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The Doctrine of 'Functus officio'

Functus officio is a Latin maxim which means that the jurisdiction of the designated authority comes to an end once he has performed his functions for which he was appointed. It implies having performed his duty, having served its purpose.

Functus officio literally means 'of no further official authority or legal effect' or 'having performed his office' and is used in the context of an officer who is no longer in office or has fulfilled its purpose. Functus officio derives from 'fungere' that means to perform, expire or bring to a closure or end. It is also related to the commonly used English word 'defunct'.

It would be relevant to refer to the case of Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Manitoba, 2021 SCC 33 wherein it was observed that the doctrine of functus officio provides that a final decision of a court that is susceptible to appeal cannot be reconsidered by the court that rendered it. In other words, once a formal judgment has been entered, a court loses jurisdiction and may only amend its judgment in very limited circumstances.

In simple word it implies that once a court has passed a valid order after a lawful hearing, it no longer has the authority to re-examine the matter and therefore, cannot reopen the case. In other words, it means that the duty or authority of the court or agency that has taken such decision has come to an end and the Court has become powerless & redundant. In fact, not only the duty of the officer expires, but also his authority comes to an end as the purpose has been accomplished.

This concern for finality is evident in the definition of functus officio: Qualifies a court or tribunal, a public body or an official that is no longer seized of a matter because it or he or she has discharged the office. Once a judgment has been given, the judge is functus officio: he has no power to make changes in his decision, which can only be questioned by others presiding in the further courts of appeal.

This doctrine was brought into the common law practice in order to give finality to the present decision and make way for appeals to a superior authority. If the concluded be reopened by the request and application of all disappointed litigants decisions would not be final and the cases would never come to an end and justice would never be delivered. And therefore, once a decision is issued, the judge loses his authority to further hearing and this renders him functus officio.

Functus Officio has been defined thus:

Black's Law Dictionary defines functus officio as:
"having performed his or her office (of an officer or official body) without further authority or legal competence because the duties and functions of the original commission have been fully accomplished."

P. Ramanatha Aiyar's Law Lexicon defines functus officio as:
"A term applied to something which once has had a life and power, but which has become of no virtue whatsoever. Thus, when an agent has completed the business which he was entrusted his agency is functus officio."

Wharton's Law Lexicon, Fourteenth Edition, defines it as:
"A person who has discharged his duties, or whose office or authority is at an end."

Trayner's Latin Maxims defines it thus:
"Having discharged his official duty. This is said of any one holding a certain appointment, when the duties of his office have been discharged. Thus a Judge, who has decided a question brought before him, is functus officio and cannot review his own decision."

Corpus Juris Secundum defines it as:
"literally having discharged his duty. Having fulfilled the function, discharged the office, or accomplished the purpose, and therefore, of no further force or authority".

It will be trite to refer to an English decision given in the case of Re : VGM Holdings Ltd 1941 (3) All. ER 417 wherein the Court held that once a Judge passes an order which has been entered in the register, he becomes functus officio. This means that after this, he no longer has the capacity to vary the terms of his order. Such change in the order can only be done by a higher court.

It would be apropos to refer to the case of Sunita Jain vs Pawan Kumar Jain & Ors in Appeal (crl.) 174 of 2008 decided on 25 January, 2008 wherein the Apex Court held thus:

21. The section makes it clear that a Court cannot alter or review its judgment or final order after it is signed except to correct clerical or arithmetical error. The scheme of the Code, in our judgment, is clear that as a general rule, as soon as the judgment is pronounced or order is made by a Court, it becomes functus officio (ceases to have control over the case) and has no power to review, override, alter or interfere with it.

It would be relevant to refer to Govt. of U.P. v. Raja Mohd. Amir Ahmad Khan, (1962) 1 SCR 97 wherein the Apex Court observed that once a Collector determines the Stamp Duty to be paid on an Instrument, it becomes functus officio and it could not impound the Instrument thereafter.

It would be appropriate to refer to the case of State Bank Of India & Ors vs S.N. Goyal (2008) 8 SCC 92 wherein the Apex Court dealt with Order XX of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 that deals with Judgments and Decrees. It was observed that Order XX Rule 1 (3) provides that a judgment may be dictated in open court and its transcript forms a part of the record of the case, after making such corrections as may be necessary. And Order XX Rule 3 provides that once a judgment has been pronounced and signed, it shall afterwards be altered or added to only according to law.

