In a significant development, the Supreme Court dismissed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) on Tuesday, filed by the presiding officer of the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), Chandigarh bench, challenging adverse remarks and directions issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The High Court, in its order on November 3, 2023, had directed the recording of DRT proceedings by dedicated personnel provided by the Union Government and instructed the Presiding Officer not to insist on deposits of costs imposed since October 2022.

The Supreme Court bench, including Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justices JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, declined to interfere in the matter. CJI Chandrachud emphasized the importance of the presiding officer being sensitive to the circumstances of lawyers and urged against taking adversarial positions. The High Court’s directions for infrastructure support, hybrid hearings, and waiving costs for restoration applications were upheld.

“Why are you aggrieved, you’re a presiding officer… you should never enter this fray as a presiding officer and the High Court has directed correctly, the Union of India to provide the necessary infrastructure to provide hybrid hearings, recording of proceedings to be carried out by dedicated personnel to be provided by UOI…instead of taking up cudgels with bar like this, you are a presiding officer in Chandigarh, do your duty, be a little kind to everybody around and you will get a lot of respect from the bar. Nobody is saying that you have to decide in favour of anybody but deal in a little gentle way, that’s all that the lawyers expect”, CJI told the petitioner’s lawyer.

The petitioner’s counsel, Mr. Daya Krishan Sharma, explained that the Bar Association’s main prayer was for an inquiry against the presiding officer, which has been completed by the Chairman of DRAT. The petitioner sought an end to the High Court litigation, indicating that the DRAT Chairman’s report is now with the Search-cum-Selection committee.

Senior Advocate Mr. Anand Chhibbar, representing the Advocates Association, expressed concerns over costs imposed by the presiding officer in DRT cases, highlighting amounts as high as 2 lac rupees. The court, however, dismissed the SLP, citing a lack of inclination to interfere under Article 136 of the Constitution.

The background of the case traces back to October 2022 when the Debt Recovery Tribunal Bar Association filed a writ petition accusing the presiding officer of harassment towards counsels. A strike initiated by the Bar Association led to an interim order by the High Court preventing wholesale dismissal of cases. The strained relationship prompted the High Court to restrict the presiding officer from making unfavorable decisions until November 30, 2022.

Challenging the directive, the presiding officer filed an SLP before the Supreme Court in November 2022, leading to a modification of the order. The Apex Court permitted him to proceed with hearings and advised maintaining a cordial atmosphere between the Bar and the Bench. The matter was disposed of on December 12, 2022, with the Chairperson of DRAT instructed to make an independent decision.

Key Points:

1. Supreme Court Dismissal: The Supreme Court, led by CJI DY Chandrachud, refused to interfere in the dispute, upholding the High Court’s directions and emphasizing the need for a harmonious relationship between the presiding officer and the Bar Association.

2. High Court’s November 3 Order: The High Court’s order mandated the recording of DRT proceedings by dedicated personnel, waived costs for restoration applications since October 2022, and urged the Union Government to provide facilities for hybrid hearings.

3. Presiding Officer’s Duty: CJI Chandrachud advised the presiding officer to fulfill duties in a kind and gentle manner, fostering respect from the Bar Association. The dismissal of the SLP underscores the court’s stance on maintaining professionalism and cooperation.

4. Bar Association’s Concerns: Senior Advocate Anand Chhibbar raised concerns over the costs imposed in DRT cases, emphasizing the financial burden on members of the Bar. This brings attention to the broader issue of legal costs and their impact on legal practitioners.

5. Litigation History: The case’s background reveals a series of events starting from the Bar Association’s writ petition in October 2022, the subsequent strike, High Court directives, and the Supreme Court’s interventions, ultimately leading to the current dismissal of the SLP.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the SLP marks a pivotal moment in resolving the dispute between the presiding officer and the Advocates Association. The emphasis on professionalism, cooperation, and the High Court’s directives sets a precedent for maintaining a conducive environment within the justice delivery system.

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