This article is written by Amulya Kaushik studying BA LLB ( Hons.) at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. This article deals with a simple analysis of the Jurisdiction sections of the Civil Procedure Code. This article has been edited by Ojuswi (Associate, Lawsikho).
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Jurisdiction means and includes any authority conferred by the law upon the court, tribunal, or judge to decide or adjudicate any dispute between the parties or pass judgment or order. Jurisdiction is a vital question for the court, which goes to the root of the case and decides the fate of the matter either at the preliminary stage or on merit. If an order is passed without jurisdiction, it becomes a nullity and not enforceable by law; since jurisdiction has not been defined in the code of civil procedure, it becomes essential to understand it so that the various sections of the code can be rightly comprehended, in this article the author aims to dissect the multiple areas of the code revolving around the jurisdiction of civil courts and convey them in an easy-to-understand fashion.
What is jurisdiction
Jurisdiction includes any authority conferred by law upon the court, tribunal, or judge to decide any dispute between the parties or to pass any judgment or order.
If an order or judgment is passed without Jurisdiction, it becomes a nullity and is not enforceable by law. Simply put, the ability of the court to try a case is known as Jurisdiction.
Types of jurisdictions
Territorial jurisdiction (Section 15 – Section 20)
Every court has local limits beyond which it cannot exercise its Jurisdiction; these limits are fixed by the government and are known as the court’s territorial jurisdiction. A court has no authority to try a suit for immovable property situated beyond its local limits.
Pecuniary jurisdiction (Section 6)
Every court will have the Jurisdiction to try only those suits wherein the amount or value of the subject matter involved in the suit does not exceed its pecuniary limits. For example, a Presidency Small Causes Court cannot entertain a suit in which the amount claimed exceeds Rs. 1000. This is known as Pecuniary Jurisdiction of the court.
It is pertinent to note that Section 6 is silent about whether or not a court can try a suit that is below its pecuniary Jurisdiction; it is for this reason one should always read section 6 with section 15, which says that a suit should always be instituted in the court of lowest grade competent to try it.
Subject matter jurisdiction (Section 9)
Certain courts are empowered to decide different types of suits, and certain other courts are precluded from entertaining particular suits. This is known as Jurisdiction relating to the subject matter. For example, the Presidency Small Causes Court has no jurisdiction to try suits for specific performance of the contract.
Understanding the sections
Section 9: Courts to try all suits unless barred
Every court has the jurisdiction to try all the suits of civil nature, excepting those suits the cognizance of which is either expressly or impliedly barred.
A civil court has the jurisdiction to try every suit if the following two conditions are met:
- The suit should be of civil nature.
- The suit should neither be expressly or impliedly barred.
- Suit of civil nature
The word civil pertains to the private rights and remedies of a citizen, and it is different from criminal, religious, and political rights. In contrast, the word nature has been defined as the fundamental quality of a person or a thing. It is the identity or essential character of a person.
Thus, the expression “suit of civil nature” is a suit where the principal question relates to the determination of civil rights and their enforcement. However, the matter in issue is not purely civil in nature. When it comes to civil suits, both the principal question and the matter in issue are strictly civil.
In Ganga Bai v Vijay Kumar, AIR 1974 SC 1126 (1129), the supreme court held that there is an inherent right to every person to bring a suit of civil nature, and unless the statute bars the suit, one may, at his peril, bring a suit of his choice. A suit for its maintainability requires no authority of law, and it is enough that no statute bars the suit.
Therefore, what is the cause of action? Simply put, it is the reason for which one has instituted the plaint in the court. (The reason can be that a civil right has been breached, and the person has gone to the court to seek relief.) What is the subject matter in the issue? Anything that can prove the existence of a civil right that has been breached comes under the definition of matter in issue.
Section 9 uses the word shall, which means it casts an obligation on the court to exercise its jurisdiction for the enforcement of rights.
