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Change Lawyer If Case Is Not Being Attended Properly: SC’s Message To Litigants

To begin with, the message to litigants by the top court that is Supreme Court in its latest, landmark and laudable judgment is simple and straightforward: Change lawyer if case is not being attended properly. In other words, the Apex Court has sought to convey in plain and simple language that litigants should just stop condoning lawyer’s mishandling of case and should not restrain themselves from changing lawyer whenever the need to do so arises! This is truly commendable and ought to be appreciated and applauded in no uncertain terms!

                                 Needless to say, the Apex Court in this noteworthy and commendable judgment titled Estate Officer, Haryana Urban Development Authority & Anr. v. Gopi Chand Atreja in Civil Appeal Nos. 5051-5052 of 2009 delivered on March 12, 2019 has given a subtle yet firm message to litigants who usually tend to blame their lawyers, rightly or wrongly, for getting adverse orders from courts on technical grounds like delay, which could have been avoided easily if they were vigilant enough that they will be squarely responsible if they don’t be vigilant and don’t change lawyer well in time if the case is not being attended to by them properly! Who can deny or dispute this? The litigants must now abide by what the top court has so explicitly here!
                            First and foremost, this notable judgment authored by Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari of the Supreme Court sets the ball rolling by noting in para 1 that, “These appeals are directed against the final judgment and orders dated 23.01.2008 and 05.05.2008 passed by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh in R.S.A. No. 4110 of 2007 and R.A.C. No. 23-C of 2008 in R.S.A. No. 4110 of 2007 respectively whereby the High Court dismissed the second appeal as well as the review application filed by the appellants herein.”
                             Briefly stated, para 2 then stipulates that, “These appeals involve a short point as would be clear from the facts mentioned hereinbelow.” Going one step forward, it is then mentioned in para 3 that, “The appellants herein is the Haryana Urban Development Authority (hereinafter referred to as “HUDA”). They are the defendants whereas the respondent is the plaintiff in the civil suit out of which these appeals arise.”
                                  What follows next is elaborated in para 4 which says that, “The respondent filed a civil suit being Civil Suit No. 305 of 2000 in the Court of Civil Judge (Jr. Division), Karnal against the appellants (HUDA) claiming a decree for declaration with consequential relief of permanent and mandatory injunction in relation to the suit land. The suit was decreed by the Trial Court on contest vide judgment/decree dated 01.05.2001.”
                                As a consequence, it is then pointed out in para 5 that, “The appellants (defendants) felt aggrieved and filed first appeal being Civil Appeal No. 92 of 2001 in the Court of Additional District Judge, Karnal. By judgment dated 07.02.2002, the first Appellate Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment/decree of the Trial Court.”
                             As it turned out, para 6 then reveals that, “The appellants felt aggrieved and filed second appeal in the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh. Since the appeal filed by the appellant was barred by 1942 days, the appellants filed an application under Section 5 of the Limitation Act and prayed for condoning the delay in filing the second appeal.”
                              Furthermore, it is then disclosed in para 7 that, “By impugned order dated 23.01.2008, the High Court rejected the application and declined to condone the delay. The High Court held that the cause pleaded by the appellants for condoning the delay is not a sufficient cause. As a consequence, the second appeal was also dismissed as being barred by limitation.”
                              To be sure, it is then brought out in para 8 that, “Challenging the said order, the appellants filed a review petition. By order dated 05.02.2008, the High Court also dismissed the review petition.”
                             Interestingly enough, it is then pointed out in para 9 that, “Against the orders dated 23.01.2008 and 05.02.2008, the appellants (defendants) have filed these appeals by way of special leave in this Court.”
                           Of course, it is then rightly asked in para 10 that, “So, the short question, which arises for consideration in these appeals, is whether the High Court was justified in dismissing the appellants’ second appeal on the ground of limitation.”
                               Continuing in the same vein, it is then stated in para 11 that, “In other words, the question arises for consideration in these appeals is whether the High Court was justified in not condoning the delay of 1942 days in filing the second appeal by the appellants (defendants).” Para 12 then states that, “Heard Mr. Vishwa Pal Singh, learned counsel for the appellants and Mr. Gagan Gupta, learned counsel for the respondent.”
                            More crucially, it is then stated in para 13 that, “Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and on perusal of the records of the case, we find no merit in these appeals.” Going further, it is then held in para 14 that, “In our view, the delay of 1942 days in filing the second appeal in the High Court was rightly not condoned by the High Court for the reasons mentioned below.”
                           While enumerating on the reasons why the High Court did not condone the delay, it is then held in para 15 that, “First, the delay was inordinate; Second it was not properly explained; and Third, the ground alleged in support of application filed under Section 5 of the Limitation Act did not constitute a sufficient cause.” Very rightly said! There can be no denying or disputing it!
                               To put things in perspective, it is then explained in para 16 that, “The appellant-HUDA is a statutory authority created under the Haryana Urban Development Authority Act, 1977. It has its well-established legal department to look after the legal cases filed by HUDA and against the HUDA in various Courts. They have panel of lawyers to defend their interest in Courts.”  
                     Simply put, it is then conceded in para 17 that, “It is not in dispute that the appellants had been contesting the civil suit and the first appeal since inception. The appellants were, therefore fully aware of the adverse orders passed in the first appeal against them. There was, therefore, no justification on their part to keep quiet for such a long time and not to file the appeal within 90 days or/and re-file it immediately after curing the defects.”  
              To put it succinctly, it is then made in amply clear in para 18 that, “If, according to the appellants-HUDA, their lawyer did not take timely steps, which resulted in causing delay in its filing/refilling, then, in our view, it cannot be regarded as a sufficient cause within the meaning of Section 5 of the Limitation Act.”
                         Frankly enough, the Bench then very rightly underscores in para 19 in plain and simple language that, “In our view, it was equally the duty of the appellants (their legal managers) to see that the appeal be filed in time. If the appellants noticed that their lawyer was not taking interest in attending to the brief in question, then they should have immediately engaged some other lawyer to ensure that the appeal be filed in time by another lawyer.”
                            Beyond a shadow of doubt, the Bench then in para 20 very rightly holds that, “In our view, it is a clear case where the appellant-HUDA, i.e., their officers who were in-charge of the legal cell failed to discharge their duty assigned to them promptly and with due diligence despite availability of all facilities and infrastructure. In such circumstances, the officer-in-charge of the case should be made answerable for the lapse on their part and make good the loss suffered by the appellants-HUDA.”
                                Now coming to the concluding paras. Para 21 minces no words to make it absolutely clear that, “A delay of 1942 days (4 years 6 months), in our view, is wholly inordinate and the cause pleaded for its condonation is equally unexplained by the appellants. In any case, the explanation given does not constitute a sufficient cause within the meaning of Section 5 of the Limitation Act. It was, therefore, rightly not condoned by the High Court and we concur with the findings of the High Court.” Lastly, para 22 concludes by saying that, “The appeals thus fails and are accordingly dismissed.”
                             No doubt, it is truly a worth reading judgment and worth emulating by all the courts from top to bottom! The litigants must now always bear it in mind what the Apex Court has said so convincingly and categorically in this regard! Litigants must waste no time in changing lawyer if they find that the case is not being attended properly! This will benefit the litigants themselves in the longer run if they adhere to what the Apex Court has held so unambiguously in this landmark, latest and laudable case which is being rightly appreciated all over!    
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.