This Article is written by Siddharth Shukla, A 3rd-year student from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat Haryana. He explains the provisions related to jurisdiction, followed by an examination of different types of jurisdiction. Furthermore, he has critically analysed the CPC’s jurisdiction with respect to Cyberspace.
Jurisdiction has not been defined in the Code of Civil Procedure (hereinafter referred to as CPC). In simple terms, it could be defined as the power of the court to adjudicate a matter. Jurisdiction can be defined as the power given to a formally formed legal body to adjudicate on legal matters and by virtue of it to administer justice within a designated place of control. It is also used to describe the subject-matter or geographical area wherein the authority extends.
In the case of Hriday Nath v. Ram Chandra, the court has defined jurisdiction as the authority of the courts to decide the cases by virtue of its judicial powers. The Indian judiciary has invoked the classical legal maxim “Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium” that where there is a right there is a remedy. Hence, the jurisdiction generally lies wherein the wrong is committed.
Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code describes the jurisdiction of the civil court to entertain civil suits unless it is impliedly or expressly prohibited. The position was affirmed in the case law of Ganga Bai v. Vijai Kumar, Wherein the court averred that it is an “inherent right” to institute a civil suit unless it is restricted by a statute. No authority is necessary for maintainability of the suit, if not statute bars the suit. In the case of Sankaer Naryan Potti v. K. Sreedevi, the supreme court while interpreting section 9 has held that unless the jurisdiction, expressly or impliedly removed from a civil court, the court has the jurisdiction to try the civil dispute.
“Civil Suit” is not been defined in any act. Any suit that is not criminal in nature can be termed as suits of civil nature. Any suit that pertains to the determination and enforcement of a civil right may be defined as a civil suit. Civil courts have the “inherent” jurisdiction to try the case until any statute bars it. In the case of Kehar Singh Nihal Singh v. Custodian General, the court elaborated upon the concept of the civil proceeding. It was defined as the grant of private rights to individuals or corporations of the society. The purpose of the action is the compensation or recovery of private rights. In other words, the Civil action may be explained as the proceeding between two parties for enforcement or redressal of a private right. The burden of proof to prove the exclusion of jurisdiction is upon the party claiming.
Exclusion of Jurisdiction
The general presumption is that the civil court has the jurisdiction to try the case. The jurisdiction of the court cannot be questioned unless it is not expressly or impliedly ousted. In the case of State of A.P. v. Majeti Laxmi Kanth Rao, the apex court laid down a test to determine the exclusion of jurisdiction of the Civil Courts. Firstly, the legislative intent to exclude the suit is to be determined. It could be either directly or implicitly. The court must find and deduce the reasons for exclusion of the Civil courts and the justification for it but the justification is not open for judicial scrutiny. After the court is satisfied with the reasons, the court must find out whether the statute that bars the jurisdiction provides for an alternative remedy. The alternative remedy must entail the functions akin to civil courts like the power to pass the orders. In case there is no alternative remedy available, the civil court’s jurisdiction cannot be excluded.
But it was ruled in Balawwa v. Hasanabi, Civil court’s jurisdiction is barred with respect to a tribunal created by a statute only to the extent that the relief granted by the tribunal in question. In this aspect, the Allahabad High court in various judgement has held that the suit is restricted from the jurisdiction of civil courts of the cognisance of the entire suit is barred. It means that for certain suits wherein certain parts are not tried by the civil court because of implied or express exclusion, it does not mean that entire suit will be prohibited. As the other points of law are beyond the purview of the tribunal or even if it is within its scope of the special tribunal created under the act, civil court’s jurisdiction is not barred as it could still pass judgement as it still has the inherent jurisdiction to entertain the suits. The situation remains ambiguous whether the special tribunals under the act can pass the decree with respect to the part of the suit wherein the jurisdiction of the civil court is excluded.
Plea of the absence of jurisdiction
In the case of Kiran Singh v. Chaman Pawan expanded the scope of raising the objection to the jurisdiction. The court asserted that the plea to objection could be raised at any stage of the proceeding even at the stage of execution or even in collateral proceedings. Building on the same lines, Chief Engineer Hydel Project vs. Ravinder Nath, observed that the plea of objection to jurisdiction should not be rejected on mere grounds that it was not taken in the initial stages as the decree passed by the court without jurisdiction will be hit by the doctrine of Coram non judice.
The plea for the absence of the jurisdiction could be raised at any stage of the proceeding. However, it should be allowed only in the court of the first instance and not in the appeals following it. If such pleas are allowed, then it might be misused by the appellant(s) who lose in the lower courts. For example, the losing party in the lower courts might raise the plea of absence of jurisdiction in the higher courts even though the suit(s) commenced through his/her petition. It will be inconsistent with the principles of natural justice and therefore, injustice to the opposite party. Thus, it should not be allowed to raise the plea at the appellate stage.
