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A Critical Analysis on Framing of Issues

In the following paper, Order XIV of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which deals with the 'framing of issues' would be critically analysed using various case laws and foreign jurisdictions, and importance of framing the right issues, reiterated.

What Is An Issue & How Is It Framed?

The Civil Procedure Code does not define what an issue is but, Order XIV, Rule 1 elucidates that "Issues arise when a material proposition of fact or law is affirmed by the one party and denied by the other".[2] An issue, therefore, is essentially a point of contention which the plaintiff and the defendant of a suit contest.

The bare statute explains that issues arise out of 'material propositions' of either fact or law, which is the cause of a disagreement between either two or more parties, where one side affirms the same, and the opposite side denies it.[3] When an issue is framed or determined, the real dispute between the parties is identified, which narrows down the area of conflict by a great extent, pinpointing the question on which the two sides disagree.

The Civil Procedure Code, 1908, in its entirety forms the procedures that courts are required to follow while entertaining a civil suit. An implication of this statement is that particular Orders or Sections by themselves do not amount to much, rather, they require the support of each other to form a well-oiled judicial machinery. Order XIV, Rule 1(5) mentions that the framing of issues must be done by the court after the examination of the parties to the suit.

It is here, where the importance of Order X, Rule 2 with respect to the framing of issues is brought forth. Rule 2 provides for the court to conduct an oral examination of the parties to the suit with an objective of obtaining clarity and elucidation with regards to the matters, that are in controversy in a suit. This examination allows the courts to find the propositions of law and fact on which the parties are at a variance and these questions are what the issues are eventually based on.[4]

This examination process makes it easier for courts to understand the perspectives of all the parties involved, and the contentions that they might have. Looking at the situation as a whole, the court separates the propositions of fact and law which are material for the adjudication of the suit from the other irrelevant information present. The materiality spoken here is not with respect to the tenability of the contentions of the parties, but it refers to the determination of the relevant issues to the case.[5]

By ensuring that the pleadings and the issues are narrowed down into and pinpointed in court, the court ensures that no party is taken aback at the trial due to the lack of knowledge of the propositions involved.[6]

Nevertheless, question arises as to how the courts decide an issue in that matter where, neither of the parties bring forth in their contentions, questions which are important for the courts investigate, in order to arrive at a judgement. To illustrate, when the jurisdiction of a court is to be considered, and it is to be seen if the particular matter is even triable before that court or not, and neither of the parties have brought forth this question of law. In that event, it is mandatory for the court to address this question as an issue, otherwise, it cannot in any case, proceed with the matter.

This confusion arises due to the reason that order 14 of the Code of Civil Procedure, only defines those issues as material propositions which have been established by one side and challenged by the other. However, as in this case the hon'ble Court would be bound by law to address the issue of jurisdiction, even in the event that neither of the parties has raised the argument. The meaning of issue, as defined under Order 14 is, therefore, not exhaustive in itself. It is important to note that, there is no technical restraint for a court to frame an issue even if the same has not been pleaded in either of the proceedings.

The same principle was persuaded in the case of Satya Narayan v Radha Mohan,1979, wherein the court stated that, "issue arise when a material proposition of fact or law is affirmed by one party and denied by the other. The said rule, however, does not lay down the negative that an issue cannot arise otherwise from the formal pleadings of the parties."

Kinds of issues
While we now understand, the meaning of issues and how they are formulated in the Courts, it is important to note the different forms of issues which may arise before the court. Apart from the issue of fact and issue of law, as distinguished between Order XIV, Rule 1(4), there are also issues that would have a mix of both, law and fact. The importance of identifying these separate strands of issues was elucidated in the case of Anil Kumar v. Devender Kumar & Ors.[7]

The court explained that the framing of omnibus issues do not cull out the specific strands of the material propositions of fact and law on which the parties to the suit are at a difference do not tell the court the issues on which the right decision of the court depends, which is a necessity as under Order XIV, Rule 1(5).[8] It also violates Order XIV, Rule 1(3) which requires the framing of distinct issues for the purposes of clarity, particularizing each point of material propositions which are the reasons for difference.