Following are some illustrations for the suit of civil nature: (List is not exhaustive)
- Suits by government servant for salary arrears: In State of Bihar V Abdul Majid, AIR 1954 SC245, the court held that a suit for recovery of arrears by a civil servant for the period he was actually in the office is maintainable in a civil court.
- Suits relating to the right of worship: It was held in Ugam Singh v Kesrimal, AIR 1971 SC 2540 (2545), that a right of worship is a civil right. Interference with such a right arises the dispute of civil nature.
- Suits relating to religious and other processions: In the case of Ramanuja v Ranga Ramanuja, AIR 1961 SC1720, the Supreme Court laid down certain principles deciding whether the right to a religious office would be a right of civil nature or not, These are:
- A suit for a declaration concerning religious honours and privileges simpliciter will not lie in a civil court;
- A suit to establish one’s right to an office in a temple and honours, privileges, remuneration, or requisites attached to such an office will be maintainable in a civil court;
- Right of burial;
- Right of persons elected as Directors or Chairman as such;
- Right of Franchise;
- Suit for dissolution of Marriage.
Following are some illustrations of the suits which are not of civil nature: (List is not exhaustive)
- Suits involving caste questions particularly;
- Suits involving the question of how to worship;
- Suits for merely upholding dignity or honour.
It was held in Narayan Mudali v Peria Kalathi Mudali, AIR 1939 Mad 494, that it is not the province or the duty of a civil court to pronounce the truth of religious tenets and to regulate religious rights or ceremonies.
- Suits that are either expressly or impliedly barred
Section 9 makes it clear that the court shall not have jurisdiction to try the suit, which is either expressly or impliedly barred.
The word expressly barred means where the jurisdiction of the suit is given to a particular body such as a tribunal or a forum, and the law also mentions that such tribunal or forum shall have the exclusive jurisdiction. On the other hand, an implied bar means when the law has made a particular body or forum but does not expressly say that such forum or body will have exclusive jurisdiction.
Sometimes the Implied bar is also considered based on public policy; for example, no suit can be brought against a judge for acts done by him during the performance of his duties.
Who will decide the jurisdiction
It is a settled principle of law that a civil court has the inherent power to decide the question of its jurisdiction.
Test for exclusion of civil court’s jurisdiction
The civil courts have the jurisdiction to try all the suits of civil nature except those the cognizance of which is either expressly or impliedly barred. Any statute which excludes such jurisdiction is an exception to the general rule that all disputes shall be triable by a civil court. The courts cannot readily infer any such exception.
It was held in Unichem Laboratories Ltd v Rani Devi, AIR 2017 SC 2050. Jurisdiction of civil court is plenary unless the same is ousted expressly or by necessary implication. It will have jurisdiction to try all types of suits.
It is pertinent to note that where there is more than one competent court to entertain a suit, the parties to a contract agree to vest jurisdiction in one of such courts, ousting of jurisdiction of the other court. The contract is clear, unambiguous and explicit, and not vague. It is not hit by sections 23 and 28 of the contract act.
Place of suing
The expression place of suing means the trial’s venue and has nothing to do with the court’s competency. Section 15 -20 of the civil procedure code 1908 regulates the forum for the institution of suits.
Section 15 requires the plaintiff to file a suit in a court of the lowest grade competent to try it. Section 16-18 deals with suits relating to wrong committed to a person or immovable/movable property.
Section 20 is residuary and covers every other case, which does not fall under sections 16-19.
Section 16: Suits to be instituted where subject-matter situate:
According to Section 16, any suit relating to
- Recovery of immovable property
- Partition of immovable property
- Foreclosure/ sale/ redemption of mortgage
- Charge on immovable property
- Determination of any other right on immovable property
- Suit for recovery of any movable property under restraint or attachment
- Suit for compensation for any wrong done to immovable property
Shall be filed where subject-matter situate.
