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Supreme Court Remands Property Dispute Case for Fresh High Court Review

Court: Supreme Court of India

Quorum: Hon’ble J. Rajesh Bindal, J. Vikram Nath

Date: November 06, 2023

 

Facts of the case

Kallu Bhai bought a property in Indore in 1913 in the name of his three-year-old nephew, Mohd. Jafar. Kallu Bhai died without any children in 1952, and his second wife died in 1970. Syed Mohd. Hasan, who had been brought to live with Kallu Bhai, was around 7-8 years old when his mother died.

Due to poor health, Mohd. Jafar sold the property to Raza Hussain in 1975. In 1977, Raza Hussain filed a suit against Syed Mohd. Hasan for possession and damages. The trial court ruled in favor of Raza Hussain in 1995, but this decision was overturned by the High Court on appeal by Syed Mohd. Hasan.

 

Legal issue

Did the High Court err in reversing the trial court’s judgment without thoroughly discussing all the evidence on record?

 

Contentions of appellants

The petitioners argued that the trial court’s judgment favoring them was well-reasoned and supported by evidence, including the validity of the sale deed from 1975. They contended that the High Court erred in reversing this judgment without adequately discussing the evidence. They emphasized that the High Court failed to recognize the sale deed and the purchase agreement, both validated by a handwriting expert. The petitioners challenged the defendant’s claim of adverse possession, noting it was not initially pleaded. They argued the defendant was a licensee and not in rightful possession of the property. They highlighted that their predecessor issued eviction notices ignored by the defendant, leading to the civil suit. They asserted that the property was always in the possession of their predecessor-in-interest, negating the defendant’s adverse possession claim. They claimed a clear error in the High Court’s judgment warranted its reversal and the restoration of the trial court’s decree in their favor.

 

Contentions of the respondents

The agreement to sell and sale deed were registered from Late Mohd. Jafar within 15 days when he was in poor health. Mohd. Jafar was never in possession of the disputed property. It always remained with the predecessor-in-interest of the respondent-defendant, who had been living with Late Kallu Bhai. The respondent-defendant was not in possession as a licensee, but in his own right. His possession was hostile to the knowledge of the owners who had sold the property. As the original owners had lost title to the property, it could not have been passed on to the predecessor-in-interest of the appellants. A plea of adverse possession was raised as an additional plea in the written statement, to which no reply was given by the appellants.

 

Judgment and Analysis

The Supreme Court found that the High Court had reversed the trial court’s well-reasoned judgment without properly discussing the entire evidence on record, which it was duty-bound to do. The court noted that the High Court failed to consider important evidence, including the opinion of a Handwriting Expert, testimony of witnesses to the sale deed, notices issued by the appellants’ predecessor to evict the respondent-defendant. The Supreme Court emphasized that as a First Appellate Court, the High Court was required to address all issues, decide the case with reasons, and show conscious application of mind to both law and facts. The Supreme Court found that the High Court had not referred to all the evidence produced by parties on various issues for re-appreciation and had recorded findings referring to only part of the evidence. Due to these shortcomings, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s judgment and remitted the matter back to the High Court for fresh consideration. The Supreme Court directed the High Court to give priority to this case due to its age and to decide the matter afresh, considering all documentary and oral evidence without being prejudiced by any observations made in the Supreme Court’s order. In essence, the Supreme Court’s judgment focuses on procedural issues rather than the merits of the case. It emphasizes the importance of thorough evidence examination and reasoned decision-making by appellate courts, especially when overturning lower court judgments.

 

Conclusion

The Supreme Court found that the High Court had erred in reversing the trial court’s judgment without thoroughly examining all the evidence. As a result, the case was remitted back to the High Court for fresh consideration, emphasizing the importance of proper appellate review and thorough examination of evidence in legal proceedings.

Reviewed by Maria Therese Syriac.

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Judicial Review Under Article 227: Deletion of Framed Issues and Recall of Witness for Cross-Examination: Delhi High Court

Judicial Review Under Article 227: Deletion of Framed Issues and Recall of Witness for Cross-Examination: Delhi High Court

Case title: Ritu Kumar vs Tarun Chander Malik & ANR
Case no.: CM(M) 1926 OF 2023, CM APPL. 60265 OF 2023
Dated on: 14TH May 2024
Quorum: Hon’ble Ms. Justice Shalinder Kaur.