Types of Jurisdiction
Pecuniary means “related to money”. It addresses the question of whether the court is competent to try the case of the monetary value of suit in question. The code allows trying a case unless the suit’s value exceeds the pecuniary limit of the court. One of the purposes of the jurisdiction is to prevent the burdening of cases in the courts. Different kinds of courts are granted different monetary limit to hear cases based on the valuation of each suit. The limit is dynamic.
Section 15 of the Code directs the institution of the suit in the court of the lowest grade. It refers to the pecuniary jurisdiction of the civil court. It is a rule of procedure and it does not impact the jurisdiction of the court. Thus, the decree passed by a higher graded court is not void per se.
The main purpose of defining pecuniary jurisdiction is to prevent the court of a higher degree from getting burdened and to provide convenience to the parties. Generally, the court accepts the valuation of the plaintiff. However, the court shall intervene if it finds the valuation to be wrong. For example, “A” wants to sue “B” for breach of contract to recover Rs. 5000 in Bombay. The Bombay High court has original jurisdiction and the Small causes court with the jurisdiction up to Rs. 50000. So, a suit to recover Rs. 5000 should ideally be instituted by A in Small causes court.
In the case of Karan Singh v. Chaman Paswan, the plaintiff filed a suit at the court of the subordinate court at Rs. 2950 but the court dismissed the case. Plaintiff appeal in the District Court was also dismissed. Later, his second appeal was accepted by the High Court, but it ordered him to pay the deficit amount. With the valuation revised it fell under the jurisdiction of the Subordinate judge, but the appeal would directly be at High court. The appellant contended that the decision of the District Court will be a nullity, but the High court dismissed the contention. Later, the appellant approached the Supreme court which upheld the decision of the High court stating that the decision of the District court won’t be void.
In this kind of jurisdiction, the geographical limits of a court’s authority are demarcated. It cannot supersede the territorial limit. It is the extent of the area to which the court’s authority extends. In other words, It is the territorial limit of the law or court’s power.
Furthermore, section 16 defines the territorial jurisdiction on the basis of the location of the immovable property. Harshad Chiman Lal Modi v. D.L.F. Universal Ltd. In this case, the court interpreted section 16 that the suit pertaining to immovable property should be bought to a court where the res is situated. The court where the property is not situated does not have any powers to decide the rights in such property. However, the court can still pass a relief if the opposite party agrees to try the suit in such a case.
If the immovable property is situated within the jurisdiction of more than one court that the suit can be instituted at the court where any portion of the property is situated. However, in the case wherein it is ambiguous that within which court’s jurisdiction, several courts appear to have jurisdiction, the property is situated then any one of the courts could entertain the suit with the reasons recorded in writing.
In the suits related to the wrong (including the compensation for such wrong) to movable property, the plaintiff can institute the suit either at the place wherein the wrong was committed or the place where the defendant resides, carries business, works. In the situation where the wrong constitutes of a series of acts than the suit can be filed at either of the places. In case wherein the wrongful act was committed at one place and it’s consequences were in the other place then the plaintiff can file the claim at either of the place. For example, If Om, a resident of Ayodhya beats Harry in Mumbai, Harry may institute a suit in Ayodhya or Mumbai.
Section 20 of the CPC covers the cases that have not been envisaged in any of the previous section. The plaintiff is at the liberty to institute a suit in any of the following places:
- The place where the cause of action arose, completely or in parts,
- Wherein the defendant carries out his business or resides or works or,
- In the case of multiple defendants, wherein any of the defendant resides or carries out their business or reside or work for gain.
For instance, Laxman is a merchant in Mirzapur. Ram carries business in Delhi. Ram through his agent bought goods from Laxman in Mirzapur and asked Laxman to deliver them to Namit. Laxman delivered the goods as required. Laxman can sue Ram for prices either in Mirzapur wherein the cause of action arose or in Delhi wherein the defendant resides. In another illustration wherein Bhrigu resides in Rampur, Sanat in Lakhanpur and Subhash in Calcutta. They all agree to conduct business in Ahmedabad and signed a contract with conditions. Sanat and Bhrigu breached a condition in the contract in Ahmedabad. Subhash can institute the suit in Ahmedabad or at Rampur wherein Bhrigu resides or at Lakhanpur wherein Sanat resides. Provided that the non-resident defendant in the case should not object.
The objective of this section is to secure justice and protect defendants from unwarranted expenses of travelling long distances in the cases in which he/she might be involved.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The subject matter can be defined as the power vested in a court to hear and try cases pertaining to a particular type and subject matter. It relates to the nature of the claim. In other words, it means that certain courts are excluded from hearing cases of nature. No question of merits can be decided by the courts which do not have subject matter jurisdiction. The court, in that case, can only decide only on jurisdiction and return the plaint. For instance, Kabira, a resident of Raipur, bought a food item of ZZ brand that was infested with pests. He should sue the ZZ company in Raipur District Forum rather than District Civil court of Raipur.
