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Stages Of A Civil Suit

The Code Of Civil Procedure was enacted on 21st March 1908 and came into force on 1st January 1909, the Imperial Legislative Council Of India drafted it. The Code Of Civil Procedure was drafted with a sole purpose which was to regulate the proceedings that take place in a civil court. The main objective of drafting such an act was not to dish out penalties and punishments; it was actually drafted to put a stop to endless litigation.

There have been various amendments throughout the years to keep up with the changing times.[*] One of the most important amendments came in 2002, the majority of the amendment was drafted the Late Arun Jaitley. One of the most important features in this amendment was the Rules that were modified in Order 5 regarding Issue and Service Of Summons.

The amendments to all the previous rules now make sure that the summons actually reach the defendant and that the defendant has no way to ignore the plaintiff. [*]This paper will primarily focus on the various stages of a civil suit under The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908. Starting with Presentation of the Plaint and finishing off with the Execution of the Decree.


A “Vakalatnama” has to be filed which states that both parties agree that this particular advocate will represent them in this particular suit. One of the main terms of a Vakalatnama is that the party will not hold the advocate liable for any decision made by him or her. [*]

Beginning with the first stage of a civil suit, which is the Presentation of the Plaint; this comes under Order 7 of The Code Of Civil Procedure. A plaint can be said to be a statement of claims or a document, by presentation of which the suit is instituted. The objective of a plaint is to state the grounds as to which the plaintiff requires assistance from the court. Each plaint submitted to the court will have to contain a statement containing a concise statement regarding the facts and issues, which are the crux of the suit.

There are specific things that a plaint has to contain such as which court it is being filed in, details of both the plaintiff and defendant, value of subject matter, cause of action and what kind of relief the plaintiff wants. Each plaint has to be signed by the party and his pleader. Each paragraph in the plaint has to be verified by the party as to which paragraph he has written by his own knowledge and which paragraph he has written through the knowledge of someone else.

The plaint should also include all the documents that he or she has relied on in the plaint. Each suit that requires monetary compensation, the exact amount has to be stated in the plaint under Order 7, Rule 2. Every suit that involves immovable property has to also contain a description of what the property looks like just enough to have it identified. When the plaintiff sues in a representative character, he has to show that he has an existing interest in the property.

Under Rule 6, it is stated that if a suit is barred by limitation then it is necessary for the plaintiff to show the ground of exemption in the plaint. Now coming to the return of the plaint, under Rule 10 (1) if the court at any time feels that they do not have the jurisdiction to try this case then it will return the plaint to the party. Under Rule 10A, the rules to return the plaint are stated and even what the party getting the plaint has to do to refile that plaint has been returned. Rule 11 gives you various cases as to where the plaint can be rejected.

One of them is when the plaint does not disclose the cause of action. Another one is when the relief claim is undervalued, where the plaint is insufficiently stamped. If the plaint is written upon a paper that is insufficiently stamped and the party fails to pay the required court fees within the stipulated time, then in this case the plaint will be rejected. Every plaint that is rejected by the court will state sufficient reasons on the plaint as to why the plaint was rejected. According to Roopal Sathi Vs Singh (1982)[*], if a plaint has to be rejected then the whole of the plaint has to be rejected not just a portion of it can be rejected. [*][*]

The next step is the Service of Summons, which is dealt with by Order 5 of The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908. When a plaintiff files a suit, the defendant has to be informed that he is being sued and that he has to find a way to defend himself. The intimation that is sent by the court to the defendant is called a “Summon”. Under Rules 1 and 2, it is mandatory for each summon to be signed by the judge or any officer appointed by him and it should also be seal of the court and should be accompanied by a plaint. After receiving a summons, the defendant has thirty days to answer the claim by sending across a written statement.

If the defendant is not served with a summon, then no decree can be passed against him. According to Rule 3, the person does not necessarily have to appear in court. A pleader representing the party can also go to court if he is able to answer all the questions. A summons typically states whether the date that has been stated in the summon is for settling of issues or for final disposal of suit. The defendant typically shouldbe given enough time to ready his witnesses, ready his answer to the claim made by the plaintiff and it should also give the defendant enough time to produce all the documents that he will require to support his case.

Now coming to one of the most crucial part of summons, the service of summons. This is dealt with by Rules 9-30 of Order 5. Starting with Rules 10-16, these rules talk about how summons would be delivered in ordinary circumstances.

Ideally, the summon should be delivered to the defendant in person or his agent. Rule 12 states the above. Coming to the situation when the defendant is not at his place of his residence, then the summon can be handed to his adult family member. The exception to this is that a servant is not considered a family member.

In any suit regarding immovable property, the service will be counted as valid even if it is made on any agent of the defendant in charge of the property according to Rule 14. Any suit relating to the business of the defendant who doesn’t reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the court that has issues the summons then in cases like this the summon may be served to the manager or any agent carrying on such business or work according to Rule 13.

