SC: No limitation can be placed on powers of High Court in writ jurisdiction

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 29thJuly 2019, in the matter of Maharashtra Chess Association v. Union of India & Ors. observed that the High Court must take a holistic view of the facts as submitted in the writ petition. It is not open to a High Court to abdicate this responsibility merely due to the existence of a privately negotiated document ousting its jurisdiction.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Parties cannot by contract exclude the jurisdiction of all courts. Such a contract would constitute an agreement in restraint of legal proceedings and contravene Section 28 of the Indian Contract Act 1872. However, where parties to a contract confer jurisdiction on one amongst multiple courts having proper jurisdiction, to the exclusion of all other courts, the parties cannot be said to have ousted the jurisdiction of all courts. Such a contract is valid and will bind the parties to a civil action. (Para 9)

Parties cannot by agreement confer jurisdiction on a court which lacks the jurisdiction to adjudicate. But where several courts would have jurisdiction to try the subject matter of the dispute, they can stipulate that a suit be brought exclusively before one of the several courts, to the exclusion of the others. (Para 10)

A citizen may seek out the writ jurisdiction of the High Court not only in cases where her fundamental right may be infringed, but a much wider array of situations. (Para 11)

The role of the High Court under the Constitution is crucial to ensuring the rule of law throughout its territorial jurisdiction. In order to achieve these transcendental goals, the powers of the High Court under its writ jurisdiction are necessarily broad. They are conferred in aid of justice. (Para 12)

No limitation can be placed on the powers of the High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction. (Para 12)

The powers of the High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction cannot be circumscribed by strict legal principles so as to hobble the High Court in fulfilling its mandate to uphold the rule of law. (Para 12)

While the powers the High Court may exercise under its writ jurisdiction are not subject to strict legal principles, two clear principles emerge with respect to when a High Court’s writ jurisdiction may be engaged. First, the decision of the High Court to entertain or not entertain a particular action under its writ jurisdiction is fundamentally discretionary. Secondly, limitations placed on the court’s decision to exercise or refuse to exercise its writ jurisdiction are self- imposed. (Para 13)

The writ jurisdiction of a High Court cannot be completely excluded by statute. If a High Court is tasked with being the final recourse to upholding the rule of law within its territorial jurisdiction, it must necessarily have the power to examine any case before it and make a determination of whether or not its writ jurisdiction is engaged. Judicial review under Article 226 is an intrinsic feature of the basic structure of the Constitution. (Para 13)

If High Courts were to exercise their writ jurisdiction so widely as to regularly override statutory appellate procedures, they would themselves become inundated with a vast number of cases to the detriment of the litigants in those cases. This would also defeat the legislature’s intention in enacting statutory appeal mechanisms to ensure the speedy disposal of cases. (Para 15)

The existence of an alternate remedy, whether adequate or not, does not alter the fundamentally discretionary nature of the High Court’s writ jurisdiction and therefore does not create an absolute legal bar on the exercise of the writ jurisdiction by a High Court. (Para 18)

The mere existence of alternate forums where the aggrieved party may secure relief does not create a legal bar on a High Court to exercise its writ jurisdiction. It is a factor to be taken into consideration by the High Court amongst several factors. (Para 21)

The writ jurisdiction of the High Court is fundamentally discretionary. (Para 22)

The existence of an alternate adequate remedy is merely an additional factor to be taken into consideration by the High Court in deciding whether or not to exercise its writ jurisdiction. This is in marked contradistinction to the jurisdiction of a civil court which is governed by statute. (Para 22)

The High Court must take a holistic view of the facts as submitted in the writ petition and make a determination on the facts and circumstances of each unique case. (Para 22)

The scrutiny to be applied to every writ petition under Article 226 by the High Court is a crucial safeguard of the rule of law under the Constitution in the relevant territorial jurisdiction. It is not open to a High Court to abdicate this responsibility merely due to the existence of a privately negotiated document ousting its jurisdiction. (Para 25)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_29-Jul-2019

-Tushar Kaushik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *