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Introduction

The High Court stands as the head of the judiciary at the State level. The High Courts in India enjoy civil, criminal, original, appellate, ordinary as well as extraordinary jurisdiction. High Courts were first established in India under Indian High Court Act, 1861 at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1862. At present, there are twenty-five High Courts in India with an appropriate number of benches in respective states.
The High courts exercise Ordinary Jurisdiction conferred on it by various statutes as well as extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue writs. Every High Court enjoys Original Jurisdiction, that is, it has the power to hear and decide the case in the first place without going to any intermediary stage, as well as it enjoys appellate jurisdiction, that is, it entertains an appeal against the verdict of a court subordinate to it. The procedure of the Original and Appellate Jurisdiction of the High courts is governed by its Original Side rules and Appellate side rules, respectively. Every High Court in India has its own and separate set of Original Side rules and Appellate side rules with minor differences.

What are High Court Procedures?

The High Court procedures encompass several stages, outlined as follows:

Case Filing

  • In each High Court, there is a Registry headed by a Registrar, Joint Registrar, Deputy Registrar, or another authorized officer. Plaintiffs, petitioners, applicants, defendants, respondents, appellants, or those filing documents must personally submit their materials at the Registry's filing counter. They can also do so through their duly authorized agents or lawyers appointed for this purpose. The officer in charge of the filing counter will then stamp the date of receipt on the document, whether it's a petition, memorandum of appeal, or application, as well as on the duplicate copy of the index. Afterward, these documents are returned to the filing party.
  • The Registry subsequently organizes the submitted plaints, petitions, or applications into the appropriate sections of the respective case files. A thorough review is conducted to ensure that these documents are free of any defects. If any defects are identified, such as insufficient court fees, documents in a language other than English (which should be accompanied by an English translation), or non-compliance with High Court Rules, the Registrar, Deputy Registrar, Assistant Registrar, or the Officer in Charge will communicate these objections to the filing party through a notice. The party is then required to rectify or address these listed defects and resubmit the amended documents within a specified timeframe.
  • Failure to address these objections or submit the necessary amendments within the stipulated time will result in the document being registered and brought before the Court for dismissal due to non-prosecution.
  • Once the pleadings, applications, and documents are submitted correctly and in the required manner, they are considered filed. The Registrar registers them and prepares a list of cases scheduled for hearings.

Writ of Summon

A Writ of Summon is issued to the opposing party, requiring them to respond to the filed application or pleading. Service of summons follows the provisions of Order 5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. If the Writ of Summon is not served promptly, the suit faces dismissal. The party initiating the suit can file a Replication as a response to the opposing party's reply.

Pre-Admission Hearing

Pre-admission hearings typically occur in appeals and writ petitions. Parties present arguments to convince the court of their case's merits and eligibility for admission.

Admission of a Case

When a party presents arguments seeking the admission of a case, the High Court assesses whether the case lacks merit, is baseless, or does not meet the criteria for admission. If the court is convinced that the case has no valid legal issues or merits and should not be admitted or kept pending for admission, it dismisses the case. Conversely, if the court, after reviewing the arguments put forth by the petitioner, applicant, or appellant, determines that the case involves valid legal issues or has merits and raises a legal question to be resolved, it admits the case. This process is referred to as the admission of the case.

Admission Hearing

  • Upon admitting the case, a regular hearing of the case commences. During this stage, the court examines the pleadings, which are the written arguments presented by the parties. After the petitioner, applicant, or appellant provides a brief narrative of the case through their pleadings, the opposing party is given an opportunity to respond with a written reply, typically referred to as a "reply on affidavit" or "affidavit in reply." A counter-reply may also be filed in response to such a reply on affidavit, but this is done only if the court permits it. Following a thorough examination of the pleadings presented by both parties, the court may decide to conduct an oral hearing. These oral hearings involve verbal arguments, the presentation of newly discovered facts, and the submission of evidence. An oral hearing may extend over several days. After carefully reviewing the pleadings, oral arguments, and averments, if the court believes that the case warrants further detailed examination of facts and evidence, it admits the case for a final hearing.
  • Final Disposal at Admission Stage: If, upon considering the submissions, averments, and arguments presented by the first party to the case, the court believes that the matter can be disposed of quickly at the admission stage itself, it places the matter on the Motion Hearing list. This step is taken for the "Final disposal of the matter at Admission Stage." The opposite party is served a notice and asked to file a reply and appear before the court. Once the opposing party appears, the case is heard and finally resolved. The practice of "Final disposal at Admission Hearing" is not governed by High Court Rules but is a practice developed by the High Courts themselves. It is designed to reduce the court's workload during the final hearing, as cases admitted for final hearing may be scheduled for several years due to the extensive backlog of such cases.
  • Rule Nisi: After hearing a petition or application at the admission stage, if the court determines that the case involves merits and issues worthy of consideration at the final hearing, it issues a "rule nisi." Such a rule may be issued in various types of petitions or applications, including writ petitions, Civil Revision Applications, Contempt Petitions, and Criminal Writ Petitions. If the court believes that a prima facie case for granting a petition or application exists, it issues a rule nisi, summoning the individuals against whom the petition or application has been filed and for whom an order is being sought. These individuals are required to appear on a specified day to demonstrate why such orders should not be made absolute. A notice of the rule is served on the concerned parties, who are then required to file a detailed reply, known as a "Return," to the petition or application. Therefore, by issuing a rule nisi, the High Court admits the petition or application for the final hearing.