According to Rule 11, in some cases filed instead of there being just being one defendant there are multiple defendants. In cases like this all, the defendants have to be served with the summons not just one. Just like in a courier service, when the defendant or whoever is receiving the summon accepts the summons he or she has to sign it just to prove it court that it has been accepted according to Rule 16. For any defendant who is residing within the territorial jurisdiction limit of the court then the summons shall be served via the court officer or approved court officer.

These days there are other methods of serving summons such as speed post, fax, message and sometimes even email services are used. Even if the defendant refuses the summon, it is still counted as valid service. In rare cases, according to Rule 9A the court may also permit service of summons by the plaintiff in addition to the service of summons by the court. Now coming to Rules 17-20, these rules discuss the concept of substituted service.

There are two such cases where this applies as stipulated by The Code Of Civil Procedure. One being where the defendant refuses to sign the acknowledgment and secondly even when after reasonable time and after all the likelihood of finding the person is gone then the service of the summons can be made by affixing a copy on the outer door or on some very visible part of the house. According to Yallawwa Vs Shantavva (1996)[*], the above method of serving a summon should be used a last resort and nothing else.

Under Rule 20(1-A), if and when the court orders service by an advertisement in a newspaper, the newspaper should typically be a daily newspaper which is circulated commonly in the locality where the defendant stays. The above is deemed a successful service even if the defendant does not read the newspaper. [*] [*]

Moving onto the next stage of a civil suit which constitutes appearance of the parties in the agreed upon court according to the appropriate jurisdiction. There are two kind of scenarios that take place in such cases, one being where the defendant does not show and second being where the plaintiff does not show up. In the case where the defendant does not show, then the court may go on with the trial ex parte.

Lastly, if the plaintiff does not show up there is a good chance that the court may completely just dismiss the case. In the case where the defendant does not show up for the hearing, then in this case if the defendant is able to prove that there was sufficient reason for him or not appearing for the hearing then three options open up for the defendant. The first one being the defendant could apply for review of the decision, the second one being the defendant could apply for setting aside the ex parte decree and lastly the third option is that the defendant could prefer the appeal against the decree.

One case that helps clear the position on what sufficient reason means is the case of UCO Bank Vs Iyenger Consultancy Services (1993)[*]. In this case, it was declared that there is no specific definition of sufficient reason; it will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. [*] [*]

The next stage is specifically for the defendant, under Order 8 the defendant has to file a written statement denying the claims made by the plaintiff. There are several cases where there are multiple defendants; in scenarios like this, they can file a common written statement with all the defendants signing it. If a defendant files an individual written statement, this does not bind the other co-defendants if there are any other in that particular suit. There is particular time period for filing these written statements, the period stipulated is 30 days. In certain exceptional cases, the court can also declare 90 days for the written statement to be filed. Apart from the general defense, the defendant can also file for any momentary compensation or any other kind of compensation if he or she files there is legal basis for claiming it against the plaintiff.

This is called a counter defense according to Order 8, Rule 6. If there is any other claim that the defendant wants to make against the plaintiff in that particular matter, then that can be filed under Order 8, Rule 6A-6G. There are couple of particulars that should be followed while drafting a written statement. One of the most straightforward rules about filing a written statement is that the defendant should not generally just deny the claims made by the plaintiff. He or she should specifically argue against particular claims, which he or she does not agree with. If the defendant does not file the written statement within the stipulated period, then the court has the full authority to pass a judgment against the defendant. [*] [*]

The next stage is the production of documents that both the plaintiff and defendant will rely on to make their case. If any exceptional circumstance, the document that either side wants is in the possession of someone else. In these kind of scenarios, whichever party requires the document has to apply for the court to issue a summon to the party that has the document so that they can obtain the document.

Under Order 10 of The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908 at this stage of the suit examination of parties will take place. This is a procedure where the court asks the defendant whether he or she agrees to the claims or denies the claims made by the plaintiff. Another important part of this procedure is if and when the pleader of either party cannot answer any material question regarding the case then the court may declare that the party has to also be present in court during the trial. Moving onto Order 11 of The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908.

This order stipulates that both the parties be allowed to ascertain the facts that need to be proved. This whole process is called discovery and inspection. This order gives both the parties a chance to decide as to which facts need to be ascertained and which do not. If the court gives permission, then both the plaintiff and defendant can deliver interrogatories to each other that then are required to be answered by both the sides. [*] [*]

The next step in a civil suit is probably one of the most important ones, under Order 14 the court at his this point of time will start to frame issues. The job of framing issues is given to judges and they have to do so under Order 14, Rule 1. If the court feels that the issues cannot be correctly formed without examining a person or a document, then it has all the right to do so.

