Retired judges or judicial officers who have been in the rut for decades cannot adjust themselves to the requirements of tribunals as experience in consumer courts has clearly and unequivocally shown
The Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1986 to provide quick, efficacious and cheap justice to consumers across the country. A hierarchy of separate District Forums, State Commissions and National Commission was set up for the purpose. Pecuniary and territorial jurisdictions were also set up for helping consumers attain their goal of quick redressal of consumer complaints.
At the silver jubilee celebrations of enactment of the Consumer Protection Act in 2011, consumer activists across the country took stock of the role consumer courts had played in enhancing consumer power. The report was dismal. Consumer courts had backlogs which were comparable (and sometimes worse) than civil courts and consumers were faced with a barrage of technicalities in pursuing their complaints filed in forums, many of which seemed insurmountable with the limited resources at their disposal.
The rot started creeping into consumer forums with the entry of advocates into the proceedings. The Advocates Act mandates that lawyer has a “right of appearance” in all forums, tribunals, courts and quasi-judicial hearings. Advocates and adjournments appear to be the same and not even the opposite sides of a coin.
Consumer courts have also been bogged down by judges insisting on going through the entire rigmarole of “proving the case beyond reasonable doubt” even when the Consumer Protection Act specifically mandates that if the procedure laid down in the Act is followed, then the principles of “Natural Justice” need not be adhered to by the Forum/Commission—something unparalleled in Indian law/statutes.
Judges coming to the consumer courts bring with them the baggage of “judicial teachings” of lower courts wherein every new point is made in the form of an application, which the other side must respond to in writing and then adjudicated upon. This process itself entails at least three hearings, most of which are deliberately resorted by advocates to impress their clients, enhance their fees and generally harass the opposite side. The president of the Forum will usually turn a blind eye to these infringements of consumer rights through such proceedings, even though the Act and the Supreme Court have held that trials in Consumer Forums are summary in nature as they do not involve complicated points of law.
The insistence of format rather than form has proved a great hindrance to consumers coming to court in search of justice. When confronted with statements like “justice delayed is justice denied” the immediate counter is “justice hurried is justice buried”. This does not take into consideration what the hapless consumer is supposed to do with a defective fridge or two-wheeler, if the consumer is given an order after two years and the order is appealed against and decided three years thereafter.
Surely, quasi-juridical forums were set up to cut technicalities and deliver prompt judgments and not to get bound in red tape? Can a retired judge who has got into the habit of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s all his life suddenly change to adapt to “common sense judgment” rather than a long-winded dissertation of the merits of the case with legalities ruining the entire concept of Tribunals and Forums?
It is well-established that it is the presiding officer of a Forum or Tribunal who decides the pace and system of work in his Forum. No-nonsense presiding officers see 100% attendance in their Tribunals and no requests for adjournments on frivolous grounds because advocates know that such requests will be shot down unceremoniously at the outset itself. The need for dispensation of justice cannot be thwarted because an advocate has “matters in several courts and cannot attend to all of them at the same time”. Such an advocate should brief a colleague and/or send arguments in writing if he is interested in quick disposal of the case.
Retired judges or judicial officers who have been in the rut for decades on end cannot adjust themselves to the requirements of tribunals as experience in consumer courts has clearly and unequivocally shown.
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