This article is written by Siddharth Tripathi, from Symbiosis law school, Hyderabad.
It is the established and intrinsic part of the law that if any statute confers jurisdiction upon the court of law, any suit before such court has to be decided within the limits of authority and not beyond it. Such a limit of the court’s authority is the jurisdiction of that court. Jurisdiction is defined as judicial authority granted to the court of law in order to adjudicate legal disputes within the authorized area of responsibility. The rationale of jurisdiction is to decide the competency of the court of adjudication in relation to geographical, territorial, pecuniary, and other related aspects of a particular suit. Whenever the suit is instituted before the court of law the first stage before starting proceedings is to scrutinize whether such a court is competent to decide the suit before it or not. If the court has the necessary jurisdiction which is required in order to successfully adjudicate upon the matter, then such court has the power to adjudicate and subsequently decide the issue. However, if the court of law lacks necessary jurisdiction, then such a court is barred from deciding such a suit.
“It is the natural as well as legal right to institute the civil suit in order to claim damages for the loss caused by the act of the defendant.” This right is based on the nation of nature as well as classical law which guides out that where it is right, there is also an effective remedy to cure if any wrong is caused. However, after the institution of the suit, there can be instances that such a suit cannot be tried by the court due to lack of proper jurisdiction. The court with lack of jurisdiction cannot try the suit anymore. Such a suit if passed by it is a nullity and that its invalidity can be challenged on the doctrine “coram non-judice.”. Such a decree so passed, has to be set aside and appeal is to be allowed by the court of law.
The article seeks to analyze the effect of opting for the wrong jurisdiction on the matter, with further elucidation on the function of both the above-mentioned provisions and the conditions when they are applied. The research paper will further analyse problems and solutions of opting for the wrong jurisdiction mainly by analysing statutory provisions along with various judicial pronouncements.
Kinds of jurisdiction
The territorial or local jurisdiction guides out the geographical limits within which the authority of courts is specified. Therefore, a court cannot exercise its power beyond the specified territorial or geographical limit. For example, if a certain cause of caution arose in Uttar Pradesh, only the courts within the territorial or geographical limits of Uttar Pradesh can hear and adjudicate that particular cause of action.
Pecuniary means “related to money or capital”. Pecuniary jurisdiction analyzes and addresses the authority of the court concerning its competence to adjudicate the case of particular monetary value. It guides out whether the court of law can try suits concerning the particular monetary value in question. For ex-“If the pecuniary jurisdiction of the lowest grade court is Rs.10000 and the court ascertains that monetary damage is 15000, the court is not deprived of its jurisdiction to pass a decree for that amount.”This is mainly because the main objective of pecuniary jurisdiction is to prevent the Higher Court from getting itself burdened with suits whose monetary value falls under the range of their adjudication
In the case of Karan Singh v. Chaman paswan, the plaintiff filed the suit for recovery of damages of Rs. 2950 in the subordinate court on being illegally deprived of the leased property, but the court dismissed the suit. Afterward, on appeal to the district court, the Order of the subordinate court was upheld. However, on the second appeal to the High Court, it reversed the judgment of subordinate courts and held the defendant liable to provide Rs. 9980 as damages to the plaintiff. The appellant contested that the Order passed by the district court is null and void, due to its incompetency in light of the limit for pecuniary jurisdiction, but the High Court dismissed the claim. Later the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court and held that the Order of district court is not void.
Subject matter Jurisdiction
This jurisdiction defines the court competency and its authority to adjudicate the cases of a particular type of subject matter. It means that certain courts are barred from adjudicating the cases of certain subject matter. For example- “District consumer forums established under consumer protection act, 1986 have jurisdiction only to adjudicate and decide upon the matters pertaining to consumer related cases.” It cannot try criminal cases. In the case of P.Dasa Muni Reddy v. P. Appa Rao The Supreme Court held that the mere institution of a suit before the rent controller by mistake would not confer jurisdiction on him where the subject matter was outside the realm of rent control legislation, and the civil court has the jurisdiction to try that particular suit. It was held that subject matter jurisdiction is the most important and non-curable out of other kinds of jurisdiction and if judicial decision lacks subject matter decision, such adjudication would be treated as non-est and void in law.
