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Inherent Jurisdiction of Civil Courts in India

Jurisdiction means the power and authority conferred by law upon a court, judge or tribunal to decide the disputes and make judgments/orders authorised by law[1]. It is that power which a court has to decide the matters that are litigated before it or to take cognizance of matters presented to it in a formal way for its decision[2]. When we talk about the inherent jurisdiction of a civil court, we refer to the broad doctrine of inherent jurisdiction which allows a court to control its own process and to control the procedures before it[3]. The power sterns not from any particular statute or legislation, but rather from inherent powers vested in a court to control the proceedings brought before it[4].

The Section 9 of the Civil Code of Procedure, 1908 deals with jurisdiction of the civil courts in India. It says that the courts shall have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature except suits of which cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred. In the essay ahead, the researcher shall analyze various judgements on the jurisdiction of civil courts in order to ascertain the parameters and dynamics which govern the civil courts.

A civil court has jurisdiction to try a suit if two conditions are fulfilled[5]:
1) The suit must be of civil nature
2) The cognizance of such a suit should not have been expressly or impliedly barred.

A suit of a civil nature could be understood as one wherein the principal question relates to that of determination of a civil right and enforcement thereof. Any action which is not criminal in nature could be classified as a civil action[6].

Like jurisdiction, there is no definition of a civil suit in any Act. However, Explanation I[7] of Section 9 makes it clear that the suit in which the principal question relates to a civil right is a civil suit in cases of right to office and property regardless of religious rites and ceremonies involved.

In the case of [8], the courts had held that in all types of civil disputes the civil courts have an inherent jurisdiction as per Section 9 of the CPC unless a part of that jurisdiction is carved out from such jurisdiction, expressly or by necessary implication, by any statutory provision and conferred on any other tribunal or authority[9]. Hence, the current position regarding the jurisdiction of Civil Courts is that they have inherent jurisdiction to hear into civil matters unless it is expressly or implied excluded by a statute[10]. The Supreme Court has held that the burden of proof for the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the court is on the party contending it[11]

Suits may be barred impliedly when they are barred by general principles of law as when they are barred being against the Public Policy or State Policy[12]. Also, if a specific remedy is given by a statute, it deprives a person who insists upon a remedy of any other form than that given by the statute[13]. In such cases, suit is said to be expressively barred under Section 9, Civil Procedure Code.

For example, in the case of [14], it was observed by the court that by reason of Section 3 of Consumer Protection Act, it is apparent that the remedies provided there under are not in derogation of those provided under other laws. The said Act supplements and supplants the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts or other statutory authorities[15].

The following factors affect the jurisdiction of courts:
It refers to the monetary value of the suit which the courts can entertain in case of a civil action. Throughout India there are a large number of civil courts of different grades having jurisdiction to try suits or hear appeals of different amounts or value. Some of these courts have unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction. Thus the High Court, the District Judge and the Civil Judge have unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction. Other courts have only a limited pecuniary jurisdiction[16].

Every court has its own limits, fixed by the State Government, beyond which it cannot exercise its jurisdiction. Thus, the District Judge is in charge of the district and cannot exercise his power beyond that district. The High Court has jurisdiction over the whole territory of the State. The Supreme Court is the apex court and can entertain any suit in the territory of India[17].

In the exercise of its original jurisdiction a court entertains original suits, while in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction it entertains appeals. The Munsifs court and the Court of Small Causes have only original jurisdiction; while the District Court, High Courts and Supreme Court have both original and appellate jurisdiction[18].

Certain courts are precluded from entertaining suits of particular classes by status. Thus, a small cause court can try only such suits as a suit for money due on account of an oral loan or under a bond or promissory note, a suit for price of work done, etc., but it has no jurisdiction to try suits for specific performance of contracts for a dissolution of partnership, for an injunction or suits relating to immovable property[19].

