New Delhi, April 16

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a set of directions for speedy disposal of more than 35 lakh cheque bounce cases that clog the subordinate courts across India.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by CJI SA Bobde suggested that the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, should be amended to allow one consolidated trial for multiple cheques, if the entities involved in the transactions were the same.

“We recommend that suitable amendments be made to the Act for provision of one trial against a person for multiple offences under Section 138 of the Act committed within a period of 12 months, notwithstanding the restriction in Section 219 of the Code (of criminal Procedure),” it said.

The top court had on March 5 last year registered a suo motu case and decided to evolve a “concerted” and “coordinated” mechanism for expeditious disposal of cheque bounce cases.

A report submitted to the court during the hearing showed that as on December 31, 2019, the total number of criminal cases pending was 2.31 crore, out of which 35.16 lakh pertained to Section 138 of the Act.

Terming the problem as “grotesque”, the top court had earlier asked the Centre to come up with a law to create additional courts for a particular period of time to deal with dishonour of cheque cases. The Centre had “in principle accepted” the need for creating additional courts to deal with such cases.

The Bench – which also included Justice LN Rao, Justice BR Gavai, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice S Ravindra Bhat – said there was no inherent power of trial courts to review or recall the issue of summons.

However, it said, “This does not affect the power of the Trial Court under Section 322 of the Code to revisit the order of issue of process in case it is brought to the court’s notice that it lacks jurisdiction to try the complaint.”

To conclusively deal with this aspect, amendment to the Act empowering the trial courts to reconsider/recall summons in respect of complaints under Section 138 shall be considered by the committee constituted by it on March 10 this year under the chairmanship of a former Bombay High Court judge RC Chauhan.

It asked the high courts to issue practice directions to magistrates to record reasons before converting trials of complaints under Section 138 from summary trial to summons trial.

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