Original and appellate Jurisdiction
“Original jurisdiction refers to the court authority to take cognizance and adjudicate the suits which can be decided in that court at the first instance itself.” “Whereas, Appellate jurisdiction refers to the authority of the court to review and adjudicate the cases that are already heard and decided by the subordinate courts.” In India, both the High Court and Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction and can review again the decided suits brought in the form of appeals.
In the case of Kiran Singh & Ors. v. Chaman Paswan & Ors., “The apex court held judgment passed by the court lacking jurisdiction is a nullity and invalid and that, its validity can be challenged at any time during the course of execution or even at collateral proceedings.”A defect pertaining to lack of jurisdiction in relation to territorial, pecuniary, or subject matter of the action strikes at the very competence of the court which lacks authority to pass any decree. However, such defect cannot be validated with the consent of parties to the suit.”
Therefore, It can be mentioned that territorial jurisdiction guides out the geographical limits, and Pecuniary jurisdiction decides the competence of the court to adjudicate the case of particular monetary value. The subject matter jurisdiction is the court’s authority to adjudicate the cases concerning a special type of subject matter Original jurisdiction is the first instance jurisdiction of any court in which cases are heard afresh. Appellate jurisdiction is invoked when suits already decided are again heard.
Effects on the bar of jurisdiction of civil court
There is no issue when an express bar of jurisdiction as enumerated under Section 9 of CPC,1908 is concerned. However, problems arose when there was an implied bar by some other statutory provisions..“In the case of Dhulabhai v. State of MP, the five-judge bench had expressly dealt out with this issue and held that jurisdiction of civil court must be excluded when any statutory provision gives finality to the Order of special tribunal and such tribunal has acted within the principle judicial procedure.”However, if it is shown that the tribunal had not acted in conformity in relation to special powers accorded to it, then the civil court has the discretionary power to adjudicate again on the same suit.
“In the case of Ramesh Gobind Ram v. SHM Waqf, The pertinent issue to decide is whether the civil court has the power to adjudicate on the suit, which can also be tried by the tribunal under a special law.” The court held that in such a scenario Order of preference must first be given to the civil court and then to the tribunal empowered to adjudicate the same suit under a special law. On the same parlance, in the case of Rajasthan SRTC v. Bal Mukund Bairwa, The court held that even if there is an express bar on civil court authority to decide the issue, such court can exercise its discretionary power and decide the matter if it found that tribunal has adjudicated upon the matter without adhering to fair judicial procedure and has acted beyond its competence It can be inferred that ouster of civil court jurisdiction should not be presumed at the very outset and reasonable interpretation as to the effectiveness of Orders adjudicated by statutory authority or any other tribunal should be conducted.
It can be inferred that when an express bar of jurisdiction as enumerated under Section 9 of CPC,1908 is concerned there is no problem in relation to jurisdiction. However, problems arose when there was an implied bar by some other statutory provisions. In this regard, the five-judge bench had expressly dealt out and held that jurisdiction of the civil court must be excluded when any statutory provision gives finality to the Order of special tribunal and such tribunal has acted within the principle judicial procedure. Also, exclusion of civil court jurisdiction must be effectuated only under special circumstances.
Lack of jurisdiction and inherent lack of jurisdiction
Lack of jurisdiction means when the suit is out of the ambit of a court authority by the virtue of any reason which renders such suit out of the jurisdiction of the court. In the case of Hira Lal Patni V. Kali Nath, It was held that the validity of any decree can be challenged on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction during any stage of the proceedings. This is mainly because the subject matter of the suit was wholly foreign to its jurisdiction. It can be inferred that judgment decided by the court of law lacking jurisdiction is void and its validity can be challenged whenever such defect is discovered. However, Lack of jurisdiction pertaining to pecuniary or territorial jurisdiction cannot be said to be an inherent lack of jurisdiction.
