the price

Sun, December 25, 2016

ISLAMABAD: In order to discourage frivolous litigation and unnecessary adjournments, the Ministry of Law and Justice has proposed amendments to the civil and criminal procedure codes.

After the Cost of Litigation Act 2016 becomes law, winning party may claim the cost of litigation from the unsuccessful petitioners. In other words, a petitioner would not only pay his own lawyer but would also bear the cost of litigation of the respondents for filing frivolous petition or with weak evidence.

Some critics say the government may use the proposed law to discourage the tendency of filing political petitions against public officeholders as most such petitions remain inconclusive or the petitioners cannot prove the culpability of the respondent authorities.

Proposed amendments to civil, criminal procedure codes aim at discouraging frivolous litigation

Moreover, in the civil suits, if the lawyer of any party seeks an adjournment he would be fined up to Rs5,000. In the criminal proceedings, the cost of the adjournment would be Rs10,000.

As per the statement of objectives for the amendments: “The tendency of filing vexatious cases and taking baseless grounds for defence is unfortunately on the increase.

“This tendency leads to numerous evils, including heavy expenditure incurred by the affected parties, causing them financial loss and mental torture, apart from wasting precious time of the courts. It is, therefore, necessary to empower the courts to impose costs to discourage false and frivolous litigation and unnecessary adjournments.”

Under the proposed amendment to Section 35(ii) of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), “The court shall award the actual costs of litigation under clause (i) to successful party with markup.”

Another proposed amendment to Section 35A of the CPC says, “In case of deliberate absence from the court proceedings and seeking unnecessary adjournments, the court may fine Rs5,000 per adjournment.”

An amendment to Act V of the CrPC 1898 says, “Despite service of notice if a party fails to appear or comply with any order of the court or seeks an adjournment, the court may impose a fine not less than Rs1,0000 per adjournment.”

Currently, there is a huge backlog and the total pending cases with the judiciary, including the superior and sessions courts, are 1.954 million.

The pending cases in Islamabad’s subordinate judiciary are 31,018 while the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has 13,789 pending cases.

The proposed law would also be applicable to litigation in the Supreme Court where the pendency is 30,973, and the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) which has 681 pending cases.

When contacted, renowned lawyer Hamid Khan said the pendency in courts was alarming but such a legislation would not ease the burden.

In the past too, both the CPC and CrPC were amended several times but to no avail.

He said neither lawyers would accept the fine nor would courts take adverse actions against litigants.

“In fact, such legislation would be counterproductive for the genuine and poor litigants as wealthy people would be ready to pay the cost for any frivolous litigation,” he said.

He suggested that the government should introduce comprehensive reforms in the criminal justice system if it was serious in easing the burden on the courts as well as the litigants.

Barrister Zafarullah Khan, the special assistant to the prime minister on law and justice, told Dawn that courts in many countries awarded cost of litigation to unsuccessful parties.

He said the amendments to the CPC and CrPC had been proposed to provide relief to the genuine litigants and ease the burden on courts.

He said the law ministry had introduced the bill in the National Assembly in November and currently it was under the consideration of the relevant committee.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2016

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