The term adjourn, in layman’s term, means to postpone or to discontinue. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 does not define the term but, however, Order XVII deals with adjournment specifically. This article deals with the meaning, need and procedure of adjournment under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
“The court is adjourned!”. This is a very regular phrase that people often hear in movies and screenplays when a court proceeding is going on and after this, it is seen that the court calls it a day and the judges leave the court. So, this gives us a slight impression that adjournment probably means to discontinue the proceedings of the court. The impressions are partly correct.
Nevertheless, to break the truth, the court is not adjourned but the proceedings of the court in the suit which the court is hearing at that present time are adjourned. It means that the court does not hear that specific matter anymore for that day but the proceedings keep going on and the court moves on to other cases to be heard on that day.
Imagine A sued B for specific performance of a contract to construct a residential flat for A but B denies that existence of any such contract. While the trial is at pace, A informs the court that he wishes to examine C, a witness to the agreement between A and B and submits C’s chief examination on affidavit.
The court fixes a date for cross-examination of C but C does not appear on that day. Now, the court does not have many choices in these situations. It can dismiss the witness testimony or adjourn the hearing for that day. Thus, CPC provides for adjournment.
Breaking the Myth
It is a myth created by movies, media and other audio-visual aids that we see in our daily lives that courts keep postponing the hearings in a suit and keep giving later dates without any sufficient reason. It is shown that courts allow the hearing to be adjourned for reasons such as the defendant had other commitments or the witness did not receive the summon, etc.
It is categorically a myth that courts keep adjourning hearings for no reason because justice is not done in haste and it is no justice to pass judgment without hearing the parties to their complete satisfaction.
There is a difference between a regular proceeding of life where we judge people on how they behave according to us and the judicial proceeding. The judge is expected to be impartial and presume the defendant innocent until otherwise is proved. The court cannot pass judgment without hearing the defendant on his defence even if the plaintiff’s case seems foolproof.
Adjournment can be an inconvenience to many persons, the parties who are regular to court, the witnesses who might have to return un-examined. But the court is ought to sufficient opportunity to the other party to present its case and of course, if at the end court finds that the adverse party played foul and deliberately delayed the proceedings, the court can make an order as to costs to ensure no injustice is done.
Thus, adjournment is not a biased weapon but is a part and parcel of the court proceedings and necessary to allow an impartial and fair trial.
General Procedure of Adjournment
Order XVII of CPC deals with the situations when adjournment can occur and the procedure to be followed by the court during the adjournment of a hearing. Rule 1 of the Order empowers the court to adjourn a hearing in a suit if a party seeking adjournment shows the court that there is sufficient reason for the adjournment.
The procedure and traits of an adjournment under Rule 1 of Order XVII can be enlisted as follows:
- The party to the suit must move the motion of adjournment before the court. It means that when the hearing in a suit commences, the party seeking adjournment of the hearing shall request the court to adjourn the hearing for that day. The court has the discretion to adjourn the hearing which means that the court can choose not to adjourn the hearing and proceed normally. However, the court cannot suo motu adjourn a case unless either of the parties or their pleaders make a request.
- The party seeking adjournment of a hearing shall provide sufficient reasons for seeking adjournment of the hearing. Date of hearing in a suit is always fixed at least one month in advance. Therefore, the parties have a huge burden to satisfy the court that adjournment is unavoidable and against the interest of justice.
- The hearing can be adjourned and the request for adjournment can be made at any time during the hearing of the suit before the court renders the decree. There is no specific stage for claiming adjournment, nor is there a bar.
- The court shall record the reasons for adjournment of the hearing for that day in writing and such written reasons will form part of the record of the case.
- There can be several reasons for seeking adjournment of a hearing and Rule 1 recognizes one such reason to be to grant time to the parties to the suit to prepare their respective cases.
- The court cannot grant an adjournment to the same party more than thrice in a suit. It means the total number of adjournments allowed to be sought by the parties are six in the complete proceedings.
- The court shall fix another date for hearing in the suit and announce the date before the parties after passing the adjournment order. Further, while fixing the date of the next hearing, the court shall also pass an order with respect to costs that need to be borne because of the postponement of the hearing.
- Adjournment shall be an exception to the normal rule of day to day hearing until the case is finally disposed of. Adjournment is only the last resort of the court and should only be granted if the circumstances in the case go beyond the control of the parties and the case needs to be adjourned. Rule 1 specifically mentions that a pleader cannot plead the excuse of being busy in another court for the reason of adjournment.
Procedure of Adjournment when Party or Witness Fail to Appear
The general procedure when a party to a suit fails to appear is mentioned in Order IX of CPC. The rule empowers the court to dismiss the suit if the plaintiff is absent or pass an ex-parte order if the defendant is non-appearing. However, Order XVII Rule 2 of CPC allows the court to deviate from the general rule and adjourn the hearing for that day in lieu of passing an ex-parte order or order of dismissal.
Rule 3 states that if a person who was supposed to give evidence in the case on the date fixed for his/her evidence, fails to give evidence and fails to appear, the court can opt for two options: (
- if the parties to the suit are present in the court, the court may proceed to decide the suit further and
- if the parties or either party is absent, the court may proceed as aforementioned. This summarises the entire procedure of adjournment.
- Takwani C. K., Civil Procedure with Limitation Act, 1963, 7thEdition, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2013.
- Sir D.F. Mulla, The Code of Civil Procedure, 19th Edition, Vol. 3, Lexis Nexis, 2017.
- C. Sarkar, Sarkar Code of Civil Procedure, (2017).