Hence, mere dictation does not amount to pronouncement and "therefore, a Judge becomes functus officio when he pronounces, signs and dates the judgment (subject to Section 152 and power of review)." It was further observed that the situation might be slightly different for quasi-judicial authorities and "when an order is made in an office noting in a file but is not pronounced, published or communicated, nothing prevents the authority from correcting it or altering it for valid reasons. But once the order is pronounced or published or notified or communicated, the authority will become functus officio."

In the case of Lalit Narain Mishra v. State of Himachal Pradesh and Others, 2016 SCC OnLine HP 2866, the Petitioner was seeking the writ of mandamus in a matter that had already been decided by the Court. The Court denied such relief and observed that:

19. "Functus officio" is a Latin term meaning having performed his or her office. With regard to an officer or official body, it means without further authority or legal competence because the duties and functions of the original commission have been fully accomplished.

20. "Functus" means having performed and "officio" means office´┐Ż..

25. In other words, the authority, which had a life and power, has lost everything on account of completion of purpose/activities/act.

26. Notably, what the petitioner is seeking is virtually a writ of mandamus in a decided case, which is legally impressible."

The deliberation would be incomplete without referring to the case of State of Punjab vs Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar & others (2011) 14 SCC 770 wherein the Apex Court held thus:

When an order is passed, it cannot be reviewed. Section 362 Cr.P.C. is based on an acknowledged principle of law that once a matter is finally disposed of by a Court, the said Court in the absence of a specific statutory provision becomes Functus officio and is disentitled to entertain a fresh prayer for any relief unless the former order of final disposal is set aside by a Court of competent jurisdiction in a manner prescribed by law.

The Court becomes functus officio the moment the order for disposing of a case is signed. Such an order cannot be altered except to the extent of correcting a clerical or arithmetical error. There is also no provision for modification of the judgment. (See: Hari Singh Mann v. Harbhajan Singh Bajwa & Ors., AIR 2001 SC 43; and Chhanni v. State of U.P., AIR 2006 SC 3051) and, therefore, the attempt to invoke that power can be of no avail.

30. Thus, the law on the issue can be summarised to the effect that the criminal justice delivery system does not clothe the court to add or delete any words, except to correct the clerical or arithmetical error as specifically been provided under the statute itself after pronouncement of the judgment as the Judge becomes functus officio. Any mistake or glaring omission is left to be corrected only by the appropriate forum in accordance with law."

In Hari Singh Mann vs Harbhajan Singh Bajwa & Ors (2001) 1 SCC 169, the Apex Court dealt with this doctrine of Functus officio and held thus:

Section 362 of the Code mandates that no Court, when it has signed its judgment or final order disposing of a case shall alter or review the same except to correct a clerical or arithmetical error. The Section is based on an acknowledged principle of law that once a matter is finally disposed of by a Court, the said Court in the absence of a specific statutory provision becomes functus officio and disentitled to entertain a fresh prayer for the same relief unless the former order of final disposal is set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction in a manner prescribed by law.

The court becomes functus officio the moment the official order disposing of a case is signed. Such an order cannot be altered except to the extent of correcting a clerical or arithmetical error.

In Khub Chand And Ors vs State Of Rajasthan & Ors 1967 AIR 1074, the Apex Court elucidated the doctrine of Functus Officio and observed thus:

(3) Under the Land Acquisition Act, the Collector thereunder could make only one award in respect of a notification and, therefore, when he made the first award in respect of the notification he became functus officio and therefore, the second award made by him in respect of the same notification was void.

The Doctrine of Functus Officio is a doctrine of wide application and it could be applied to both the judicial and the quasi-judicial authorities. If the Doctrine of Functus Officio is not applied to legal proceedings, then it would result in chaos for the Applicants and the litigating parties since the authorities, or the judges would be able to change their Orders at whim and there would be no certainty left with respect to any Order passed by any authority or Court.

It is worthwhile that the doctrine of Functus officio and res judicata go hand in hand with each other. Res judicata seeks to prevent the same court to reopen a case whose final decision has been made. This applies to all bodies capable to be in a position of adjudicating and includes authorities such as the tribunals or other statutory actor.

This doctrine disallows the case to go on in perpetuity and ensures that the same case on the same subject matter before the same court is not brought by the same parties.Thus the concept of Fuctus officio only furthers the application of Res judicata. While res judicata restricts the re-opening of a case between the same parties on the same matter, functus officio limits the authority of the Judge to take up such a case once he or she has pronounced the final order.

Thus the doctrine of functus officio is very important due to its effect of the judicial system to bring finality and certainty to legal proceedings.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 8279945021

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