The object of this section is to limit the territorial jurisdiction of courts regarding the property. The explanation attached to the section makes it clear that courts have no power to entertain suits in respect of properties situated outside India. It is not sufficient that the court had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. Its jurisdiction must include the power to hear and decide the particular controversy that has arisen between the parties.
However, it was held in GT Firm v DJ Co Bombay, AIR 1955 Nag 250 (FB) that courts are not precluded from trying any question regarding property lying outside their territorial jurisdiction where such question arises incidentally.
Proviso to the section
This provides that the suits to obtain relief respecting, or compensation for wrong to, immovable property may be instituted at the option of the plaintiff either in the court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the property is situated or in the court within local limits of whose jurisdiction, the defendant resides, or carries on business or personally works for gain, provided the following conditions are met.
- the property is held by or on behalf of the defendant.
- that the relief sought can be entirely obtained through the personal obedience of the defendant.
- the property is situated in India.
The proviso does not apply when the plaintiff itself holds the property.
Section 17: Suits for immovable property situate within the jurisdiction of different courts.
Section 17 makes it clear that where a suit is to obtain relief respecting, or compensation for wrong to, immovable property and the property is situated in the jurisdiction of different courts. Then the suit can be filed in any court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction any portion of the property is situated.
Provided that the court in which the suit is filed should have pecuniary jurisdiction to take cognizance of the case.
Section 18: Place of the institution of the suit where local limits of the jurisdiction of courts are uncertain
In Section 18, where it is uncertain as to within whose jurisdiction of two or more courts the immovable property is situated, any of those courts may try the suit relating to the property after recording the statement of uncertainty and proceed to entertain and dispose of the suit relating to that property.
Section 19: Suits for compensation for wrongs to person or movables
In Section 19, suits under this section for compensation of wrong done to the person or personal property may be brought at the plaintiff’s option either where the wrong is committed or where the defendant resides or carries on business or works personally for gain.
Section 20: Other suits to be instituted where the defendant resides, or cause of action arises
This Section is designed to ensure that justice might be brought as near as possible to every man’s heart-stone and that the defendant should not be put to the trouble and expense of travelling long distances to defend himself. The principle behind the provisions of clauses(a) and (b) of Section 20 is that the suit should be instituted at a place where the defendant can defend the suit without undue trouble.
According to the clauses of Section 20, every suit shall be instituted in a court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction.
- The defendant/defendants, at the time of the commencement of the suit, voluntarily resides, carry on business, or personally work for gain.
- When the defendant/defendants reside in different areas, then any area where one of the defendants resides can be chosen to file the suit but with the consent of all defendants or with the court’s permission.
- Where the cause of action arises, wholly or partially.
According to the explanation attached to the section, in case a suit is to be filed against a corporation then there are two options:
A suit can be filed either at
(i) at the principal office of the corporation;
(ii) at the branch office, provided the cause of action arose there;
(iii) if the corporation only has one office, then at that location.
In conclusion, it can be said that a civil court has the jurisdiction to try every suit provided the suit should be of civil nature, and the suit is neither expressly nor impliedly barred. The civil court has jurisdiction to resolve the problem of its jurisdiction. Section 15 requires the plaintiff to file a suit in a court of the lowest grade competent to try it. In contrast, sections 16-18 deal with suits relating to wrong committed to a person or immovable/movable property. Section 20 is residuary and covers every other case, which does not fall under sections 16-19.
- (1959) AIR P&H 58.
- Code of Civil Procedure.
- Ganga Bai v Vijay Kumar, AIR 1974 SC 1126 (1129)
- State of Bihar V Abdul Majid, AIR 1954 SC245
- Ugam Singh v Kesrimal, AIR 1971 SC 2540 (2545)
- Ramanuja v Ranga Ramanuja, AIR 1961 SC1720
- Narayan Mudali v Peria Kalathi Mudali, AIR 1939
- Unichem Laboratories Ltd v Rani Devi, AIR 2017 SC 2050
- GT Firm v DJ Co Bombay, AIR 1955 Nag 250 (FB)
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