No need to adjourn case if appellant, lawyer absent: SC


New Delhi : The Supreme Court has held that it was not incumbent upon a high court to adjourn the hearing of a matter simply because the appellant or his counsel were not present when the case was called for hearing.

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“The court is not bound to adjourn the matter if both the appellant or his counsel are absent,” said the apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra in a judgment delivered Friday.

“The court may, as a matter of prudence or indulgence, adjourn the matter but it is not bound to do so,” the judgment said.

Justice Misra said that a high court couldn’t dismiss an appeal simply for non-prosecution without examining the merits. The high court can “dispose of the appeal after perusing the record and judgment of the trial court”, he said.

Addressing the concern that such a decision by the high court could result in a verdict hurting the case of an accused, the court said “if the case is decided on merits in the absence of the appellant, the higher court can remedy the situation”.

The court said this while rejecting the contention of appellant K.S. Panduranga’s counsel that the Karnataka High Court should not have decided the appeal on its merits without his presence. The court said that “(the contention) does not deserve acceptance”.

The court noted that in the instant case after the judgment was dictated in open court, counsel appeared and he was allowed to put forth his submissions and the same were dealt with.

Panduranga, working as superintendent with Bangalore-based Karnataka Vidyuth Karkhana, was sentenced to four years rigorous imprisonment for taking a bribe of Rs.5,000 from a transporter.

While holding that high courts could decide matters on merits perusing the case records and the judgment of the trial court, the Supreme Court carved out an exception in the case of accused-appellants under incarceration.

The apex court said that if the accused was in jail and could not, on his own, come to court, it would be advisable to adjourn the case and fix another date to facilitate the appearance of the accused-appellant if his lawyer was not present, and if the lawyer was absent and the court deemed it appropriate to appoint a lawyer at the state expense to assist it, nothing in law would preclude the court from doing so.