The Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018 ("Original Side Rules") were notified on 5th January, 2018, superseding and replacing the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 1967, specifically with the intent to cater to the change in laws and in particular the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. These Rules, as a special law, contain various procedural mandates which are unique and not found, for instance, in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 ("CPC"). By way of an example, the right to file a Replication to a Written Statement is unique to these Rules alone and do not find place in the CPC.
A question that has recently found some traction and contestation, particularly before the Delhi District Courts, is whether these Original Side Rules also extend to and govern the procedure before the Delhi District Courts or do the Delhi District Courts continue to be bound by the CPC and in cases of commercial suits by the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, alone. This article deals with this issue, which is still res integra to an extent, and discusses the march of law and also provides the author's view on the same.
The March of Law
The Original Side Rules were notified in exercise of powers conferred by Section 129 of the CPC and Section 7 of the Delhi High Court Act, 1966. Rules 3 states that the Original Side Rules are applicable on all proceedings on the original side of the Court, instituted or transferred pursuant to provisions of the Delhi High Court Act, 1966, or any other law, unless otherwise ordered by the Court. The term "Court" has been defined under Rule 4(e) to mean the Delhi High Court.
In 2020, HMJ Prathiba M Singh set aside an order passed by the Ld. ADJ rejecting to take written statement on record because the same was not accompanied with the affidavit of admissions and denial of documents in a commercial suit 1. It was observed that the summons issued along with the suit papers do not mention the filing of affidavit of Admissions and Denial along with the written statement as the same has been made compulsory only under the Original Side Rules. It was further held that summons issued in commercial matters in the District courts have to be only in accordance with the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. It was held that "The filing of the affidavit of admission/denial has been made compulsory only in the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018"
Thereafter, this question was again raised before Justice Asha Menon 2 in a review petition against an order rejecting to take written statement on record as the same was filed beyond 30 days without an application seeking condonation of delay and without an affidavit of admissions and denial of documents. Further an application seeking condonation of delay was filed belatedly after expiry of 120 days. During arguments, it was submitted that the Original Side Rules, do not apply to District courts. Rejecting the said submission, the court held that District Courts don't function in a vacuum. The court while rejecting the submissions observed that Annexure E of the Original Side Rules provides for issuance of Practice directions by the Delhi High court to supplement the Original Side Rules in accordance with Section 18 of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. As these practice directions apply to all "Commercial Court" as defended under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, it automatically includes within its purview district courts that are trying a "commercial dispute". However, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has set aside the order passed by the ld. Single judge 3 observing that the written statement had been filed on the 34th day from the date of receipt of summons and only a condonation of delay application was filed after 120 days. The Supreme court held that a hyper technical view had been taken by the High Court while setting aside order passed by the trial court accepting the written statement and in view of the same allowed the Special leave Petition filed before it.
Lastly, in a recent judgement of the Delhi High Court, HMJ Hari Shankar, 4 held that in view of Rules 3 and 4 of the Original Side Rules, 2018, it is evident that the said Rules are only applicable to the Delhi High Court. In his decision, he has also relied on the observations made by the Supreme Court in A.P. Distributors(supra).
The Author's Take
While currently there are two views emanating for the judgements on the Delhi High Court. One, is of of Justice Pratibha M. Singh, wherein she held that the definition of court in the Original Side Rules only includes the Courts of the Delhi High Court. The second view is that of Justice Asha Menon that interpreted that Annexure E expands the scope of applicability of the Original Side Rules to all Courts dealing with commercial disputes. While Justice Asha Menon's orders was appealed before the Supreme Court, replying on the jurisprudence evolved by the Supreme Court in Experion Developers Private Limited v. Himanshu Dewan & Sonali Dewan & Ors. 5, as the Order passed by the Supreme Court in A.P. Distributors(supra) did not deal with the question whether the Delhi High Court (Original Side) Rules, 2018 ("Original Side Rules") apply to Delhi District Courts, the same cannot be assumed to have precedential value, thus still leaving the question open.
Chapter XVII of the Original Side Rules grants the Delhi High Court power to make practice directions in addition to the Original Side Rules to supplement the provisions of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. Therefore leaving scope of interpretation to include all commercial court, including the ones formed in the District Court within its ambit.
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1. Sudhakar Singh &Ors v. Webkul Software Pvt Ltd, 2020 SCCOnLine Del 436
2. Ok Play India Pvt. Ltd v. A.P. Distributors; 2021 SCC OnLine Del 4809
3. SLP(C) 9733-9734/2022
4. Atcom Technology Co Ltd v. Rahul Gupta & Ors; 2023 SCC OnLine Del 1110
5. 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1029
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