Representing your Case
Most online resources that talk about filing consumer complaints stop at submitting the case and do not provide any information on what the actual process will be. I looked for information online, talked to lawyers etc. and could not find any relevant information on representing the case myself. This section will try to address the gap. I can share the information on the steps from the Appearance stage until the Settlement. If any reader has more information to share on the rest of the steps, please use the contact form to share your inputs.
In the District Redressal Forum, the agenda for the day is displayed outside the court door at around 10 am. Check the list to see where your case is listed. Each stage listed below can take up one or two hearings (especially if the Opposite Party tries to delay the proceedings or you are not able to attend it). There's usually a 30 day period provided between hearings so even if there are no postponements or wasted hearings, this process could still take anywhere between 6-8 months.
Admission Hearing: This is the initial hearing for your case. The hearing starts on the dot at 10:30 am so make sure you reach before this time or you may have to wait for another date. You will be asked to summarize the issue and let the Ho'n Judges know what relief you expect from the court. Bring a copy of the case papers and be prepared to state your issue in 2-3 sentences. Once this is done, you will be given the next hearing date. You'll also get a reminder via SMS two days after the hearing and can track the status of your case.
Appearance: In this hearing, the Opposite Party lawyer may submit a vakalat to state that they would be representing the Opposite Party in this case. In my case, the Opposite Party skipped the Appearance hearing twice and I was asked by the Ho'n Judge to send them a personal notice stating that if they missed another hearing, the decision would be taken Ex Parte (without their presence).
Written Version of Complainant: Once both parties are present, the Complainant (that's you) will need to submit a written version of the issue. In my case, since the case papers submitted already had all the relevant information, a copy of it was given to the Opposite Party and they were asked to submit their written version in the next hearing.
Written Version of Opposite Party: In this hearing, the Opposite Party will submit their response to your case papers. They might call out certain aspects of your submission, refer to specific bullet points and ask for additional evidence to support the same. In my case, the Opposite Party lawyer took two hearings to submit their written version and was also penalized for delaying the court proceedings.
Evidence Affidavit of Complainant/Marking Documents: In this hearing, you will be submitting your response to the Opposite Party's written version. Check the next stage for the exact template you need to use for the evidence (it took me two hearings to get this right since there's no information on what is the expected format). Once you have submitted your version, your evidence will be "marked". One of the court clerks will review each document submitted, verify it for relevance to the case, and stamp it. The Opposite Party is also supposed to review the evidence before it's marked but the lawyer in my case was least interested in it.
Evidence Affidavit of Opposite Party/Marking Documents: In this hearing, the Opposite Party is supposed to submit their evidence and have it marked. We never came to this stage because our Opposite Party lawyer again delayed the proceedings twice by offering a settlement and then going back on their word.
Written Arguments/Hearing: While we never got to this stage, I did get to see a few other cases while I was waiting. In this stage, both parties offer written arguments and also argue verbally for or against the case. Since the District Forum handles claims up to 50 lakhs, some of these arguments can be very intense. In most of these cases, I noticed both parties were represented by lawyers and I didn't see any PIP cases (not represented by a lawyer) in the Arguments stage.
Order: The final stage is the judgement or the order passed on the case. It can take multiple hearings from the Arguments/Hearing stage to get to this point.
Settlement: A Settlement can be arranged at any stage as long as both parties agree to it. In my case, the Settlement was reached after the Evidence Affidavit of Complainant/Marking Documents stage. The Opposite Party tried to postpone their submission of the evidence twice (since they didn't have any) before agreeing to the settlement. Note that even at this stage, the settlement may fall through if the Opposite Party suggests a compromise that's not acceptable to the Complainant. In our case, they tried to offer a replacement of the product even though they had agreed to the refund and compensation first. We continued with the process of marking documents and a different settlement was agreed upon after this stage.