FACTS OF THE CASE
This petition filed under Article 227 of the Constitution of India impugns the order dated 05.09.2023 passed by the court of the Additional District Judge-01, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi in CS No.442/2014 in the suit titled as ―Tarun Chander Malik vs Ritu Kumar‖. The petitioner is the defendant no.1, the respondent no.1 is the plaintiff & respondent no. 2 is the defendant no. 2 before the learned ADJ in the aforementioned suit. The petitioner is aggrieved that vide the impugned order dated 05.09.2023, the learned ADJ has suo moto deleted issues no.4, 5 & 7 which were originally framed by the learned trial court vide order dated 14.05.2015. The petitioner is further aggrieved as his application dated 31.05.2023 under Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (hereinafter ―CPC), to recall the plaintiff/respondent no.1 for cross examination qua the new documents produced on the direction of the court by the respondent no. 1, was disallowed. One may start the recital of the facts with the suit for possession filed by respondent no. 1 for recovery of possession of suit property admeasuring 7246 sq. ft. at 68, Janpath, New Delhi – 110001 (hereinafter referred as ‗suit property‘), which is in the possession of the petitioner. Respondent no. 1 averred that petitioner is the biological eldersister of the respondent no. 1 and respondent no. 2 is the husband of petitioner who is a proforma party. Respondent no. 1 at the age of about 1.5 years was given in adoption to late Sh. Tara Chand Malik and his wife Smt. Bhagwanti, after the adoption ceremony and on execution of duly registered deed of adoption dated 04.02.1968. Late Sh. Tara Chand Malik was the paternal uncle of late Sh. Ram Nath Malik, father of respondent no. 1 and petitioner, who owned the suit property and bequeathed it in favour of respondent no. 1 vide Will dated 16.08.1968 qua which probate certificate dated 02/28.08.1969 was granted. Sh. T.C. Malik was issueless.
Petitioner and the respondent no.1 moved applications under Section 151 of the CPC and both the applications were listed for arguments on 05.09.2023. The learned ADJ, with regard to the application of the petitioner under Section 151 of the CPC, seeking to recall respondent no.1 for further cross examination, dismissed the same Further, the application moved by the respondent no.1 under Section 151 of the CPC for closing defendants evidence was disposed off by the learned ADJ, while granting 3 effective opportunities, subject to payment of costs imposed earlier.The petitioner contested the civil suit and filed the written statement. The biological relationship between respondent no. 1 and petitioner was not disputed, however, the petitioner refuted that respondent no. 1 was given in adoption to late Sh. Tara Chand Malik. It is the case of the petitioner that one room in the suit property is in possession of the petitioner being the owner, in accordance with the oral family settlement arrived in the year 1993.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT
The learned counsel for Petitioner submitted that the learned ADJ passed the impugned order, deleting the previously framed issues which were framed under identical facts and circumstances of the case without following the prescribed procedure under Order XIV Rule 5 of the CPC. The deletion of these issues, primarily based on irrational findings have led to the rejection of the petitioner‘s application under Section 151 of the CPC. Moreso, because of impugned order, the petitioner has been rendered practically defenceless by deletion of the pivotal issues forming the backbone of the dispute involving determination of rights of the parties. The Learned Counsel contended that the matter of adoption serves as the corner stone of respondent no.1‘s suit, and the dispute between the parties cannot be resolved unless the court adjudicates on the adoption issue. The petitioner has asserted that the denial of the opportunity to present evidence regarding the issues is resulting in significant prejudice to the petitioner‘s interests and is impeding the equitable adjudication of the matter between the parties. The Learned Counsel further argued that it is an established legal principle that probate is granted without delving into the specific contents of the Will. The Probate Court lacks jurisdiction to decide matters pertaining to the ownership of the properties in question or to determine whether said properties, as bequeathed in the Will, were ancestral assets or personal acquisitions of the testator. Additionally, the Counsel asserted that a conveyance deed holds no relevance in establishing the validity of an adoption or determining ownership rights. Moreso, while passing the order allowing the application of petitioner under Order XI Rule 14 CPC, the learned Trial Court observed that Will of Smt. Bhagwati is necessary to decide the issue of adoption.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS
The respondent submitted that the Endlaw raised the plea that the impugned order is justified and cannot be faulted with as the learned ADJ has exercised its jurisdiction within the framework of law by suo moto deleting the issues. The moment it came to the notice of the learned ADJ that certain issues were superfluous and would waste the precious time of the court by letting parties to lead evidence, it suo moto deleted the said issues. The learned counsel submitted that it is not disputed that the court can Suo moto delete or add issues. The Learned Counsel for the respondents further placed reliance on “K.K Velusamy vs. N Palanisamy” (2011) 11 SCC 275, where the precise nature and scope of Section 151 of the CPC was dealt with and clarified. the argument of the petitioner that PW1 is to be confronted with the additional documents. It is submitted that the petitioner had raised a limited plea to production of documents which has been allowed by the learned Trial Court but these documents could not be put to PW1 as the respondents never had a chance to rebut the documents and if a further cross examination of PW1 is permitted, it would prejudice the claims of the respondents.

