The Delhi High Court has laid down the guidelines for drafting a mediated settlement agreement in matrimonial disputes and said that there is an urgent need of having settlement agreements in Hindi.

A Single Bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma held, “Having discussed the significance of process of mediation in resolution of a dispute, especially those arising out of family and matrimonial cases, and having taken note of complexities that can arise due to inadequate drafting, inconsistencies, omissions or oversights within a settlement agreement achieved between parties subsequent to a successful mediation, this Court deems it appropriate to lay down following guidelines in relation to drafting of a Mediated Settlement Agreement. … This Court also remains conscious of the fact that the majority of litigants who approach this Court and the Courts below speak Hindi as their first language. Given that Hindi is their mother tongue, they are far more adept at speaking and understanding it than they are at other languages such as English. However, the mediated settlement agreements in Delhi are drafted only in English. In such a scenario, the Settlement Agreement and the conditions thereof may not always be adequately clear to the parties and at times, the translation from English to Hindi may not convey exactly what the parties intend to do.”

The Bench observed that as per directions of the Central Government, a Hindi Department has been constituted in every Court, and Hindi Committee is also constituted in every Court complex and that the project of translation of the judgments from English to Hindi is already successfully working under the guidance of the Apex Court.

Advocate P.K. Anand appeared for the petitioners while APP Satish Kumar and Advocate Shanta Pandey appeared for the respondents.

In this case, a marriage between the complainant and accused was solemnized and there was an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage due to incompatible behaviour, conduct, and temperament of the parties. Thereafter, on the complaint of the wife alleging physical and mental cruelty for the demand of dowry and beating by her husband and in-laws, an FIR was registered against the husband as well as the brother of the husband’s father, his son, and elder brother of the husband.

The matter was referred to the mediation centre at the time of hearing of anticipatory bail application of the husband and fortunately, the matter was amicably settled before the mediation centre and all the disputes were resolved between the parties which were reduced to writing by way of a mediated settlement agreement. However, there was a twist in the story as then the police filed a chargesheet against all the accused persons and the Magistrate summoned all the accused persons and then the complainant also changed her mind and appeared before the High Court only to inform that she had not entered into an agreement with them but only with her husband.

The High Court in the above context noted, “… this Court is of the view that it would be gross injustice to the present petitioners if the criminal proceedings arising out of instant FIR qua them are allowed to be continued, when the complainant had already settled all her matrimonial disputes, had undertaken not to interfere in lives of family members of her husband, and had also received monetary sum including Rs.65,000/- specifically for the purpose of quashing FIR against ‘respondents’ (i.e. accused persons) in the present case. … The mediation process involving family disputes, albeit, is no more in its infancy in India.”

The Court further held that while there can be no fixed pattern for preparing an agreement or a Performa to fill in for the purpose of affecting a settlement before a mediator, the mediators dealing especially with matrimonial disputes should keep in mind that such agreements are reached with an intent to attain finality to all the disputes. Therefore, the Court framed the following guidelines:

“(i) Specify Names of Parties: The agreement must specifically contain names of all the parties to the agreement.

(ii) Avoid Ambiguous Terms: The terms such as ‘respondent’, ‘respondents’, ‘petitioner’ or ‘petitioners’, in absence of their names in the agreement must be avoided in an agreement as it leads to ambiguities and further litigation.

(iii) Include All Details: The terms and conditions of the agreement reached between the parties, howsoever small and minute they may be, must be incorporated in the agreement.

(iv) Timeline For Compliance: The timeline of the fulfilment of terms and conditions as well as their execution must be clearly mentioned. There should be no tentative dates as far as possible.

(v) Default Clause: A default clause should be incorporated in the agreement and the consequences thereof should be explained and enlisted in the agreement itself.

(vi) Mode of Payment: In case any payment is to be made as per settlement, the agreement should specify the method of payment agreed upon between the parties which should also be as per their convenience i.e. electronic mode, by way of a Demand Draft or FDR and the necessary details for fulfilment of this condition.

(vii) Follow-Up Documents: The agreement should also stipulate as to which Follow-up documents are to be prepared and signed by which party. It may also be mentioned as to when, where, how and at whose cost such documents are to be prepared in furtherance of the terms of the agreement, as far as possible.

(viii) Cases involving 498A IPC: Further, especially in cases of matrimonial disputes, where one of the conditions in the Agreement is to cooperate in quashing of FIR, such as those under Section 498A IPC, and filing of affidavit and appearing in the Court for the purpose of the same, it is advisable that the agreement must stipulate the names of all the parties concerned who have been named in the FIR specifically and the fact that the claims have been settled in totality for quashing of entire FIR and proceedings emanating therefrom qua all persons named in the FIR. It be also clarified specifically that the FIR will be quashed in totality against all the persons arrested, not arrested, chargesheeted, not chargesheeted, with their names and whether the entire FIR will be quashed against all of them upon payment by husband or any other person on behalf of the husband.

(ix) Criminal Complaints/Cross-cases: Criminal Complaints filed by parties against each other, pending trial or investigation should also find specific mention with names of all the parties, the Court concerned, and as to how the parties intend to deal with them. The number/details of the complaint, FIR, Sections under which they have been filed, should also be mentioned specifically.

(x) Read and Understood: The agreement should necessarily mention that all the parties have read and understood the contents of the settlement agreement in their vernacular language.

(xi) Signing of Agreement: In case only one or some parties are present during mediation proceedings and only their signatures are obtained on the agreement, it be clearly mentioned and clarified that the agreement is being signed on behalf of those relatives or parties also even in case they are not present, in case the agreement is qua them too and they are not present in person due to age, ailment, distance or any other reason. It is important to do so since in matrimonial offences, the near and distant relatives may, due to above reasons, not be present in person but agreements are reached in totality, especially regarding quashing of FIRs and criminal proceedings and withdrawal of complaints.

(xii) Clarity of Language: At last, the language used in a settlement agreement must be definite enough to understand the real intention of the parties and the goals they wish to achieve by entering into the agreement.”

The Court further directed that the concerned In-charge of Mediation Centres will ensure that the mediated settlement agreements are prepared in the Hindi language also, in addition to the English language, as far as possible.

“Guidance needed by the mediators to draft agreements with degree of coherence, consistency, and unambiguity will come a long way in healing the lives of those in need of such healing by immediately putting an end to a dispute and further insulating them from future litigation. This Court by way of this judgment only aims to ensure that challenges to such mediation agreements due to lack of clarity or missing out on the crucial aspects of the agreement are minimized”, concluded the Court.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the plea and quashed the FIR.

Cause Title- Chhatter Pal & Ors. v. State & Anr. (Neutral Citation: 2023:DHC:3396)

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