It is to be noted that a defect in pecuniary or territorial jurisdiction does not vitiate the decree and regard it as a nullity. If the court adjudicates on the suit lacking pecuniary or territorial jurisdiction, such decision of the court cannot be regarded as nullity at first instance. As per Section 21 CPC if objection on pecuniary or territorial jurisdiction is not raised at the earliest possible opportunity and such decree does not result in failure of justice to any of the parties to suit then lack of such jurisdiction will not turn the decree as a nullity. “In the case of Ittyavira Mathai v. Varkey and ors., the issue before the apex court is whether the decree passed by the court which has jurisdiction over the subject matter and parties to suit is nullity if such suit was time-barred for which decree is passed.” The apex court opined affirmatively and held that such degree cannot be termed as nullity but at the Highest can be termed as an illegal decree.
On the same parlance, inherent lack of jurisdiction is when subject matter to be decided is wholly outside the jurisdiction of the court of law to render such decision, if passed, as a nullity. This jurisdiction defect is of the Highest degree and liable to be set aside at any stage of proceedings. In such a case the appellate court would interfere with the decree passed and will set aside it as such decree is Coram non-judice and void.
It can be inferred that the judiciary has mentioned in its various judgments regarding repercussions on suits under lack and inherent lack of jurisdiction. In the former case which is mostly related to a defect in territorial or pecuniary jurisdiction, the decision of the court does not vitiate the decree and regard it as a nullity. However, in the latter case, which is mostly related to defect in subject matter jurisdiction and decree passed in such case is compulsorily nullity and void ab initio.
Lack of jurisdiction- return or transfer
According to Order VII Rule 10 of Civil Procedure Code,1908 when there is a defect in jurisdiction so that continuation of proceedings of such suit is not possible, such suit can be returned to the court of competent jurisdiction at any stage when such defect comes into consideration. On the same parlance, Section 24(5) of CPC. 1908 empowers the High Court and district court to transfer the suit which lacks jurisdiction at any stage of proceedings.
Effects when the suit is returned on lack of jurisdiction-
When the suit is returned under Order VII Rule 10 of CPC, 1908 for the defect in the jurisdiction, such suit cannot be continued and it should be filed as a fresh suit in the court of competent jurisdiction. This means that at whatever stage the suit might be if during any such course defect in the jurisdiction is established such suit has been returned to the court of competent jurisdiction and it should be started as a de novo trial, that is from the beginning. In the case of ONGC Ltd. v. Modern Construction & Company The apex court held that when the suit is transferred from the court having lack of jurisdiction, to the court of competent jurisdiction, such a suit cannot be considered to be in continuation and it should commence from the beginning. The court also held that the plaintiff can exclude the period before the previous court under Section 14 of the limitation act and is also entitled to an adjustment in the court fees paid.
Before this case, The Supreme Court gave a contrasting opinion in Joginder Tuli v. S.L Bhatia, in which amendment in the plaint increased the cost of suit, and hence pecuniary jurisdiction was lost. The High Court on the revision of the plaintiff affirmed that the suit must be continued from where it stood transfer under Order VII Rule 10 and there is no need for a de-novo trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the High Court on the ground that evidence in the suit has already been presented and the suit is past the stage of presentation.
Further, the apex court in the case of Oriental insurance company v. Tejparas Associates and Exports Pvt. Ltd., relied on Joginder Tuli v. SL Bhatia, and interpreted rules 10A and 10B which were added in Civil Procedure Code,1976 vide amendment act 1976. Rule 10A empowers the court of the first instance to decide the date at which both parties should appear before the court in which suit is transferred under Order VII Rule 10 of CPC,1908. It held that since the date for appearance before a court of competent jurisdiction is itself decided by the court which transfers the suit, it cannot be termed as a new filling of the suit and there is a continuation of the suit.
However, the apex court in the case of M/S. Exl Careers and Anr. v. Frankfinn Aviation Services Pvt. Ltd., reversed the judgment of Oriental Insurance co. v. Tejparas Associated and exports Pvt.Ltd and Joginder Tuli v. S.L Bhatia. Regarding the former, the court held that Rule 10A was inserted so that after transferring suit to the court of competent jurisdiction and deciding the date of hearing in advance, the necessity of serving summons on the defendant can be obviated. This means that Rule 10A is not related to the court of the first instance and in such a case suit has to commence de novo. In the latter case, the apex court struck down its ratio decidendi affirmatively and held that the instant case has not referred to any precedents on the subject and hence overlooked judicial procedure.