Section 21 of the code is related to the stage challenging the jurisdiction. In the case of Harshad Chiman Lal Modi v. DLF Universal Ltd. and Anr., In the instances of territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction, objections must be raised in the earliest opportunity and before the settlement of issues. However, with respect to the subject matter jurisdiction, the court without jurisdiction over subject matter cannot take up the suit. Any order passed by such a court will be void.
It refers to the court’s authority to take cognizance of cases that could be adjudicated in those courts in the first instance itself. Unlike the appellate jurisdiction wherein the courts review the already decided matter, here the cases are heard afresh. For instance, the Madras High court has the original jurisdiction with respect to matrimonial, probate, company matters and testamentary.
This refers to the court’s authority to review or rehear the cases that have already been decided in the lower courts. It is generally conferred upon the higher courts. In the Indian context, both the High court and Supreme court have the appellate jurisdiction to take matters that are bought in the form of appeals.
Critical Analysis of Civil Jurisdiction of Cyber Space
With the advent of artificial intelligence, there has been a massive aberration in online transactions. These transactions can lead to situations such as “Cyber Torts”. The Information Technology Act, 2000 was enacted to provide a legal framework for such transactions. Its purpose is to upgrade the outdated laws in order to deal with cyberlaw issues. it is imperative to examine the jurisdiction of then cyberlaw.
The jurisdiction is conferred upon the adjudicating officer if the matter is below Rs. 5 crores. The subject matter jurisdiction also lies with the adjudicating officer. But as already stated pecuniary jurisdiction is limited to Rs. 5 crores.
But territorial jurisdiction is not addressed properly in the Act. Though the act has a very well-defined adjudicating procedure yet, it fails to take cognisance of the most essential part. It is difficult to determine as it is borderless and spreads across over territories of any jurisdiction. As the specific law, IT act fails to determine the boundaries we must consider the general law i.e. the CPC for help. In India, generally, the civil jurisdiction lies where the wrong is done. It is based on the maxim of lex loci deliciti. While in property suits, it is based upon lex situs or law of physical location.
Unlike the conventional understanding of jurisdiction, cyber transactions pose difficult situations to determine the jurisdiction. It might happen that there might be multiple jurisdictions pertaining to the same suit. Enforcement and implementation of foreign decrees hold a great challenge. In order to implement the foreign decree, it should be final order with respect to the subjects, therefore, concisely settled by the parties amongst themselves.
With respect to the provision explained above, it is implicit that the foreign decrees are binding provided that the exceptions stated are taken care during the adjudication. Also, in case an individual or corporate has explicitly accepted the foreign jurisdiction then such individuals or corporates bound by the decision of it. Hence, any internet transaction can be taken cognisance throughout the country. The foreign decree passed against the Indian defendant is probably not enforceable based on the procedure laid in section 13 of CPC. It should be noted that the aggrieved party must approach Indian courts to either to get the foreign decree performed under section 44A or file an entirely new suit upon the decision for its enforcement. Thus, with obtaining a decree in the foreign court the aggrieved party averts leading evidence in India but faces bigger problems under section 13. So, it could be said that the foreign complainant should file the claim in India if the defendant is a resident of India. As the Internet transaction will have a large number of documentary evidence and leading of evidence won’t be burdensome. Therefore, it is suggested that to take care of the problems under section 13 and institute the claims in India.
Now, In the vice versa case, wherein the aggrieved party is in India and the defendant resides in a foreign jurisdiction, it can be tackled by section 19 of CPC. Section 19 allows for the filing of a suit for damages of the wrong committed to the movable property or the person. The suit can be instituted at the jurisdiction of the place of business or residence of the defendant or the place wherein wrong was done.
As already explained in the above part, Section 20 could be used to secure justice as it is wide encompassing provision to tackle the issues of jurisdiction left out in the above sections. Section 45 of the CPC envisages a possibility of execution of a decree passed by Indian courts in the foreign jurisdiction under certain situations. So, it will help in transferring the execution decree from Indian jurisdiction to a foreign jurisdiction.
A certified copy of the decree from the foreign or superior court has to be filed in the district court then such decree will be perceived as if it were passed in India and the decree can be executed by the district court. Along with the certified copy, another certificate has to file that states the extent to which the decree has been satisfied. Section 47 governs the procedure for filing of the certified copy and the District court can refuse to execute the decision if the execution falls under the exception stated in subsections (a) to (f) of section 13. Hence, the issue of jurisdiction can be solved with by invoking CPC along with the IT act, 2000.
There is no proper jurisdictional procedure laid in any other statute other than CPC. Issues regarding Jurisdiction of cyberlaw often pose a hurdle for the institution of civil suits. The universal nature of cyber laws has transcended the geographical boundaries and an extraterritorial jurisdiction is required. In addition, execution is a complex process that seems to be futile with regards to the extraterritorial jurisdiction. Though the use of CPC can help in solving the jurisdiction issues of cyber law. It is suggested that CPC should be amended in order to avoid the complex application i.e. to simplify the procedures.
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