Insofar as the jurisdictional point is concerned, it is well settled that unless jurisdiction of the Civil Court is expressly or implied barred, a party is entitled to invoke the same. For example: In the case of [20], the plaintiffs had filed the suit in question on the ground that the order passed by the S.D.O. was illegal on account of various infirmities, which were pleaded by the plaintiffs in the said suit. The trial Court relying upon the judgments of the Apex Court wherein the Apex Court had held that when illegality in the action is alleged and injunction sought, the suit cannot be said to be not maintainable merely because an appeal is provided against such action. This basically means that jurisdiction is not gone only because there are infirmities in a judgement.

Before this, the courts in [21] in 1974 had held that there was an inherent right in every person to bring a suit of a civil nature and unless the suit is barred by statute one may, at one's peril, bring a suit of one's choice. This was further taken ahead in [22] reported in 2003 that there was an inherent right in every person to file a suit and for its maintainability and it required no authority of law.

In the case of [23] a test for determination of the exclusion of the jurisdiction of civil courts was devised. First it was to be determined whether the legislative intent was to exclude the jurisdiction either explicitly, or by necessary implication�.

This meant that the Court must first try to determine the precise reasons for the exclusion of the Civil Courts, and whether it was justified. However this justification was not open to judicial review. Once the court satisfied itself of the same, the court needed to determine whether the statute, which bars such jurisdiction provided for a suitable alternate remedy. An alternate remedy in this respect must be capable of performing the functions that would have been performed by the civil court in the absence of such exclusion, and must be empowered to pass any order which the civil court in like circumstances would have passed. Hence, in the absence of such alternate mechanism, the jurisdiction of the Civil Court could not be excluded. This view was affirmed by the High Court of Calcutta in [24].

It can be concluded that Section 9 is the threshold of the Civil Procedure Code (C.P.C.) which primarily deals with the question of civil courts jurisdiction to entertain a cause. It lays down the power of jurisdiction for civil courts to entertain all suits of a civil nature which are not expressly or impliedly barred by any other statute.

[1] Hirday Nath v Ram Chandra Saran, AIR 1921 Cal 34 (FB).
[2] Joginder Singh v Nirmal, AIR 1986 Del 305.
[3] Anonymous, Inherent Jurisdiction Of The Civil Court, LAWTEACHER, (July,2018,
6:18 PM),
[4] Ibid.
[5] Section 9, Code of Civil Procedure,1908 , Act No. 5 of 1908, (India)
[6] Haridas Roy v. State of West Bengal, (1987) 1 Cal LJ 247
[7] ‘Explanation 1- A suit in which the right to property or to an office is
contested is a suit of a civil nature, notwithstanding that such right may
depend entirely on the decision of questions as to religious rites or
ceremonies. ‘– Section 9, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
[8] K Narayanan v K Sreedevi , AIR 1990 Ker 151
[9] Ibid.
[10] Bharat Kala Bhandar v. Muni Committee, Dhamangaon, [1965] 3 SCR 199
[11] Bhattiya Co Hsg Society v Patel, AIR 1953 SC 16
[12] M/s. Kamala Mills Ltd v. State of Bombay, [1966] 1 SCR 64
[13] Maya Devi v. Inder Narain, AIR 1947 All 118
[14] State of Karnataka v. Vishwabarathi House Building Co-op. Society 2003(1)
SCR 397
[15] Ibid.
[16] Shailaja B, 4 Different Types of ‘Jurisdiction of a Court’ in India,
SHAREYOURESSAYS, (July 13, 2018, 9:48 PM),
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] State of Maharashtra v Chintal Maisayya Mallayya & Ors 2011(6) Bom.C.R.129
[21] Gangabai v Vijaykumar, AIR 1974 SC 1126
[22] Shiv Shakti Coop.Housing Society, Nagpur v. Swaraj Developers , 2003
DGLS(Soft.) 413 : 2003 AIR(SC) 2434
[23] State of A.P. v. Manjeti Laxmi Kanth Rao, AIR 2000 SC 2220
[24] Bar Council W.B. v. A. Aughstir, AIR 1979 Cal 35.

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