Jury trial for Parsi divorces ‘undeserved luxury’: High Court

It is common knowledge that the 1959 Nanavati murder trial was the last case to be tried under India’s jury system. However, not many seem to know that Parsi divorce cases are still tried by a five-member jury.

The cases fall within the purview of the Parsi Matrimonial and Divorce Act, 1936, and the Bombay Parsi Punchayet nominates each jury member for a 10-year term. The matrimonial court convenes sessions a few times every year to decide on the cases, but matters related to alimony and child custody do not fall in its ambit. On August 22 the matrimonial court convened at the Bombay High Court to conduct hearing into six of the 27 cases pending at the trial stage.

The following day, a Parsi man seeking divorce on the grounds of cruelty requested that his cross-examination be postponed as he was unwell. Responding to the request, the court said, “There is a point beyond which this becomes far too much of a luxury to the litigants.” Justice Gautam Patel said: “It is now a full two years [since the litigant’s previous cross-examination] and I can’t know when the matter will be taken or the next session will be scheduled.” Justice Patel said if the man was clearly unwell, accommodations and allowances could be made. “This is being seen as an undeserved luxury to the community. I am anxious not to give greater currency to that [impression].”

The court said such sessions were specially called and jurors given several weeks’ notice. The court noted that one juror came despite being unwell.

“The sessions are specially provided for this community alone,” said the court. “They aren’t held often for a variety of reasons and since the community remains outside the mainstream of family law, the effect on the parties who are often in bad marriages can be severe.”

In 2014, the court had said in Parsi divorce cases evidence could be recorded by a commissioner and not necessarily only in the court. The court had observed, “No faith could possibly demand that its adherents be made to wait endlessly for their cases to be decided.” The hearings will conclude on Friday.

The writer is a freelance journalist

“No faith could possibly demand that its adherents be made to wait endlessly for their cases to be decided”

Published on TheHindu