Concept of pre- trial hearings in courts

Seeking to speed up disposal of cases, government is weighing the option of introducing the system of ‘pre-trial hearings’ on the lines of the UK and the US under which the main dispute is identified before the beginning of the trial helping the courts decide the matter fast.

The codes of criminal and civil procedures will have to be changed to introduce the concept.

In pre-trial hearings, litigants and their lawyers hold a pre-scheduled meeting before the trial begins in the presence of a judge of a judicial authority to identify the actual issues of disputes so that none of the contesting parties can bring in other issues to drag the case by seeking adjournments.

The issue of introducing such a system, which is in vogue in the UK, the US and Singapore, was part of the agenda of the Advisory Council meeting of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms held on Wednesday.

In India, the system of pre-trial hearing is not clearly identified as a distinct feature of the judicial process, although both the Civil Procedure Code and Criminal Procedure Code contain certain provisions that can be utilised for this purpose, the agenda paper said.

In the case of Ramrameshwari Devi vs Nirmala Devi, the Supreme Court had also recommended certain steps that trial courts should follow to improve the system of administration of justice in civil cases. This included carefully scrutinising the pleadings and documents filed by parties immediately after the filing of civil suits, the document prepared by the Law Ministry said.

Government believes that “pre-trial hearing may prove to be of great help in facilitating a settlement of dispute by way of an amicable compromise between the parties.”The Law Commission in its report on Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts and Commercial Courts Bill, 2015 had recommended certain special procedures to be followed for the conduct of commercial cases by amending the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC) so as to improve efficiency and reduce delays in disposal of commercial cases.

These suggestions have since been incorporated in the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Bill, 2015. The bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha in the last session, is now pending with a Parliamentary panel.

The procedural changes proposed in the Bill in relation to commercial cases include stricter timelines, separate procedure for ‘summary judgment’, case management hearing, time-bound oral arguments and time bound delivery of judgments.

“Similar recommendations may be considered in respect of all civil cases. In case of criminal cases, the Law Commission will be looking into the issue of pre-trial hearings as a part of their comprehensive review of the criminal justice system that is currently underway,” the agenda document said.

A sub-group formed by the Law Commission to look into the various aspects of criminal law is working on changes in CPC and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

The Department of Legal Affairs and the Legislative Department in the Law Ministry are vested with the responsibility of looking into issues relating to civil procedure. They could be asked to consider the procedural changes in the CPC proposed in the Law Commission’s report and explore the possibility of extending these suggestions to all civil cases, it said.

Any changes suggested by the law panel in the CrPC will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Legal Affairs, the paper noted.

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