October 2, 2022

Delivery of Judgment: Signature of the judge does not make a Judgment Final

A judgment is the final decision of the court intimated to the parties and to the world at large by formal “pronouncement” or “delivery” in open court. It is a judicial act that must be performed in a judicial way. Small irregularities in the manner of pronouncement or the mode of delivery do not matter but the substance of the thing must be there: that can neither be bluffed nor left to inference and conjecture nor can it be vague.

All the rest the manner in which it is to be recorded, the way in which it is to be authenticated the signing and the sealing, all the rules designed to secure certainty about its content and matter be cured; but not the hard core, namely the formal intimation of the decision and its contents formally declared in a judicial way in open court.

In some courts the judgment is delivered orally or read out, in some only the operative portion is pronounced, in some the judgment is merely signed after giving notice to the parties and laying the draft on the table for a given number of days for inspection.

Delivery of judgment is a solemn act which carries with it serious consequences for the person or persons involved. In a criminal case it often means the difference between freedom and jail, and when there is a conviction with a sentence of imprisonment, it alters the status of a prisoner from an under-trial to that of a convict; also the term of his sentence starts from the moment judgment is delivered. It is therefore necessary to know with certainty exactly when these consequences start to take effect.

For that reason, rules have been drawn up to determine the manner in which and the time from when the decision is to take effect and crystallise into an act which is thereafter final so far as the court delivering the judgment is concerned. Now these rules are not all the same though, they are designed to achieve the same result.

It is evident that the decision which is so pronounced or intimated must be a declaration of the mind of the court as it is at the time of pronouncement. Mode or manner of delivery does not matter, as that is not of the essence, except to say that it must be done in a judicial way in open court. But, however, it is done it must be an expression of the mind of the court at the time of delivery.

When there will be delivery of judgment?

Judges may, and often do, discuss the matter among themselves and reach a tentative conclusion. That is not their judgment. They may write and exchange drafts. Those are not the judgments either, however heavily and often they may have been signed. The final operative act is that which is formally declared in open court with the intention of making it the operative decision of the court. That is what constitutes the “judgment”.

Now up to the moment the judgment is delivered Judges have the right to change their mind. There is a sort of locus poenitentiae and indeed last minute alterations sometimes do occur. Therefore, however, much a draft judgment may have been signed beforehand, it is nothing but a draft till formally delivered as the judgment of the court. Only then does it crystallise into a full fledged judgment and become operative.

It follows that the Judge who “delivers” the judgment, or causes it to be delivered by a brother Judge, must be in existence as a member of the court at the moment of delivery so that he can, if necessary, stop delivery and say that he has changed his mind. There is no need for him to be physically present in court but he must be in existence as a member of the court and be in a position to stop delivery and effect an alteration should there be any last minute change of mind on his part.

If he hands in a draft and signs it and indicates that he intends that to be the final expository of his views it can be assumed that those are still his views at the moment of delivery if he is alive and in a position to change his mind but takes no steps to arrest delivery. But one cannot assume that he would not have changed his mind if he is no longer in a position to do so.

A Judge’s responsibility is heavy and when a man’s life and liberty hang upon his decision nothing can be left to chance or doubt or conjecture; also, a question of public. policy is involved. As we have indicated, it is frequently the practice to send a draft, sometimes a signed draft, to a brother Judge who also heard the case. This may be merely for his information, or for consideration and criticism.

The mere signing of the draft does not necessarily indicate a closed mind. It would be against public policy to leave the door open for an investigation whether a draft sent by a Judge was intended to embody his final and unalterable opinion or was only intended to be a tentative draft sent with an unwritten understanding that he is free to change his mind should fresh light dawn upon him before the delivery of judgment.

Reference

Surendra Singh And Others vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh,1954 AIR 194, 1954 SCR 330