Breaking: Expeditious Adjudication Of Cheque Bounce Cases

Breaking: Expeditious Adjudication Of Cheque Bounce Cases

The Supreme Court has registered a Suo Motu writ petition to evolving a mechanism for expeditious adjudication of Cheque bounce cases.
The Court was considering a special leave petition arising out of a cheque dishonour complaint that was filed fifteen years ago. At the outset , the bench of CJI SA Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao remarked:
“A matter which is supposed to be disposed of summarily by the trial court in six months, it took seven years for this case to be disposed of at the trial court level. A dispute of such nature has remained pending for 15 years in various courts, taking judicial time and space up till this Court”
Briefly narrating the legislative history of Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, the bench observed that though many changes brought through legislative amendments and various decisions of the court mandating speedy trial and disposal of these cases, the Trial Courts are filled with large number of pendency of these cases. It noted that, one of the major factor for this problem is the high pendency is delay in ensuring the presence of the accused before the Court for trial. The Court said that a mechanism may be developed to ensure the presence of the accused even by way of coercive measure, if required, taking effect from Section 83 of Cr.P.C. which allows attachment of property, including movable property.
The Court appointed Sr. Adv Sidharth Luthra, as Amicus Curiae and Advocate K. Parameshwar, to assist the Amicus. While registering Suo motu writ petition, it said:
These are some indicative aspects in addition to what may come on board after hearing the relevant duty-holders. To work out mechanism for expeditious and just adjudication of cases relating to dishonour of cheques, fulfilling the mandate of law and reduce high pendency, various duty-holders like Banks, Police and Legal Services Authorities may be required to take measures and prepare schemes. Thus, we find it necessary to hear them for evolving a concerted, coordinated mechanism for expeditious adjudication of these cases as per the legal mandate.
The Court made the following suggestions/observations
 
Non Execution of Process
Despite service of summons issued through aforesaid mediums, the problem of non-execution of further process persists. While summon may be issued through aforementioned modes, bailable warrants and non-bailable warrants are to be executed through police as per Section 72 of Cr.P.C. Many a time, police as serving agency, does not give heed to the process issued in private complaints. Courts also remain ambivalent of this fact, requiring the complainant to pay unjustified process fee, repeatedly and avoid to take action against negligent police officers. The coercive methods to secure the presence of accused viz. attachment indicated in Section 82 and 83 Cr.P.C., are seldom resortedWe find that there is a need to evolve a system of service/execution of process issued by the court and ensuring the presence of the accused, with the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders like Complainant, Police and Banks.
 
Role of Banks
Banks, being an important stakeholders in cases of this nature, it is their responsibility to provide requisite details and facilitate an expeditious trial mandated by law. An information sharing mechanism may be developed where the banks share all the requisite details available of the accused, who is the account holder, with the complainant and the police for the purpose of execution of process. This may include a requirement to print relevant information, viz the 6 email id, registered mobile number and permanent address of the account holder, on the cheque or dishonour memo informing the holder about the dishonour. The Reserve Bank of India, being the regulatory body may also evolve guidelines for banks to facilitate requisite information for the trial of these cases and such other matters as may be required. A separate software-based mechanism may be developed to track and ensure the service of process on the accused in cases relating to an offence under Section 138 of N.I. Act.
 
Misuse of Cheques
it is equally important that cheques are not allowed to be misused giving cause to frivolous litigation. The Reserve Bank of India may consider developing a new proforma of cheques so as to include the purpose of payment, along with other informations mentioned above to facilitate adjudication of real issues
 
A mechanism to ensure the presence of the accused even by way of coercive measure,
A mechanism may be developed to ensure the presence of the accused even by way of coercive measure, if required, taking effect from Section 83 of Cr.P.C. which allows attachment of property, including movable property. A similar co-ordinated effort may be evolved to recover interim compensation under Section 143A of the N.I. Act as well as fine or compensation to be recovered as per Section 421 of Cr.P.C. The Bank may facilitate mechanism for transferring requisite funds from the bank account of the accused to the account of the holder in due course, as may be directed by the Court.
 
Pre Litigation Settlement
With ever growing institution of N.I. cases, there is a need of developing a mechanism for pre-litigation settlement in these cases. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides for a statutory mechanism for disposal of case by Lok Adalat at pre-litigation stage under Sections 19 and 20 of the Act. Further, Section 21 of the Act, recognises an award passed by Lok Adalats as a decree of a civil court and gives it a finality.
An Award passed at the pre-litigation stage or pre-cognizance stage shall have an effect of a civil decree. The National Legal Services Authority, being the responsible Authority in this regard, may evolve a scheme for settlement of dispute relating to cheque bounce at pre-litigation i.e. before filing of the private complaint. This measure of prelitigation ADR process can go a long way in settling the cases before they come to Court, thereby reducing docket burden.
 
Decriminalisation of Cheque cases (small amounts)
In Meters and Instruments Private Limited (supra), this Court had also observed the nature of offence under Section 138 primarily relates to a civil wrong. While 9 criminalising of dishonour of cheques took place in the year 1988 taking into account the magnitude of economic transactions today, decriminalisation of dishonours of cheque of a small amount may also be considered, leaving it to be dealt with under civil jurisdiction.