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Review: SC rules that Schools at liberty to take appropriate legal action to recover outstanding fee from parents

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In this roundup of court judgements, we look at Constitutional Courts’ remarks & directions on grants of bails, schools recovering pending fees from parents, the obligation of hospitals to provide the necessary documentation to families of COVID-19 deceased for availing ex-gratia compensation, and virtual hearings.

Supreme Court: Issues guidelines for grant of bail to accused not arrested during an investigation on the filing of charge sheet

In the case Satender Kumar Antil Vs. CBI 2021, the Supreme court issued guidelines on the aspect of the grant of bail to accused who are not arrested during the investigation on the charge sheet being filed.

There are two requisite conditions for this guideline to apply:

  1. Not arrested during the investigation.
  2. Cooperated throughout the investigation including appearing before investigating officer whenever called.

The bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh accepted the suggestions made by Additional Solicitor General SV Raja and Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra in this regard. The apex court also agreed that to consider bail, the trial courts are not precluded from granting interim bail taking into consideration the conduct of the accused during the investigation which has not warranted arrest.

Category A Offences are those punishable with imprisonment of 7 years or less not falling in category B & D. The guidelines for this category, after filing of charge sheet/complaint taking of cognizance include:

  • Ordinary summons at the 1st instance/including permitting appearance through a lawyer.
  • If such an accused does not appear despite service of summons, then a Bailable Warrant for physical appearance may be issued.
  • NBW (non-bailable warrant) on failure to appear despite issuance of Bailable Warrant.
  • NBW may be cancelled or converted into a Bailable Warrant/Summons without insisting physical appearance of the accused if such an application is moved on behalf of the accused before execution of the NBW on an undertaking of the accused to appear physically on the next date of hearing.
  • Bail applications of such accused on appearance may be decided without the accused being taken in physical custody or by granting interim bail till the bail application is decided.

Category B Offences are those which are punishable with death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for more than 7 years. Category D offences are economic offences not covered by Special Acts. For Category B and D offences, on the appearance of the accused in Court, bail application to be decided on merits.

Category C offences are punishable under Special Acts containing stringent provisions for bail like NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act), PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), Companies Act, 212(6), POSCO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences), etc. For Category C offences, the same guidelines as Category B & D are applicable with the additional condition of compliance of the provisions of Bail under NDPS, PMLA, Companies Act, UAPA, POSCO, etc.

The apex court has ordered that the copy of this order to be circulated to the Registrars of the different High Courts and Trial Courts so that unnecessary bail matters do not come up to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court: Schools at liberty to take appropriate legal action to recover the outstanding fees from parents or wards.

In the case Progressive Schools Association Vs. State of Rajasthan & Anr., the Supreme Court permitted the School Managements to initiate appropriate action in accordance with law for recovery of the outstanding fees from students who have defaulted. The apex court observed that it is open for the School Management to consider the requests, if any, made by parent or ward seeking indulgence for just reasons, compassionately.

The Supreme Court was hearing a plea seeking clarification on the Court’s order directing schools to not debar any student from attending classes on account of non-payment of fees. The present application was filed by Progressive Schools Association challenging a Rajasthan Government order, which permits CBSE schools in the state to collect only 70% and state board schools to collect only 60% of the annual school fee.

In the case Indian School, Jodhpur Vs. The state of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court directed the following:

  • Permitted the private unaided schools in Rajasthan to collect annual school fees from their students as fixed under the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act 2016, for the academic year 2019-20. The court allowed six monthly instalments for the payment of fees.
  • Directed the schools to provide a deduction of 15% on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the relevant period of the academic year 2020-21.
  • The school Management shall not debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees, arrears/outstanding fees including the instalments, and shall not withhold the results of the examinations of any student on that account.

The bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice CT Ravikumar clarified that the spirit of its earlier judgment was to allow time for the concerned parent/ward to pay the fees in instalments. However, the same does not extricate the parents from the liability to pay the school fees in any manner.

Therefore, the apex court held that it is open to the School Management to initiate appropriate action for recovery of the outstanding dues/amount, if any, in accordance with the law. 

Supreme Court: Hospitals should provide all documents to the family of COVID-19 deceased as & when demanded.

In the case Gaurav Kumar Bansal Vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court directed hospitals to provide all necessary documents to the family members of COVID-19 deceased, as and when demanded.

Earlier, the Apex court directed that the kin of COVID-19 deceased will be paid ex-gratia assistance of Rs. 50,000 which will be over and above the benefits paid by the Centre or State Governments under different benevolent schemes. The ex-gratia assistance is to be disbursed within a period of 30 days from the date of submitting the application to the District Administration along with the proof of the death due to COVID-19 and other necessary documents.

The Apex court had also directed that if the death certificate is not conclusive, then certain other documents can be provided to avail the ex-gratia assistance. In other words, the court held that ex-gratia compensation cannot be denied solely on grounds that in the death certificate issued by the appropriate authority, the cause of death is not mentioned as “Died due to COVID-19”. One of our earlier stories elaborates on this aspect of judgement.

Therefore, for the purpose of considering the deaths of the deceased due to COVID-19, cases would include those which are diagnosed through a positive RT-PCR/Molecular Tests/RAT or clinically determined through investigations in a hospital or in-patient facility.

In the present case, the bench of Justice MR Shah and Justice AS Bopanna held that if any hospital or the place where the deceased had taken treatment refuses to furnish such documents, the Grievance Redressal Committee can call for such information and the particulars as required for purpose of establishing that the death was due to COVID-19 will have to be furnished.

The Grievance Redressal Committee has been directed to be constituted by States to carry out the court’s direction regarding disbursement of ex-gratia compensation to families of covid victims.

Supreme Court: Virtual hearing cannot be a norm; the rights of the public to have open court can be protected by live-streaming.

In the case National Federation of Societies for Faster Justice and others vs. High Court of Uttarakhand and others, the Supreme Court remarked that virtual hearing cannot be a norm, as it was adopted to meet the extraordinary crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bench of Justice L. Nageshwara Rao and B.R. Gavai also commented that it is one thing to say that the public has the right to witness the court hearings through live stream and another thing to say that they should have the right to have ‘virtual hearings’.

The apex court was hearing a writ petition jointly filed by ex-IPS officer Julio Ribeiro, RTI activist Shailesh R. Gandhi and an organization named “National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice” seeking a “virtual hearing” as a fundamental right. The petition was seeking retention of hybrid options for physical and virtual hearings in courts, holding that it enhanced the right to access justice.

The bench observed that in view of an unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the courts had to continue virtually because people cannot be denied access to justice. However, this cannot become a norm where citizens have a right to virtual hearings.

Further, the bench noted that the right of the public (to witness court hearings) will be protected once the directions in the Swapnil Tripathi judgment for live-telecast are implemented. In 2018, the Swapnil Tripathi case verdict made publicity, visibility, open access to virtual courts a rule/norm and its denial an exception.

Therefore, the court held that the rights of access to virtual courts would be protected once the above-mentioned judgement is implemented and proceedings are telecasted. However, the bench opined that to argue that virtual proceedings are needed to protect their rights does not appear reasonable. 

In conclusion, the bench allowed the Senior Advocate for the petitioner to return after four weeks along with suggestions on how to lay down norms for virtual hearings in exceptional cases. The bench has tagged this petition along with an earlier petition (filed by All India Association of Jurists) seeking similar relief.

Featured Image: Roundup of court judgements

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