The Kerala High Court in its judgment dated April 10, 2023 held that whenever any party approaches the family court for time bound disposal in a matrimonial matter, it cannot merely dispose an application passing an order that the case “will be disposed off at the earliest”.
This is a case where the wife was the petitioner who had filed for divorce in the year 2018 before the Palakkad family court under Section 13(1)(i)(a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. In 2022, the wife moved an interlocutory application for a time-bound disposal of the original petition that was filed four years ago.
To this, the family court allowed the said interlocutory application for passing an order by stating that “the case will be disposed of at the earliest”.
Unhappy with vague order without timelines, the wife subsequently approached the Kerala High Court under Article 227 seeking to fix an exact time frame for disposal of the original petition before the family court.
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Kerala High Court
A division bench of Justice Anil K. Narendran and Justice P.G. Ajithkumar heard the matter and referred to the Shiju Joy v. Nisha [2021 (2) KLT 607] judgment which had issued directions for family courts to ensure timely justice. Following the previous precedent as stated in the Shiju Joy Case, the Court noted:
If any party desires to move an application for an early hearing, he/she shall move the Family Court at the first instance.
The Family Court shall dispose of such application, as expeditiously as possible, at any rate within two weeks from the date of moving such application. It would be open to the Family Court to pass orders on such applications in the chambers.
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The High Court was of the view that the Family Court’s order which stated “will be disposed off at the earliest” was not in line with the Shiju Joy case. The bench remarked:
If the applicant has stated any justifiable or valid reason for early hearing or time bound disposal, the Family Court has to pass an order in that interlocutory application ordering early hearing or time-bound disposal of that case or cases, specifying the time limit in that order.
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Family Court Erred
The High Court observed that the initial petition was filed by the wife in 2018 and her subsequent interlocutory application for time bound disposal was filed on 13.09.2022. The Court noted that despite the order of the court that it would dispose the matter “at the earliest” and despite repeated postings, it was not disposed. The bench ordered,
A motion made by a party for an early hearing or time-bound disposal of a case or cases for any justifiable or valid reason has to be dealt with appropriately by the Family Court, by passing an order for early hearing or time-bound disposal of that case or cases.
In case the applicant has not stated any justifiable or valid reason for early hearing or time-bound disposal, the Family Court has to dismiss that application, stating a brief reason.
Accordingly, the Palakkad family court was directed to dispose off the original petition as expeditiously as possible and at the very least within three months.
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