The Amendment Act of 1976 also added clause (5) to Section 24 of the Civil Procedure Code,1908. According to this Section, the suit may be transferred from the court which has no jurisdiction to the court of competent jurisdiction to try such a suit. The High Court and district court are empowered under the Section to transfer the case from the court lacking jurisdiction before any subordinate court which is competent in terms of its jurisdiction to try that particular suit. Under this Section, the High Court is also empowered to take Suo moto cognizance and withdraw any case from subordinate court and adjudicate upon it. In the same parlance, it can also transfer such a suit that may be pending, at the stage of appeal or any proceeding to the court of competent jurisdiction. However, this Section does not grant power to the High Court to transfer the suit which lacks jurisdiction from the court of one state to the court of another state.
The Delhi High Court in the case of Pushpa Kapal v. Shiv Kumar, guide out the necessity of incorporating Section 24(5) in the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. In this case, the trial court order to return the plaint to the court of competent jurisdiction under Order VII rule 10, due to lack of pecuniary jurisdiction. Under it, plaint has to be started de novo but parties to the suit contended that since evidence had already been presented, plaint must be transferred under Section 24(5) of CPC and it should begin from the stage it stood at the time of transfer. The Court upheld the application filed under Section 24(5), read with Section 151 of CPC,1908. The Court noted the pertinent reason for the enactment of Section 24(5) is to secure justice and obviate any harassment to the parties of the suit. Similarly, in the case of Aviat Chemicals v. Magna Laboratory, the plaintiff lost the pecuniary Jurisdiction and permanent injunction was enforced against the defendant. There was a risk that such an Order of injunction would be rendered invalid on the pretext of lack of jurisdiction and such could defeat the purpose of the suit. The court in this matter held that the purpose of the suit is to render out substantial justice and decide the suit expeditiously. It opined that a de novo trial will only frustrate the justice more if such a suit that has passed a certain stage and has been pending for years would be rendered invalid.
Rule VII Order 10 guides out the return of suit to the court of competent jurisdiction and such suit must be started de-novo ie. From the beginning. In the same parlance, the suit can also be transferred by either district court or High Court to the court of competent Jurisdiction under Section 24(5) CPC and in such case, it has to be analyzed whether the trial should be started de novo keeping in view the adherence to the law of procedure, equity and justice. If there is the possibility that such return of suit would breach the justice and cause prejudice to the parties on the pretext that such suit has made significant progress,` it has to be transferred under Section 24(5) CPC and should begin from the stage at which it stood transfer from the court of the first instance.
After the foregoing discussion, it can be concluded that change or alteration in jurisdiction occurs due to inevitable reasons. Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code guides out that the court shall have the jurisdiction to try the particular case unless expressly or impliedly barred. In this context, it is concluded that if the court lacks jurisdiction pertaining to “subject matter”, then the suit is nullity and void as such suit is regarded as coram non-judice. In the same parlance, if there is a lack of jurisdiction pertaining to pecuniary or territorial limits, then such suit is not void at first instance and the court has to satisfy then such decision does not obviate the fair judicial mechanism. However, objections in such cases must be made at the earliest point in time. In the former case, a trial has to be commenced de-novo, in the latter, it could have avoided that but not necessarily.
Similarly, when the suit lacks jurisdiction there can be either return or transfer of suit. “In the first instance, the suit is returned to the court of competent jurisdiction under Order VII Rule 10, whereas in the latter case it is transferred by the district court or Supreme Court Under Section 24(5) CPC.” On perusal of Section 24(5). This is a beneficial provision on this front, it can be concluded that cases pending in the court of incompetent jurisdiction for a long time or cases past important stages of proceedings are transferred to prevent any miscarriage of justice and encourage expeditious disposal of cases. This is how the main distinction between Order VII Rule 10 and Section 24(5) CPC can be sought.
It can be concluded that the absence of jurisdiction strikes the normal exercise of court authority to adjudicate the suit. Whereas want of jurisdiction may render the decree and Order passed therein as a nullity. In the same parlance, if there is the error of fact or law in the exercise of jurisdiction by the court of law which enjoys inherent jurisdiction to try the particular suit, such decree or Order passed will not vitiate the legality and validity of proceedings and it can only be set aside as per the procedure of law.
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