Another power that the court that holds in this scenario is that before a judgment is passed, the court has the authority to strike out or add any issues in the matter in dispute. Another very interesting rule in Order 14 is when two parties can agree that there is a dispute of fact or law and then depending on who the court favors in that particular matter, there can be various stipulations as to what will happen depending on whom the court will favor. There are three things that can take place if the defendant or the plaintiff win this particular issue; the laws are the same for both of them in case.

For example – If the defendant wins, then he or she can ask the plaintiff to pay a pre decided amount of money. The same applies for the plaintiff. The same rule applies for property as well as any party that loses that particular issue will have to abstain from doing any particular act as stipulated by the party that has been pre agreed before itself. [*] [*]

Now coming to Order 15 of The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908. This order talks about the summoning and attendance of witnesses into the court of law. On a day as fixed by the court and not fifteen days later than after the issues have been settled. Both the parties have to present a list of their respective witnesses as well what documents will be presented as evidence.

 Examining of witnesses and the hearing of suits begins at this stage of the trial, firstly the plaintiff is given the chance to speak unless, the defendant at that point of time argues saying that the plaintiff is not entitled to any sort of relief due to some point of law or any additional facts pertaining to the case that are being brought up by the defendant. In such a scenario, the defendant has the right to start the trial and not the plaintiff.

Now depending on who speaks first, both sides will present their stories in front of the court as well as their witnesses. The pleaders as well the witnesses will be cross-examined by the advocates on either side. One rule about evidence is that is that if the evidence is not marked by the court then it cannot be admissible. After all the evidence has been presented in front of the court, both the parties are then allowed to present their arguments in front of the court. [*]

Now moving onto the later stage of any civil suit is the judgment, under Order 20 the court comes to a verdict regarding the suit at hand. The court has one month after the closing of arguments to pass their verdict and they have to announce the date in advance, as to when they are releasing their judgement.

Under Order 20, Rule 6A after the judgment is passed, the clerk will then pass a decree that agrees with the judgment and it will contain all the particulars of the case as well as the relief granted by the court to either of the parties.

If any of the parties are not pleased with the final decision, then they can go in for an appeal. Not all orders are appealable and the court has the discretion under Order 43 of The Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908. The limitation periods also apply to appeals, for the High Court the limitation period is ninety days while for the district court it is thirty days. Reviews of decisions are quite common in criminal cases but not so much in civil cases. Reviews are only possible for two reasons, one being there is no appeal allowed in this case. Secondly, if either of the parties feel that there was some piece of evidence that was not discovered during the time of the decree.

In this kind of scenario, if the party is able to provide sufficient reason then the review will be allowed. Lastly, another power that the court holds is that of revision. The High Court has the authority to call for the record of any suit that was decided by a subordinate court. There are two reasons as to why the High Court can interfere in a particular suit.

One being if the subordinate court acted in its jurisdiction illegally.  The second reason being if the subordinate court did not have the jurisdiction to try the case in the first place itself. The final part of any civil suit is the execution of decree that is declared under Order 21. Simply put, the execution is only complete when the party that was deemed to have won the suit gets the respective damages as declared by the court. [*] [*]

End-Notes:
  • C.K. Takwani, Civil Procedure With Limitation Act, 1963 (8th edn, Eastern Book Company 2018).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908
  • C. K Thakker and M. C Thakker, Code Of Civil Procedure, 1908 (11th edn, Eastern Book Company 2014).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908
  • Sukumar Ray, Text Book On The Code Of Civil Procedure (Cpc) (Universal Law Publishing 2015).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908
  • Practice In The Trial Of Civil Suits' (Delhihighcourt.nic.in, 2014) accessed 26 September 2019.
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908
  • Sukumar Ray, Text Book On The Code Of Civil Procedure (Cpc) (Universal Law Publishing 2015).
  • C.K. Takwani, Civil Procedure With Limitation Act, 1963 (8th edn, Eastern Book Company 2018).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908.
  • Uco Bank vs Iyengar Consultancy Services [1993] Supreme Court Of India, 1994 SCC (Supreme Court Of India)
  • Dinshah Fardunji Mulla and others, The Code Of Civil Procedure (19th edn, Eastern Book Company).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908.
  • Smt Yallawwa vs Smt Shantavva [1997] Supreme Court Of India, 42 of 1990 (Supreme Court Of India).
  • 'Chapter V - Vakalatama' (Delhihighcourt.nic.in) accessed 25 September 2019.
  • Roop Lal Sathi vs Nachhattar Singh [1982] Supreme Court Of India, 1982 AIR 1559 (Supreme Court Of India).
  • The Code Of Civil Procedure 1908.
  • Sukumar Ray, Text Book On The Code Of Civil Procedure (Cpc) (Universal Law Publishing 2015).
  • 'The Code Of Civil Procedure In India' (1909) 8 Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislationaccessed 24 September 2019.
  • 'The Code Of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2002' (Indiankanoon.org, 2002) accessed 24 September 2019.

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