Health and safety are the focus for all today, as the unparalleled effect of COVID-19 continues to expand every day. Needless to say, Covid-19’s outbreak has left its effect on litigation and arbitration in different ways, ranging from increased use of remote hearings to suspensions at general courts, depending on the countries and institutions involved. To ensure minimum interruption, courts around the world have quickly adopted technologies like compulsory electronic reporting, limiting hearings to important cases only, and conducting them by video conferencing. While it may require the creation of a specialized vertical advisory focused on guiding businesses in navigating various challenges that will arise both in the long term and in the short term; the proactive steps taken by the courts, both in India and abroad, have made it comparatively easier to strategize and manage litigation effectively. In particular, following a decree passed by the Government of India imposing a complete national lockdown for 21 days beginning on 25 March 2020, the Supreme Court and various High Courts passed various orders on both the judicial and administrative side to minimize the impact of the unprecedented Covid-19 lockdown for Litigants and their lawyers. The same was required in view of the country-wide closure of all courts until at least April 14, 2020.
A brief overview of those different measures is as follows:
Supreme Court of India: exercising inherent powers pursuant to Articles 141 and 142 of the Indian Constitution, a full Supreme Court bench has extended the limitation on filing petitions / applications / appeals / all other proceedings before all courts , tribunals and authorities throughout the country w.e.f. 15 March 2020 until further orders. In other words, the period from 15 March 2020 until further orders are omitted when the restriction is determined.
High Court of Delhi: By order dated 25 March 2020, a full court of the Delhi High Court, in deciding a suo moto writ petition, ordered that interim orders which survived on 16 March 2020 and expired or expired thereafter be automatically extended until 15 May 2020 or until further orders, except where the Supreme Court has passed any order to the contrary.
National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (“NCLAT”): The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (“NCLAT”) vacates its administrative order dated 24 March 2020, enabling litigants / lawyers to report urgent matters to the Registrar by telephone before 1 April 2020. In addition, the filing limit was also extended in respect of the order passed by the Supreme Court.
High Court of Judicature at Allahabad: In exercising its powers under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India, the High Court of Allahabad passed the following directions: All temporary orders passed by the High Court, all Circuit Courts, Criminal Courts, Family Courts, Labor Courts, Industrial Tribunals and all other State Tribunals expiring after March 19, 2020 or due to expire within one month from March 26, 2020, will continue to function until April 26, 2020.
Both bail / anticipatory bail orders that are due to expire from 26 March 2020 in one month will be extended for one month. All orders already issued by the High Court, District or Civil Court for removal, dispossession or demolition shall remain in abeyance for a period of one month. Furthermore, the High Court’s Administrative Committee has directed all subordinate courts, including all Commercial Courts, Motor Accident Claim Tribunals and Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Authorities throughout the state of UP, to remain closed until further orders have been issued. The High Court further clarified that imminently emerging and urgent cases will be heard by the appointed bench with the prior approval of the Chief Justice or the Senior Judge, Lucknow, as the case may be.
High Court of Kerala: A full Kerala High Court bench has extended all provisional orders expected to expire on April 14, 2020 in the next 21 days to vacate its order dated March 25 , 2020. In addition, applications for Bail will be considered by a committee created in compliance with the Supreme Court directive.
High Court of Judicature, Calcutta: A constitutional bench of the High Court of Calcutta extended to 30 April 2020 all interim orders which survived on 16 April 2020 and which may have expired or are due to expire on or before 9 April 2020 or until further orders, with the right of the parties concerned to apply for vacation or modification of those orders. The order was passed at the hearing of a suo moto Writ Petition on 25 March 2020 and extends to subordinate courts and tribunals within the Andaman & Nicobar Islands State of West Bengal and Union Territory.
High Court of Karnataka: Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka, vacating its order of 24 March 2020, ordered that all the interim orders passed by it and all the District Courts, Civil Courts, Family Courts, Labor Courts, Industrial Courts and other Tribunals in the State over which the Court has superintendence authority and which are due to expire within one month from 24 March. Furthermore, the Court has directed that all eviction, dispossession or demolition orders already passed by it, the District or Civil Courts, also remain in abeyance for a period of one month. On the criminal side, the Court has directed that bail and anticipatory orders due to expiry are automatically extended for one month during the lockdown period.
High Court of Telangana: On 27 March 2020, the High Court of Telangana issued an order directing all interim orders passed by the High Court and its subordinate courts that existed as of 20 March 2020, either expiring or expiring thereafter, to be extended until 7 June 2020. Furthermore, any orders passed by an executing court after 15 February 2020 will also be held in abeyance until further orders have been given. In addition, the High Court has directed, through a separate notification passed on the administrative side, that it will continue to take up extremely urgent matters every week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday until further orders are given.
Although various other high courts in India have already passed administrative orders providing for restricted functioning limited to urgent matters in view of the outbreak of Covid19, similar general orders expanding the scope of interim orders can be expected to be passed by all the high courts in the coming days to further restrict the number of cases that may be taken up during the outbreak.