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Importance Of Framing Issues And Discharge Of Onus By The Plaintiff In A Civil Trial

It is well settled that the judgement in civil cases is on the basis of preponderance of probabilities and the Plaintiff is not required to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt as is expected from the prosecution in the criminal cases. While it is true that initial burden to prove its case is on the Plaintiff but many times it is seen that the entire onus is put on the Plaintiff, even though the disputed contentions are raised by the Defendant(s) in its written statement in a civil suit.

Moreover, at times, the important and relevant issues are also missed to be framed by the Ld. Trial Court (trying the case) and also by the parties, and after the parties have lead their evidence on such issues framed, the judgement comes on the issues which were not even framed. The present article addresses the importance of framing important and relevant issues and also addresses another question i.e. when can it be said that the initial burden of proof is discharged by the Plaintiff in a civil suit?

Framing of important and relevant issues

Without going into the necessity of elaborating more on the specific and relevant provision of framing of issues in terms of Order XIV of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (the CPC), it is apposite to put herein that the object and purpose of framing issue in a civil suit is that before giving any specific finding, parties must be put to notice and the parties can lead evidence in such regard as held in the case of V.S. Ramakrishnan vs P.M. Muhammed Ali, 2022 SCC OnLine 1545, Pr. 8 and Sajan Sethi vs Rajan Sethi, (2020) 4 SCC 589, Pr. 11-12.

It is also well settled that if the findings are contrary to the evidence and pleadings of the parties while pronouncing the judgement by the Ld. Trial Court, then the Hon'ble Appellate Court can set aside such decree even under section 100 of the CPC in second appeal as held in the case of Bondar Singh and Ors. vs Nihal Singh and Ors., (2003) 4 SCC 161, Pr. 4.

Importance of framing relevant and proper issues also arises from the fact that while pronouncing judgement in a civil case, entire evidence has to be considered and no part of it can be left out as held in the case of Lakhan Sao vs Dharamu Chaudhary, (1991) 3 SCC 331, Pr. 5-6. Further, it is also well settled that evidence led by the parties which is at variance of its own pleadings cannot be considered as held in the case of Kashi Nath vs Jaganath, (2003) 8 SCC 740, Pr. 17.

When is the onus discharged by the Plaintiff in a civil suit?

Firstly, it has to be kept in mind that there is an essential distinction between burden of proof and onus of proof. Burden of proof lies upon the person who has to prove the fact which never shifts but onus of proof shifts which is a continuous process in the evaluation of evidence.

For example in a suit for recovery based on some admitted documents/facts, once the Plaintiff had been able to create a high degree of probability so as to shift the onus upon the Defendant(s), it was for the Defendant(s) to discharge its onus and in the absence thereof the initial burden of proof on the Plaintiff was to be held to have been discharged so as to entitle it to recovery of the amount.

Therefore, for the discharge of the initial burden of proof, the Plaintiff is only required to show prima facie case to discharge its burden of proof as held in R.V.E. Venkatachala Gounder vs Arulmigu Viswesaraswami & V.P. Temple and Anr., (2003) 8 SCC 752, Pr. 28 � 30; Addagada Raghavamma and Anr. vs Addagada Chenchamma and Anr., 1963 SCC OnLine SC 37, Pr. 11-12; and Anil Rishi vs Gurbaksh Singh, (2006) 5 SCC 558, Pr. 18-21.

Secondly, it is also to be seen whether there are any sort of admissions by the Defendant(s) in its written statement or in its affidavit of admission/denial. In case there are admissions, then not the Plaintiff but the Defendant(s) is required to offer explanation of such admission in the sense that such admission definitely shifts the burden of proof of such admissions made by the Defendant(s).

It is well settled that admissions shift burden of proof upon persons making such admissions as held in the cases of Avadh Kishore Das vs Ram Gopal and Ors., (1979) 4 SCC 790, Pr. 24; UIICL vs Samir Chandra Chaudhary, (2005) 5 SCC 784, Pr. 11; and Bharat Singh & Ors. vs Mst. Bhagirathi, 1965 SCC OnLine SC 57, Pr. 19-20;

5. It is also well settled that once a document is admitted, its contents are also admitted in evidence. Admission made by the party is a proprio vigore and the burden definitely shifts upon the party making such admission as held in the case of Bishwanath Prasad and Ors. vs Dwarka Prasad and Ors. (1974) 1 SCC 78, Pr. 4-8; P.C. Purushothama Reddiar vs S. Perumal, (1972) 1 SCC 9, Pr. 20 and Smt. Niranjan Kaur vs New Delhi Hotels Ltd. and Ors., ILR (1987) II Delhi 285, Pr. 30-31.

6. In a suit for recovery mostly only two issues are framed i.e. whether the Plaintiff is entitled to recovery of the amount? And interest thereupon. And in majority of the cases, the Defendant(s) deny all the averments of the Plaintiff and do not put any affirmative case and also do not produce documents with a view that the entire onus is upon the Plaintiff. And after the parties lead their evidence, the suit is dismissed on the point that the Plaintiff did not produce its books of accounts etc. or that the Plaintiff did not cross examine the witness of the Defendant(s) in such and such aspect.

Therefore, at times, the view which is taken by the Ld. Trial Court is one of a criminal trial where the prosecution is required to proof its case beyond reasonable doubt and the Defence can remain silent. Moreover, the admissions made by the Defendant(s) are also ignored at times.

Such practice is definitely contrary to how civil trials ought to be conducted and the Hon'ble Supreme Court in the case of M/s Star Paper Mills vs M/s Beharilal Madanlal Jaipuria Ltd. & Ors. 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1267, Pr. 5, Pr. 13, 16 and 20 has, after appreciating the entire evidence, decreed the suit for recovery in favour of the Plaintiff based on the admissions made by the Defendant(s) in the suit and also showing as to when is the onus is discharged by the Plaintiff. Defendant(s) cannot be allowed to remain silent and not produce relevant documents and witnesses on the issues, onus of which is on the Defendant(s).

It is also well settled principle of law that a person who asserts a particular fact is required to affirmatively establish it. If any assertion is made by the Defendant(s) in a civil suit, then the Plaintiff cannot be burdened to discharge such onus.

If there is an evasive denial by the Defendant(s) in its written statement which is neither substantiated by primary evidence nor by oral evidence, even though onus to prove its own case upon the Defendant(s) only, then such aspect cannot go against the Plaintiff.

Mere bald denial of averments by the Defendant(s) would not support the case of the Defendant(s) and the Defendant(s) had to substantiate its pleadings by primary and/or secondary evidence as held in the case of Gian Chand and Brothers and Anr. vs Rattan Lal alias Rattan Singh, (2013) 2 SCC 606, Pr. 3, 5, 16-18, 20-26.

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