By Ranjana Meharda, National Law University, Jodhpur.

One of the most vexed and worrying problems in the administration of civil justice is of delay.[1] Delay in disposal of cases can cause severe problems in the justice delivery system of the country, including blurring of memory and difficulty in presentation of evidence.[2]

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means……Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out…..but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.”

– Charles Dickens (Bleak House)

Delay in civil litigation can cause the faith in the existence and availability of justice to become an unattainable far-fetched dream as information is lost and laws revised as the case proceeds. However, in certain cases, it may be necessary to allow delay in filing of applications where genuine cases of inability may be found. In such cases, it would be unjust to deprave an aggrieved of his rights to access to justice.

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Section 5 of the Limitation Act[3] provides for condonation of delay, in case of an appeal and application (excluding application for execution of a decree) as “extension of prescribed period in certain cases”. It says that any appeal or application may be admitted if the Court is satisfied that the appellant or applicant had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within such period, the exception being an application made under Order XXI of Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Order XXI of Code of Civil Procedure talks about an application for execution of a decree[4], and in the case of this application, delay may not be condoned. While dealing with an application for condonation of delay, the Court will keep in view two conflicting considerations:

  • As far as possible, the Court would try to decide every cause on merits rather than throwing it away on technical ground of delay without entering into real issues in the case.
  • The Court must also consider an important aspect that non-filing of appeal or application has created a valuable right in favour of the opposite party, which cannot be defeated or interfered with lightly.[5]

The expression “sufficient cause” has not been defined in the Act. It is, however, very wide, comprehensive and elastic in nature. It is also construed liberally by the Courts so as to advance the cause of justice.[6]

The Supreme Court of India in a latest decision, in the case of Balwant Singh v Jagdish Singh & Others[7] had the juncture to deal with the idea of ‘condonation of delay’ and ‘sufficient cause’ as contained in the Limitation Act, 1963. The expression ‘sufficient cause’ implies the presence of legal and adequate reasons. The Court held that the word ‘sufficient’ means adequate enough, as much as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. It embraces no more than that which provides a plenitude which, when done, suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the light of existing circumstances and when viewed from the reasonable standard of practical and cautious men.[8] The sufficient cause should be such as it would persuade the Court, in exercise of its judicial discretion, to treat the delay as an excusable one. These provisions give the Courts enough power and discretion to apply a law in a meaningful manner, while assuring that the purpose of enacting such a law does not stand frustrated. We find it unnecessary to discuss the instances which would fall under either of these classes of cases. The party should show that besides acting bona fide, it had taken all possible steps within its power and control and had approached the Court without any unnecessary delay. The test is whether or not a cause is sufficient to see whether it could have been avoided by the party by the exercise of due care and attention.[9]

In the case of P.K. Ramachandran v. State of Kerala[10], where there was delay of 565 days in filing the first appeal by the State, and the High Court had observed, “taking into consideration the averments contained in the affidavit filed in support of the petition to condone the delay, we are inclined to allow the petition”. While setting aside this order, this Court found that the explanation rendered for condonation of delay was neither reasonable nor satisfactory and held as under:  “3. It would be noticed from a perusal of the impugned order that the Court has not recorded any satisfaction that the explanation for delay was either reasonable or satisfactory, which is an essential prerequisite to condonation of delay.” Now the issue occurs, what can be the “sufficient cause” which the court accepts[11]

  • Disease or ill health:- it is the sufficient cause when it is confirmed devoid of the logical reason that the appellant or petitioner was not able to file an appeal.
  • Imprisonment:- The imprisonment of the appellant or petitioner can be another sufficient cause.
  • Ignorance of law is not an excuse but it can also be a one of the grounds but it should be authentic or bonafide.
  • Mistake of fact:- It should be genuine and unintended.
  • Delay in obtaining copies of judgment can be “sufficient cause” and at the same time this ground is also sheltered under section 12.
  • Poverty, childhood, Pardah system for women is another ground.
  • Mistake of Counsel:- Mistake by counsel of appellant which should not be inattention.

The words “sufficient cause for not making the application within the period of limitation” should be understood and applied in a reasonable, pragmatic, practical and liberal manner, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, and the type of case.[12]

Conclusion

Therefore, it may be concluded that though delay in civil litigation is a major obstacle in delivery of justice in India, it may be condoned in certain genuine cases of illness, inaccessibility, imprisonment, etc. The provision for the same as provided in the Limitation Act gives wide freedom of interpretation to the Courts and the sufficient nature of the reason for delay may be examined from case to case. Such uninhibited power is vulnerable to misuse, however, the answer to the same does not lie in making absolute rules for determining sufficient cause and the  best solution possible in the present scenario is for the Courts to apply their minds in the interests of justice and look into each case with an approach aimed at achieving a just society.

[1] CK Takwani, CIVIL PROCEDURE, p. 768.

[2] Ibid at p. 769.

[3] Section 5, Limitation Act, 1963.

[4] Order XXI, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

[5] Ram Nath Sao v Gobardhan Sao, (2002) 3 SCC 195.

[6] State of West Bengal v Howrah Municipality, (1972) 1 SCC 366.

[7] AIR 2010 SC 3043.

[8] Ibid at para 14.

[9] Advanced Law Lexicon, P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 3rd Edition, 2005.

[10] (1997) 7 SCC 556.

[11] “Condonation of Delay: Section 5 of Limitation Act”, available at < http://legal360.in/LegalArticlesDetail?topic=13> , (Last accessed on 28 August, 2015).

[12] Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom v Bhargavy Amma, (2008) 8 SCC 321 at para 13.

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