In a move that has already gathered a lot of attention, Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court, who is known for his wit and inventive orders, issued summons to the defendant via WhatsApp.
This is the first time that the courts are using this technology to issue summons.
Earlier this year, there was some deliberation on amending the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) of 1908 to include issuance of summons via email. Doing this would cut down the many layers of delay and red-tapeism that currently plagues the process.
In a report published by the ministry last year, the average life of a case in India was pinned at 13 years. Though frequent adjournments contribute largely to the delay of cases, the failure to serve the summons on the defendant comes very close. This could be changed if we bring in newer methods of delivering summons. It is essential to show receipt of the summons and the WhatsApp message being delivered and read by the defendant could be taken as receipt of service.
In the current case, after ascertaining using TrueCaller that the mobile number of the defendant was the right one, WhatsApp summons were issued. Justice Patel in his order dated March 23, 2017, noted:
“I do not see what more can be done for the purposes of this Motion. It cannot be that our rules and procedure are either so ancient or so rigid (or both) that without some antiquated formal service mode through a bailiff or even by beat of drum or pattaki, a party cannot be said to have been ‘properly’ served.
The purpose of service is put the other party to notice and to give him a copy of the papers. The mode is surely irrelevant. We have not formally approved of email and other modes as acceptable simply because there are inherent limitation to proving service. Where an alternative mode is used, however, and service is shown to be effected, and is acknowledged, then surely it cannot be suggested that the Defendants had ‘no notice’…
…Defendants who avoid and evade service by regular modes cannot be permitted to take advantage of that evasion.”
Justice Patel further went on to note that elusiveness of the defendant cannot be an excuse for the delay of the hearing.
While the parties could resort to bribing the bailiff, postman, or the courier agency that delivers the summons, it would be difficult to deny having received the WhatsApp summons once it is established that the number is being used by the defendant.
While we wait and see whether other judges follow suit, a Financial Commissioner Court in Haryana, which is a quasi-judicial body, headed by Ashok Khemka, a senior IAS officer also resorted to issuing summons in a partition dispute related to three brothers via WhatsApp.
From the beat of a drum to the beep of a message, we have come a long way indeed.