On 10.07.2020, the Supreme Court of India passed an Order in Suo Moto Writ Petition (C) No. 3 of 2020 (“Writ Petition”) titled “In Re: Cognizance For Extension Of Limitation”, pertaining to certain time periods prescribed under different statutes, as well as directions relating to service of notices, summons and exchange of pleadings. The said Writ Petition was instituted on Supreme Court's own motion for the purpose of extending period of limitations prescribed under different statutes in view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and related difficulties being faced by the litigants as well as lawyers across the country. The Supreme Court vide the aforesaid Order has passed interim directions which are seen as a much needed relief in these unprecedented times. The article encapsulates a brief overview of  the directions passed by the Apex Court with respect to following legislative provisions and procedural aspects:

Section 29A and Section 23(4) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996

The decision on these provisions of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996 ("Arbitration Act”) has been passed on a minor modification sought by the Attorney General to Supreme Court's previous Orders dated 23.03.2020 and 06.05.2020 passed in the Writ Petition.

Earlier, the Supreme Court, vide its Order dated 23.03.2020, had extended the period of limitation prescribed under any statute with effect from 15.03.2020 till further orders. Thereafter, vide Order dated 06.05.2020, the Supreme Court, while disposing of an Interim Application, extended the limitation period specified under the Arbitration Act as well as under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, with effect from 15.03.2020 till further orders. The Supreme Court further directed that the period of extension shall also include 15 days after the lockdown is lifted in cases where the limitation period under the aforesaid statutes has expired after 15.03.2020.

While observing that Section 29A of the Arbitration Act does not provide for ‘limitation', but rather fixes a time period for passing an arbitral award, the Supreme Court directed that Orders dated 23.03.2020 and 06.05.2020 shall also apply to the time limit prescribed under Section 29A of the Arbitration Act. A similar observation was made for Section 23(4) of the Arbitration Act which provides for a time period of 6 months for completion of pleadings in an arbitration proceeding. Thus, vide Order dated 10.07.2020, the time limits prescribed under Section 29A and 23(4) of the Arbitration Act were also extended by the Supreme Court in terms of its previous Orders dated 23.03.2020 and 06.05.2020.

Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015

The Supreme Court has also extended the time period prescribed under Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, which provided for completing the process of compulsory pre-litigation mediation and settlement within three months, with a provision for extension of further two months with the consent of the parties. With respect to this provision, the Court has also granted an extension for a period of 45 days to be calculated from the day when the lockdown is lifted. The Supreme Court has also directed that on the expiration of such extension, no further time will be excluded under the said provision.

Service of Notices and Summons, and Exchange of Pleadings

While realizing the importance of service of summons & notices and exchange of pleadings in legal proceedings, as well as the risk posed with the physical service of the same, the Supreme Court permitted online service of summons, notices and pleadings. The online modes of services permitted by the Supreme Court include e-mail, fax and Instant Messaging Services like Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal etc. The Court has further directed that where a party intends to serve via Instant Messaging Services, a mandatory additional service through email will also be required to be done on the same date.

Validity Period of Cheques

As regards the extension of validity of cheques under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881,  the Supreme Court observed that the statute does not prescribe any period rather it is a period prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) pursuant to Section 35A of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. Therefore, the Court deemed it inappropriate to intervene on the said issue and observed that the discretion to alter such period is the prerogative of the RBI.

Originally published by RPV Legal, July 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.