The Patna High Court has said that a vacation bench of the High Court cannot decide and dispose of any case, other than bail application, on merits (Prof (Dr.) Shlok Kumar Chakravarti v The State of Bihar). As per Patna High Court Rules of 1916, a vacation bench can pass interim orders on emergent matters but cannot decide and dispose of such matters finally, the Court said.
It can consider and dispose of only bail applications on merits, a single judge Bench of Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh underscored.
"A vacation judge may grant bail in criminal matters and pass ‘interim orders’ only regarding stay, injunction and other reliefs in such other matters, civil or under the Constitution ‘as he may consider emergent’ but cannot decide and dispose of a case, other than bail applications, on merits," the Court held.
In this regard, the Court placed reliance on the language of Rule 4 of Chapter II of the Patna High Court Rules, 1916. "Apparently, a Single Judge, while acting in long vacation as a vacation judge, may issue notice or Rule, as the case may be, in any criminal matter, and in such other matters, civil or under the Constitution ‘as he may consider emergent’, and may also pass interim orders regarding stay, injunction, bail, and other reliefs, as may be deemed fit," the Court explained.
The Patna High Court's annual vacation commenced on May 23, 2021, and it is scheduled to reopen on June 21, 2021. A writ application, filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, was listed today before Justice Singh during annual vacation, evidently as a vacation judge. When the matter came up for hearing, the Bench adverted to Rule 4 of Chapter II which lays down powers which a single-judge, while acting in a long vacation as a vacation judge, exercises.
The Court noted that none of the parties to the plea made any mention for emergent hearing of the application during the vacation.
Thus, it was held that in view of the provisions of Rule 4 of Chapter II, the matter could not be taken up and decided during the annual vacation. When the Court queried if any decision was taken on re-scheduling the annual vacation, it was informed that no such decision has been taken and matters, which were listed before the Bench on May 17, had been directed to be listed again before it when it sat as vacation bench.
At this juncture, the Court said,
"Possibly, the provisions under Rule 4 of Chapter II of the Rules have not been brought to the notice of Hon’ble the Chief Justice."
While placing the order before the Chief Justice, the Court added, "The Court is not unmindful of the situation arising out of unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and in a given situation, the Court, on its administrative side, could make a decision in accordance with the law, to overcome the limitation under Rule 4 of Chapter II of the Rules but, in no case, statutory provisions prescribing limitations on a vacation judge sitting during long vacation can be breached."
The Court also proceeded to direct that the matter be listed on June 21 when the Court reopens after summer vacation.