Final Hearing

  • Once a case is admitted for the final hearing, it is scheduled on the High Court's Final Hearing list. Each High Court maintains a list that determines the order in which cases are heard. At least one week before the date set for the final arguments, the respective advocates for both parties must exchange lists of judicial precedents they intend to refer to during the final argument. They are also required to submit a concise synopsis detailing the issues and providing information about the oral and documentary evidence relied upon in the case, within a specified time frame.
  • On the designated day for the final hearing, both parties present their concluding arguments on the framed issues. These arguments are supported by evidence and legal precedents. The final hearing may not necessarily conclude in a single day and could extend over multiple days, depending on the complexity of the case and the arguments presented. After listening to the final arguments and thoroughly examining the evidence, the court may either deliver a judgment or set another date for its pronouncement.

Judgment and Decree

  • Following the final arguments, the judge or judges prepare a judgment, complete with appropriate reasoning. The court pronounces this judgment on the scheduled day. While it is not mandatory for the court to read the entire judgment aloud, it is sufficient for the court to announce its findings on each issue and the final order issued.
  • In cases where the court had issued a rule nisi, if the judgment favors the petitioner or applicant, the judgment will include the phrase "rule made absolute" after the reasoning. Conversely, if the judgment goes against the petitioner or applicant, it will state "rule discharged" at the end.
  • A decree is formulated based on the pronounced judgment. If the Registrar of the court deems it necessary for the draft of the decree to be settled in the presence of the parties involved, or if the parties themselves request such a settlement, the Registrar will notify the parties in writing about the appointment for settling the decree. The parties are then required to attend the appointment and provide the necessary documents and briefs to facilitate the drafting of the decree.

E-filing at High Courts

  • High Courts in India have implemented an electronic filing system, known as E-filing, which allows for the electronic submission of legal documents in both civil and criminal cases. This system is accessible to any advocate who is registered to practice with the Bar Council of any Indian State, as well as individuals filing cases themselves, to initiate proceedings in a High Court. The primary objective of this system is to promote the transition to paperless filing and to introduce technological solutions that save time and reduce costs for filing cases in various High Courts across India.
  • Supreme Court E-Committee Directive: The Supreme Court E-Committee has issued a directive requiring all High Courts to ensure that all petitions or cases filed by the government in High Courts are exclusively filed through the E-filing system starting from January 2022.

High Court Proceedings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • In March 2020, a nationwide lockdown was imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this unprecedented challenge, the judiciary continued to deliver justice. High Courts adapted by adopting a virtual mode of conducting proceedings. Cases were filed electronically through the E-filing mechanism, and proceedings were conducted via video conferencing. High Court judges adapted to the digital infrastructure of the courts and continued to administer justice.
  • As the impact of COVID-19 has decreased, many High Courts have begun conducting proceedings in a hybrid mode, which combines both virtual and physical hearings. However, most courts have limited physical hearings to urgent cases only.

Conclusion

High Courts in India play a pivotal role in the judicial system, ensuring justice is administered effectively and efficiently. Understanding High Court procedures is vital for legal practitioners and litigants seeking redress. As technology continues to evolve, e-filing has become a cornerstone of modern legal practice, streamlining the litigation process. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual proceedings, ushering in a new era of flexibility in Indian courts. Adapting to these changes is essential for all stakeholders in the legal system.

The document High Courts | Law Optional Notes for UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Law Optional Notes for UPSC.
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