Author - Advocate Shraddha Gupta and Mr. Pavan Kumar
When a case is filed in any court, it takes considerable time for the case to conclude. It is usual parlance for courts to fix dates for taking up next steps in the matter and such dates fixed by the courts are referred to as “date of hearing”. While each date of hearing may not necessarily mean that the date is fixed for purposes of final adjudication, in fact it may either be for procedural compliances, recording evidence, presentation of arguments or even a simplicitor adjournment. Based on the next steps to be taken up in a matter and what transpires in the court, a “date of hearing” can be further classified into “effective date of hearing” and “ineffective date of hearing”.
As lawyers, we often come across instances where, while the court fixes next date in a case, the court proceedings are not taken up on account of either, shortage of time, absence of judge or even administrative issues such as transfer of case from one court to the another. Such instances do not fall under the bracket of effective date of hearing, but it is unclear if they can be classified under the category of “ineffective date of hearing”.
It is not always fatal when court hearing is not taken up, however, in circumstances where the court grants interim order until the next date of hearing and the hearing does not take place, it would be crucial to understand if the interim order lapses. In this background, it would be relevant to understand the interpretation of “date of hearing”. For the purpose of affording further context and clarity to the aforesaid issue, the procedure governing an interim order may be examined. Interim orders, as suggested by the term itself, are operational within a limited duration. Such duration may vary from case to case but in most instances, they are valid until the final adjudication of the disputes as between the parties or the next date of hearing. It is in the latter case that the issue surrounding the interpretation assumes pertinence.
Hon’ble Supreme Courts has examined ‘date of hearing’ in the case of Kanwar Singh Saini v. High Court of Delhi AIR 2011 SC 2439, where the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that ‘date of hearing’ in a general sense would mean the date on which the court applies its mind to the merits of the case and that ‘it is only when the court actually applies its mind to averments made by the party/parties, it can be considered as hearing of the case’. It was further qualified by the SC that the hearing may be differentiated from procedural formalities as the latter does not involve application of mind.
Himachal Pradesh High Court (HPHC) in the case of Saber Paper Ltd. v. Sate of HP & Ors. ILR 2016 3 HP 342, had the opportunity to interpret “date of hearing” apropos of issuance of interim orders which are valid till the next date of hearing. In this case, one of the issues that the HPHC had to determine was whether the interim order passed by the appellate authority can be said to remain in effect when the authority was not in session on the next date of hearing. In relation to the same and the aforesaid judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, it was held by the HPHC that the interim order would cease to be valid only when there is effective hearing of the impugned matter qualified by proper application of mind by the court.
In conclusion, it may be said that ‘date of hearing’, while being distinct in a variety of facts and circumstances, is essentially the date on which a court applies its mind to the contentions submitted by the parties or examines the matter in relation to the merits of the same and frames issues thereupon if required.
In relation to the aforesaid it can therefore be said that, in instances where the duration of an interim order is to conclude upon the next date of hearing, such interim order shall remain operational till the date the court effectively hears the matter and applies its mind to the dispute as between the parties.