Salem Advocate Bar Association, Tamil Nadu Versus Union of India JT (2005) 6 SC 486
Order XVII of the Code relates to grant of adjournments. Two amendments have been made therein. One that adjournment shall not be granted to a party more than three times during hearing of the suit. The other relates to cost of adjournment. The awarding of cost has been made mandatory. Costs that can be awarded are of two types. First, cost occasioned by the adjournment and second such higher cost as the court deems fit.
While examining the scope of proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 that more than three adjournments shall not be granted, it is to be kept in view that proviso to Order XVII Rule 2 incorporating clauses (a) to (e) by Act 104 of 1976 has been retained. Clause (b) stipulates that no adjournment shall be granted at the request of a party, except where the circumstances are beyond the control of that party. The proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 and Order XVII Rule 2 have to be read together. So read, Order XVII does not forbid grant of adjournment where the circumstances are beyond the control of the party. In such a case, there is no restriction on number of adjournments to be granted. It cannot be said that even if the circumstances are beyond the control of a party, after having obtained third adjournment, no further adjournment would be granted. There may be cases beyond the control of a party despite the party having obtained three adjournments. For instance, a party may be suddenly hospitalized on account of some serious ailment or there may be serious accident or some act of God leading to devastation. It cannot be said that though circumstances may be beyond the control of a party, further adjournment cannot be granted because of restriction of three adjournments as provided in proviso to Order XVII Rule 1. In some extreme cases, it may become necessary to grant adjournment despite the fact that three adjournments have already been granted (Take the example of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Gujarat earthquake and riots, devastation on account of Tsunami). Ultimately, it would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, on the basis whereof the Court would decide to grant or refuse adjournment. The provision for costs and higher costs has been made because of practice having been developed to award only a nominal cost even when adjournment on payment of costs is granted. Ordinarily, where the costs or higher costs are awarded, the same should be realistic and as far as possible actual cost that had to be incurred by the other party shall be awarded where the adjournment is found to be avoidable but is being granted on account of either negligence or casual approach of a party or is being sought to delay the progress of the case or on any such reason. Further, to save proviso to Order XVII Rule 1 from the vice of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, it is necessary to read it down so as not to take away the discretion of the Court in the extreme hard cases noted above. The limitation of three adjournments would not apply where adjournment is to be granted on account of circumstances which are beyond the control of a party. Even in cases which may not strictly come within the category of circumstances beyond the control of a party, the Court by resorting to the provision of higher cost which can also include punitive cost in the discretion of the Court, adjournment beyond three can be granted having regard to the injustice that may result on refusal thereof, with reference to peculiar facts of a case. We may, however, add that grant of any adjournment let alone first, second or third adjournment is not a right of a party. The grant of adjournment by a court has to be on a party showing special and extra- ordinary circumstances. It cannot be in routine. While considering prayer for grant of adjournment, it is necessary to keep in mind the legislative intent to restrict grant of adjournments.