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Suit of Civil Nature in CPC

Updated: May 5


Suit of Civil Nature in CPC


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Section 9 of CPC


According to Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a civil court maintains jurisdiction over all civil suits, unless specifically prohibited. The section states:


"The Court shall (subject to the provisions herein contained) have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature excepting suits of which their cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred.


Explanation I: A suit involving the contestation of rights to property or an office is considered a civil suit, regardless of whether such rights hinge solely on matters of religious rites or ceremonies.


Explanation II: This section disregards whether any fees are associated with the office mentioned in Explanation I, or whether such office is linked to a specific location."


Suit of Civil Nature


For a civil court to exercise jurisdiction over a suit, the initial requirement is that the suit must fall within the realm of civil nature. But what exactly constitutes a suit of civil nature? The term "civil" lacks a specific definition in the Code.


However, according to dictionary definitions, it pertains to the private rights and remedies of a citizen, distinct from criminal or political matters.


The term "nature," on the other hand, refers to the fundamental qualities, identity, or essential character of a person or thing. It carries a broader connotation.


Consequently, the phrase "civil nature" encompasses a wider scope than "civil proceeding."


A suit is deemed of civil nature if its primary question concerns the determination and enforcement of civil rights. It's not the legal status of the parties involved that defines whether a suit is civil or not, but rather the subject matter under consideration.


Therefore, the crux lies in whether the suit revolves around the adjudication and enforcement of civil rights.


The term "suit of a civil nature" encompasses the private rights and obligations of citizens, excluding political and religious matters. If the principal issue in a suit pertains to caste or religion, it is not considered a suit of civil nature.


However, if the main question revolves around civil rights, such as property or office rights, and incidental issues involve caste or religious aspects, the suit remains within the realm of civil nature. In such cases, the jurisdiction of a civil court is not precluded.


The court holds authority to adjudicate on these incidental matters to resolve the primary civil issue.


Explanation II, introduced by the Amendment Act of 1976, addresses the ambiguity surrounding suits concerning religious offices with no associated fees or location. It clarifies that such suits are indeed suits of a civil nature, irrespective of whether fees are attached or if the office is tied to a specific place.


This explanation eliminates previous discrepancies in judicial interpretation regarding the civil nature of suits related to religious offices, providing clear guidance on their maintainability in civil courts.

 
 

Most Rev. P.M.A. Metropolitan v. Moran Mar Marthoma


In the case of Most Rev. P.M.A. Metropolitan v. Moran Mar Marthoma, the Supreme Court provided an insightful explanation of the concept of jurisdiction under Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure.


The Court highlighted the expansive nature of the section, noting its inclusive language that both opens the door widely and only bars suits that are expressly or impliedly prohibited.


The Court emphasised the legislative intent behind Section 9, particularly elucidated through its two explanations. These explanations underscore the extension of the section's operation to religious matters involving property or office rights, regardless of whether fees are attached to the office.


The language used in the section is described as simple yet explicit, structured on the fundamental principle that the absence of enforcement mechanisms renders rights meaningless.


By analysing the heading of the section and the use of words like "shall" and "all suits of a civil nature," the Court emphasised the mandatory nature of the section and the obligation it imposes on courts to entertain suits falling within its description.


The term "civil" is defined broadly, encompassing rights and remedies sought through civil actions, distinct from criminal proceedings. The inclusion of the term "nature" further expands the scope of the section, encompassing disputes that affect one's rights and are not only civil but also of civil nature.


The Court clarified that Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure applies to all disputes characterised by affecting one's rights, extending its jurisdiction to a wide range of cases beyond mere civil proceedings.



Examples

The following aresuits of a civil nature:


(i) Suits Relating to rights to property; 

(ii) Suits Relating to rights of worship; 

(iii) Suits relating to taking out of religious processions; 

(iv) Suits relating to right to shares in offerings; 

(v) Suits for damages for civil wrongs 

(vi) Suits for specific performance of contracts or for damages for breach of contracts; 

(vii) Suits for specific reliefs; 

(viii) Suits for restitution of conjugal rights; 

(ix) Suits for dissolution of marriages; 

(x) Suits for rents; 

(xi) Suits for or on accounts; 

(xii) Suits for rights of franchise; 

(xiii) Suits for rights to hereditary offices;

(xiv) Suits for rights to Yajman Vritis; 

(xv) Suits against wrongful dismissals from service and for salaries, etc


The following are not suits of a civil nature: 


(i) Suits involving principally caste questions; 

(ii) Suits involving purely religious rites or ceremonies; 

(iii) Suits for upholding mere dignity or honour; 

(iv) Suits for recovery of voluntary payments or offerings; 

(v) Suits against expulsions from caste, etc.


Expressly or Impliedly Barred


When a litigant seeks redress for a civil matter, they have the right to initiate a civil suit unless its cognizance is explicitly or implicitly prohibited.