Issues
1. Whether the suit property is self-acquired property of the deceased Sh. Tara Chand Malik or HUF property?
2. Whether the plaintiff was adopted son of late Sh. Tara Chand Malik and his wife Smt. Bhagwanti Devi?
3. Whether the suit is bad for misjoinder of necessary parties?

LEGAL PROVISIONS
Section 151 CPC: It gives inherent powers to the court to do justice.
Order XIV Rule 5 of the CPC: The Court at any time before passing a decree, frame an additional issues on such terms as it deems fit as may be necessary for determining the matters in controversy between the parties.
Article 227 of Indian Constitution: Every High Court shall have superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction
Order XI Rule 14 CPC: It allows the court to order the production of documents if they relate to any matter in question in the suit.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT
The present petition, the petitioner has invoked the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 227 of the Constitution of India which delineates a crucial aspect of judicial oversight over subordinate courts and tribunals, as interpreted through various legal precedents. The Article confers upon the High Court‘s the power of superintendence to ensure that the subordinate bodies operate within the confines of their authority. This power is not meant for mere error correction but rather to rectify grave violations of law or fundamental principles of justice. Courts exercising supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 must refrain from functioning as appellate bodies. The High Court’s intervention is warranted only in instances of serious dereliction of duty or when a finding is so blatantly erroneous that it results in a miscarriage of justice. The scope of this jurisdiction prohibits the High Court from delving into factual assessments or re-evaluating evidence unless there is a clear departure from legal principles or a blatant abuse of power. The essence of Article 227 lies not in reviewing the correctness of orders but in ensuring that the exercise of jurisdiction by subordinate courts aligns with legal norms, thus upholding the integrity of the judicial process. The “framing of issues” refers to the process where the presiding judge in a civil trial formulates specific points or questions based on the pleadings and documents submitted by the parties involved. The judge’s role is to meticulously review the allegations, defences, and relevant evidence presented by each party before determining the precise issues that need to be addressed and resolved during the trial. The expectation placed on court during this stage is that it exercises due diligence and careful consideration in analysing the pleadings and documents. By doing so, it ensures that the issues framed accurately reflect the disputed aspects of the case and encompass all pertinent legal and factual matters requiring adjudication. This thorough examination helps in promoting fairness, clarity, and efficiency in the trial process. In essence, the framing of issues serves as a roadmap for the trial, guiding the parties and the court in focusing their arguments, presenting evidence, and ultimately reaching a just resolution. It is a pivotal procedural step aimed at facilitating a structured and meaningful adjudication of the dispute before the court. Order XIV Rule 5 of the CPC delineates power of the court to amend and strike out issues. A plain reading of the provision makes it clear that a court can at any point of time before passing a decree, amend issues and permits the court to strike out any issue. The issues can be re casted as the court deems fit and as may be necessary for determining the controversy between the parties. The grievance of the petitioner is that the learned Trial Court had already exercised its jurisdiction on 14.05.2015, when the issues came to be framed by it. Neither side had raised any objection to the issues which were framed and the evidence has been led by the respondents on the said issues. It was submitted that the learned Trial Court erred in deleting the issues without any basis which is impermissible in law. The other document is a probate order dated 02.08.1969, as the Will already stands probated, the consequences of the probate of Will would be considered by court at an appropriate stage for which further evidence of the parties is not required. Hence, there is no infirmity in the order passed by learned Trial Court while dismissing the application of petitioner under Section 151 CPC to re-summon respondent no. 1 for further cross-examination. Having considered the above, the impugned order to the extent of issues nos. 4 & 5 having been deleted by the learned Trial Court is set aside. The judgments relied upon by the parties are decided on their own facts and are distinguishable from the facts of the present case. The petition along with pending application is disposed of.

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Judgement Reviewed by – HARIRAGHAVA JP

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