Bailable Warrant To Be Issued Only When Party Deliberately Avoids Appearance Even Through Counsel– SC Sets Aside Warrant Issued By National Consumer Commission
A two-judge Bench of Justice MR Shah and Justice BV Nagarathna has held that Bailable Warrants are to be issued as a last resort and only in a case when opponent parties are not cooperating at all and avoiding appearance and/or not represented at all either through their authorized representative or through their counsel.
Appellant-Opposite Party No. 2 was represented by Advocate Ms. Ruchi Kohli during the proceedings before the Court. None appeared for the Respondent No. 1-Original Complaianant.
Appeals were preferred by L & T Finance Ltd. (Original Opposite Party No. 2) assailing the orders passed by the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC). The NCDRC had issued a Bailable Warrant against the Director of the Opposite Party No. 2 and sought his presence before it since, thrice the Director had failed to appear before the Commission. Aggrieved, the Appellant approached the Supreme Court.
In this case, a complaint was pending before the National Commission that was filed by Respondent No.1. When the complaint came up for hearing, the Counsel of Opposite Party No. 1 contended before the Commission that the matter was settled between the parties.
While the Complainant-Respondent No. 1 argued that he was pressurized and forced by the representatives of the two opposite parties to sign on blank papers and they also visited the residence of the Complainant to force the latter into a settlement. This was neither amicable nor voluntary and nor equitable.
Further, the National Commission directed that the Directors of both opposite parties appear before it in person, either through physical hearing or through video conferencing on the next date of hearing, and clarify their position as against the allegations made by the Complainant.
The Director of the First Opposite Party marked his presence on the next date of hearing before the Commission, however, the Director of the Second Opposite Party did not appear in person and was represented by his Counsel and authorized representative. It was contended on his behalf that an application seeking exemption for his personal appearance was moved which was pending in the Registry.
While the National Commission again directed to list the case and directed that on the next date of hearing the Directors of both the opposite parties to be present either personally or through video conferencing. However, the Director of the Appellant Company remained absent even then. The National Commission thereafter issued a Bailable Warrant against him.
The Apex Court held, "It is true that if the allegations made by the original complainant recorded in the order dated 26.08.2021 "to pressurize him and giving threats to enter into settlement" are found to be true, the same are very serious and can be said to be interfering in the administration of justice. However, at the same time, the allegations are yet to be considered in detail by the National Commission after giving an opportunity to the opposite parties."
Further, the Court noted that there were no specific allegations made by the Complainant against the Director of original opposite party No. 2. Also, the review application before the Tribunal for consideration, in this context, the Bench opined –
"In the facts and circumstances of the case, issuance of the bailable warrants against Shri Dinanath Mohandas Dubhashi, the Director of original opposite party No.2 was not warranted at this stage."
Additionally, the Court observed, "It cannot be disputed that free access and unfettered right to approach/justice, as permissible by law, is inbuilt in our judicial system where rule of law prevails. Any attempt to impede or obstruct the course of justice, not to speak of exercising any coercion against anybody, who is before the court or authority in order to seek justice, cannot be lightly taken or be countenanced with."
The Court also held that the impugned orders passed by NCDRC are liable to be set aside and quashed since the Director of the Appellant was appearing through their counsel and authorized representatives and even the Director of First Opposite Party remained present in person through video conferencing.
"The appellant herein – original opposite party No.2 be permitted to be represented through his authorised representatives and through his counsel. However, it will be open for the National Commission to require the presence of Shri Dinanath Mohandas Dubhashi, Director of the appellant company, if required, in future," the Court directed.
Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside and quashed the impugned orders of NCDRC.