A suit is considered "expressly barred" when it is prohibited by a current enactment. Competent legislatures have the authority to restrict the jurisdiction of civil courts regarding specific types of civil suits.


This includes matters falling exclusively within the jurisdiction of Revenue Courts, or those governed by the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as issues handled by specialised tribunals established under relevant statutes.


Examples of such tribunals include Industrial Tribunals, Election Tribunals, Rent Tribunals, Income Tax Tribunals, Motor Accident Claims Tribunals, and domestic tribunals like Bar Councils and Medical Councils.


However, if the remedy provided by a statute proves inadequate and certain questions cannot be fully addressed by a special tribunal, the jurisdiction of a civil court remains intact and is not ousted.


In situations where a statute grants finality to the decisions of a specialised tribunal, the jurisdiction of civil courts must be deemed excluded, provided there is an adequate remedy available to address matters typically handled by civil courts.


Consequently, each case necessitates scrutiny to determine whether the statute offers appropriate rights and remedies, and whether its procedural framework effectively replaces that of a civil court.


Essentially, the examination revolves around whether the statute in question provides sufficient mechanisms for resolution and redress, and whether its provisions are structured in a manner akin to those of civil court procedures.


A suit is considered "impliedly barred" when it is prohibited by general legal principles. When a statute provides a specific remedy, it effectively precludes individuals from seeking redress through any other means apart from those outlined in the statute (Jitendra Nath v Empire India and Ceylon Tea Co. AIR 1990 SC 255).


Similarly, certain civil suits, although falling within the realm of civil nature, may be barred on grounds of public policy.


Examples include suits by a witness to recover money promised in exchange for testimony, suits based on agreements deemed void due to public policy considerations, and suits for damages against judicial officers for actions taken in the course of their duties.


In Laxmi Chand v Gram Panchayat, Kararia (AIR 1996 SC 523), it was determined that the Land Acquisition Act establishes a comprehensive framework, thereby implicitly excluding the jurisdiction of civil courts to adjudicate cases arising under the Act.

 
 

Presumption as to Jurisdiction 


It is well-settled that a civil court has inherent power to decide its own In dealing with the question whether a civil court's jurisdiction to entertain a suit is barred or not, it is necessary to bear in mind that every presumption should be made in favour of the jurisdiction of a civil court.


The exclusion of jurisdiction of a civil court to entertain civil causes should not be readily interred unless the relevant statute contains an express provision to that effect, or leads to a necessary and inevitable implication of that nature.


Burden of Proof 


It is well-settled that it is for the party who seeks to oust the jurisdiction of a civil court to establish it. It is equally well-settled that a statute ousting the jurisdiction of a civil court must be strictly construed.*


Where such a contention is raised, it has to be determined in the light of the words used in the statute, the scheme of the relevant provisions and the object and purpose of the enactment.


In the case of a doubt as to jurisdiction, the court should lean towards the assumption of jurisdiction.


Exclusion of Jurisdiction of Civil Court: Principles


In the landmark case of Dhulabhai v. State of M.P., Chief Justice Hidayatullah outlined several key principles regarding the exclusion of jurisdiction of civil courts:


(a) When a statute grants finality to the decisions of special tribunals, the jurisdiction of civil courts is excluded if there exists an adequate remedy equivalent to what civil courts would typically provide.


However, this exclusion does not extend to cases where the provisions of the Act are not followed or when the tribunal fails to adhere to fundamental principles of judicial procedure.


(b) If there is an express bar on the jurisdiction of a court, an assessment of the adequacy of the remedies provided by the Act's scheme may be relevant but not decisive in maintaining the jurisdiction of civil courts.


In cases where there is no express exclusion, an examination of the remedies and the Act's scheme becomes necessary to determine the legislative intent.


This includes assessing whether the statute creates a special right or liability and mandates that tribunals constituted under the Act determine all questions related to such rights or liabilities.


(c) Challenges to the constitutionality of provisions in a particular Act cannot be brought before tribunals established under that Act. Even the High Court cannot entertain such questions through revision or reference from tribunal decisions.


However, if a provision is declared unconstitutional or its constitutionality is challenged, a civil suit is permissible. A writ of certiorari may include a direction for refund if the claim is within the prescribed time limit under the Limitation Act, but it is not mandatory to substitute a suit.


(d) In cases where a specific Act lacks provisions for refund of taxes collected in excess of constitutional limits or unlawfully collected, a civil suit is permissible.


(e) Questions regarding the correctness of an assessment, aside from its constitutionality, are within the jurisdiction of the authorities. A civil suit is not maintainable if the authorities' decisions are deemed final or if there is an express prohibition in the Act.


In both scenarios, an examination of the Act's scheme is warranted.


(f) Exclusion of the jurisdiction of civil courts should not be readily inferred unless the conditions outlined above are met.

 
 

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