SC: If multiple courts have jurisdiction, suit to be instituted in the lowest one

The word ‘Cognizance’ as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary in following manner:

Cognizance­”

(1) A court’s right and power to try and to determine cases; Jurisdiction,

(2) The taking of judicial or authoritative notice.

Advanced Law Lexicon by P.Ramanatha Aiyar defines ‘Cognizance’ in the following manner:

Cognizance Judicial notice or knowledge; the judicial recognition or hearing of a cause; jurisdiction, or right to try and determine causes. It is a word of the largest import: embracing all power, authority and jurisdiction. The word “cognizance” is used in the sense of “right to take notice of and determine a cause.” Taking cognizance does not involve any formal action, or indeed action of any kind, but occurs as soon as a Magistrate, as such, applies his mind of the suspected commission of an offence…..”

Today i.e. on 12.10.2018, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Om Prakash Agarwal since deceased thr. Lrs. & Ors. v. Vishan Dayal Rajpoot & Anr. pronounced that when a law provides that cognizance of a particular cause shall be taken by a particular court, then no other court can take cognizance of that cause because the legislature never creates/provides for parallel jurisdiction in two different courts for taking cognizance of a cause.

The following inferences can be drawn from the careful perusal of the said judgement of the Apex Court:

The fact that a court can take cognizance of all suits irrespective of their value shall not whittle down or dilute the line of separation between two courts in taking cognizance of cases. The mere fact that a court can take cognizance of suits of unlimited value will not empower them to take cognizance of cases, which, according to statutory Scheme can be taken only by particular courts as specified in the legislature. (Para 31)

(Para 34) Provision of Section 15 of the Code of Civil Procedure, provides that suits shall be instituted in the Court of the lowest grade competent to try it. Section 15 of Code of Civil Procedure is as follows:­

“Every suit shall be instituted in the Court of the lowest grade competent to try it.”

The purpose of Section 15 is obvious that even though more than one court has jurisdiction to try the suit, it should be instituted in the Court of lowest grade. For example, a small cause case can be instituted in Court of Small Cause presided by Civil Judge having valuation of upto Rs. 1 lakh as on date and small cause suit having valuation of more than Rs. 1 lakh can be instituted in the Court of District Judge or Additional District Judge. As per Section 15 of the Code of Civil Procedure, suit of less than Rs. 1 lakh valuation has to be instituted in Small Causes Court presided by Civil Judge. Although, District Judge or Additional District Judge has unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction but under the legislative Scheme, the suit is not to be taken cognizance by the District Judge or Additional District Judge, which has valuation upto Rs. 1 lakh. (Para 35)

Unless the legislative intent and Scheme is followed, there shall be confusion and inconsistency. The legislative provisions have to be interpreted in a manner, which may advance the object and purpose of the Act. When clear dichotomy regarding taking cognizance of a case by two different courts has been provided for, the said dichotomy and separation to take cognizance of cases has to be followed to further the object and purpose of legislation.(Para 35)

When statute provides that cognizance of particular cause is to be taken by a particular court, no other court can take cognizance of the cause, since legislature never creates or provides for parallel jurisdiction in two different courts for taking cognizance of a cause. (Para 46)

If no objection is taken to the pecuniary jurisdiction, Section 21 of the Civil Procedure Code comes into play. Sub­section (2) of Section 21 provides that no objection as to the competence of the Court with reference to the pecuniary limits of the jurisdiction shall be allowed by any Appellate or Revisional Court unless conditions mentioned therein are fulfilled. Sub­section (2) precludes the revisionist to raise any objection regarding competence of the court and further revisional court ought not to have allowed such objection regarding competence of Court to decide the suit. Section 21 has been enacted to thwart any such objection by unsuccessful party who did not raise any objection regarding competence of court and allowed the matter to be heard on merits. (Para 56)

Copy of the Judgement: Judgement 12-Oct-2018

-Tushar Kaushik

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