Kerala High Court rules lawyer's laxity ample reason to excuse delay
The Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal had dismissed the petitioner's claim for non-prosecution
The Kerala High Court has observed that negligence on the part of the lawyer is sufficient reason to condone the delay in filing the petitions, especially when no mala fide can be attributed to the party in question.
The single-judge bench of Justice CS Dias while ruling on the Rajesh Chandran vs MR Gopalakrishnan Nair & Ors case stated that parties who reposed their faith in their counsel should not suffer for any inaction, omission, or misdemeanor of the counsel.
In its judgment, the bench said, "The courts have been reminded that a party who, as per the present adversarial legal system, has selected his advocate, briefed him and paid his fees can remain supremely confident that his lawyer will look after his interest. The innocent party who has done everything in his power and expected of him, should not suffer for the inaction, deliberate omission or misdemeanor of his counsel.
"It is true that even upon showing a sufficient cause, a party is not entitled to the condonation of delay as a matter of right, yet it is trite that in construing sufficient cause, the courts generally follow a liberal approach, particularly when no negligence, inaction or mala fide can be imputed to the party."
The observation was made on a plea to set aside an order of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) dismissing the petitioner's claim for non-prosecution under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
Earlier, MACT had rejected the petitioner's applications to restore the claim petition and to condone the delay in filing the application.
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate VR Sreejith then submitted that the petitioner had entrusted the matter to another lawyer, reposing full faith in him and believing that the case would be properly contested.
He had also cited the decision of the Supreme Court in the Ram Nath Sao alias Ram Nath Sahu & Ors. vs Gobardhan Sao & Ors. case, in which it was held that the courts should not reject an application for restoring or setting aside the ex-parte decree in a slipshod manner order, or take a hyper-technical view of the explanation furnished by the party and reject the application, causing enormous loss and irreparable injury to the party.
The counsel informed the court that without following the ratio in the precedents, MACT dismissed all applications in a casual manner.
On the other hand, appearing for the respondent, advocate VPK Panicker, argued the contention. He said there was negligence on the part of the petitioner in conducting the claim petition.
The court observed that a full bench of the Kerala High Court in the Jacob Thomas vs Pandian case had held that only if the MACT is genuinely satisfied that there were contumacious latches on the part of the claimant in prosecuting the claim petition, should it dismiss the application.
The court noted that in the present case, the petitioner was bedridden and his counsel did not take the necessary steps to prosecute his claim petition.
Bearing in mind the benevolent nature of the enactment that the claim stems from, and considering relevant precedents in the matter, the court stated that a lenient consideration should be given by affording the petitioner one more opportunity to contest the case on merit.
Justice Dias ruled, "The tribunal has a paramount duty to render justice to the hapless victims of road accidents as well as claimants of the deceased. The tribunal should show compassion and sympathy in such a situation and not set them ex-parte and leave them in the lurch."