By Rima Majumdar and Shilpi Sinha
The Hon’ble Bombay High Court in the case of IDBI Trusteeship Services v. Hubtown Limited, vide order dated July 9, 2021 laid down certain direction with respect to certain sub-categories of suits, all of which are of a value of more than Rs 100 crores. While the IDBI Trusteeship case has been a revolution in and of itself, this ruling contributes by providing much-needed clarity (earlier lacking) with regard to future filings. The new filing requirements themselves are also a positive development, since they clearly explain the slew of new rules that have been inconsistently applied up to this point.
The order has been classified into the following sections:
1. Matters still on Lodging matters
- By the 30th of July 2021, all office objections must be withdrawn and all filing errors must be corrected, otherwise the matter will be scheduled for hearing before this Court on the next available day
2. Suits where service of Writ of Summons is not Complete
- Service must be done on those who have not yet been served by 6th August 2021, since these are business cases requiring expedient and prompt disposition. Where Advocates have entered presence on behalf of one or more defendants, service is waived. The summons must be accompanied by an authenticated copy of the plaint. The Plaintiff’s Advocates must ensure that adequate copies of the plaint are filed with the Registry.
3. Suits where service of summons in respect of the Writ is complete but Written Statement(S) have not yet been filed
- Any defendants who have not submitted written statements, or are assumed to have been served because the Advocate has entered appearance, must file written statements within 30 days of today’s date.
- This is subject to the statutory requirement that no written statement be accepted if 120 days have elapsed after the date of serving of the summons. This directive follows the ruling of this Court (the Hon’ble Mr. Justice S.J. Kathawalla) in Axis Bank Ltd v Mira Gehani & Ors. When the defendant makes an application under Order VII Rule 11, the Court may extend the period. Any such instance in which an application under Order VII Rule 11 is pending will be listed separately for instructions.
- The Supreme Court has suspended limitation periods during the epidemic and lockdown. This will be considered for extending deadlines for submitting written statements. The suspension order does not remove the obligation for timely filing or the ability to impose costs, but only suspends the 120-day statutory restriction on obtaining written submissions.
4. Suits in which the writ of Summons is served and Written statements have been filed
- These suits will be recognized individually and listed on the next available day for framing issues and additional directions.
5. Commercial Summary Suits
- When a commercial summary suit with a value more than Rs 100 crores is filed, the proper writ of summons will be issued.
6. Fresh suits
- Commercial cases with a value of Rs. 100 crores and above must have office objections removed within two weeks of the day the suit was instituted. Written statements must be submitted within 30 days after the date of serving of the summons.
7. New filing norms
- All filings must be on high-quality A4-sized white paper with a minimum weight of 75 grammes per square metre, an inner margin of 5 centimetres and an outside margin of 3 centimetres, in Times New Roman or Georgia type with a font size of 14 points throughout.
8. Pending Interim application on Lodging numbers
- To ensure that all ongoing interim applications and notices of motion that are still in the process of being lodged are eventually numbered by the 30th of July, 2021.
It is encouraging to see the above-mentioned guidelines being followed in the interests of early disposal of pending commercial suits, and transitioning into a post-COVID future for commercial litigation. This order seems to meet the pressing business needs that have been adversely affected as a result of the COVID pandemic, and the clear directions expressed will offer much-needed impetus to the cases that are still pending.
They have also provided sufficient relaxations to allow for the precise filing of written statements, and no additional extensions are required. Consequently, advocates are expected to be honest and provide only non-frivolous submissions throughout the subsequent phases of the proceedings.
As a whole, this has been prudent and economic court decision that has provided much-needed commercial momentum for the cases that have been stalled through the legal system. As the lawsuits in question were/are worth INR 100 crore or more, they required personalized attention, which this ruling appears to have afforded them, giving a much needed stimulus to kick-start commercial litigation in a post-COVID environment.
 (2019) SCC OnLine Bom 358