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Redefining Judicial Authority: The Supreme Court’s Landmark Ruling on Stay Orders and Procedural Fairness

Introduction

In a significant decision in High Court Bar Association, Allahabad v. State of U.P. & Ors.[i], a five-judge constitutional bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (‘SC’) has overruled its decision in the Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Private Limited & Anr. v. Central Bureau of Investigation[ii] case. The SC held that orders for the automatic vacation of stay, solely on the basis of time elapsed, cannot be issued under the exercise of jurisdiction granted by a. 142 of the Constitution of India (‘Constitution’). 

Brief Facts

  • In 2018, a three-judge bench of the SC ruled in the case of Asian resurfacing (supra) that orders granting interim stay by any of the High Courts (‘HCs’) in the country, in any civil or criminal proceedings, would automatically be vacated upon the expiry of six months, unless extended by a speaking order.

  • The decision from this case was subsequently referred by a three-judge bench of the SC for reconsideration to a five-judge constitutional bench.

  • The constitutional bench then reconsidered the matter and analyzed potential issues that could arise if an interim stay, granted by the HC after thorough deliberation and consideration, were to be automatically vacated by the lapse of time, under the exercise of its jurisdiction under a. 142 of the Constitution.

Held

The SC in its adjudication held that automatic vacation of stay orders issued by the HCs cannot stand, making several critical observations:

i. The SC noted that issuing directives for the automatic vacation of stay orders upon the expiry of a specific time period constitutes judicial legislation, which is beyond the SC's purview.

ii. It was emphasized that a. 142 of the Constitution cannot be invoked to issue blanket orders that override judicially considered and merit-based decisions of the HCs.

iii. The SC opined that mandates for the speedy resolution of cases within a stipulated period should not be imposed uniformly. Such directives should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances and remain within the discretion of the court handling the specific matter.

iv. The SC clarified that any ad-interim relief granted by the HCs can only be vacated after careful consideration and application of mind by the concerned court, and not merely through the exercise of powers under a. 142 of the Constitution.

Our Analysis

The decision by the SC is indicative of its steadfast commitment to uphold the basic principles of natural justice, separation of powers, and fairness, as enshrined in the Constitution. The SC clearly articulated that the powers under a. 142 of the Constitution should not be used to undermine the principles of natural justice nor usurp the legislative process, thereby affecting the substantive rights of litigants. An order that has been thoughtfully considered and passed based on a detailed analysis should not be vacated merely because a specific period has elapsed. The right of any individual to seek a judicial remedy is fundamental, and such rights should not be interfered with except in extraordinary circumstances.





End Notes

[i] 2024 SCC OnLine SC 207

[ii] (2018) 16 SCC 299





Authored by Aditya Gupta, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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