Framing of issues in a clump, without distinguishing between them could lead to the trial as well as the eventual decision going haywire.[9] While the plaintiffs could have a variety of reliefs that they could claim from a suit, it is not this, but rather on the issues that are framed that the court will base its decision on. The grant of relief that the parties seek is a mere consequence of the determination of the assortment of issues that are present in a suit.[10]

The Importance Of Framing The Issues Accurately

For an effective and efficient functioning of a trial, the need for having a correct and accurate framing of issues becomes indispensable. An unerring formulation of issues allows the courts to reach a fair decision, in a short period of time. If, a court fails to devise accurate and correct issues, it may not only lead to miscarriage of justice, but also delays the justice from being delivered leading to a wastage of time of both the courts and the parties in question[11].

The supreme court, in the Makhan Lal case[12], emphasised on the importance of framing the issues with precision and remarked that:
"Thestage of framing the issues is an important one inasmuch as on that day the scope of the trial is determined by laying the path on which the trial shall proceed excluding diversions and departures therefrom".

Therefore, by identifying the real items of controversy and considering those while framing the issues in a case, the courts would only spend its time and resources, answering those questions and inquiries that need to be analysed and answered, for the trial to reach a fair discernment. It becomes crucial to come to the crux of the matter and accurately so as to what really is the matter of controversy. Imploring the right queries, therefore, allows a court to gain direction and control while investigating the matter saving time, efforts and resources for all the parties involved including the courts, lawyers and litigating public. Correspondingly, for a court to get essence of the disagreement, it becomes crucial that it understands the case from both sides, and reach the question of conflict, accurately.

The same was emphasised in the case of Siddhi Chunilal v. Suresh Gopikishan as well wherein the Hon'ble trial court had passed a decree against the plaintiff himself, without any mention of counterclaim or cross-suit being present in the prayer submitted before the court.

The entire trial in this case in point, was determined around a wrong issue, leading to a wrong decision. As the issues identified and investigated were not relevant, it led to the case being dragged for many years and unnecessarily so, resulting in misspend of time, efforts and resources. The Bombay High Court, therefore, observed that if accurate issues are not framed, in the beginning stage of the matter, it would lead to a situation of gross injustice, a delay in the decision-making process, and simply, a waste of the court's important time.[13]

The right identification of issues in any matter, therefore, creates a line of focus and gives a clear direction for the investigation to be carried out. The answers to these questions obtained are, as a result, much more accurate and veracious due to a focused and controlled investigation by addressing wrong questions, one cannot reach the right answers.

Identification of Lacunae and Critical Analysis
The determination of the decision of a suit is very dependent on the framing of issues. The Civil Procedure Code, 1908, despite its long history and appropriate amendments over time, does have certain fallacies that need to be rectified.

Order XIV, Rule 1(5) mentions that it is the court that must record and frame the issues. The Delhi High Court guidelines on the Practice in the Trial of Civil Suits in Part F calls the practice of allowing the pleaders to frame the issue as illegal. Explaining the Code, it contemplates that it is the Presiding Officer of the Court who must examine the pleadings, arrive at an understanding regarding the points in dispute, and it is post this that he/she frames the issues on.[14] Even though, the framing of issues, is the responsibility of the courts, it is essential to understand that at the time of the framing of the issues, assistance of council maybe invited.

The court is required to consider the genre of the case, the material documents along with the pleadings, identify the right question of dispute, establish the burden of proof on the right party by considering the weight of evidence, and so on. The Hon'ble court shall frame an issue with appropriate application of mind and shall go beyond the technical procedure of finding common issues between the parties, so as to save effort and time of the various parties involved.

However, these days, the court decide the issues in a mechanical and desultory manner, as draft issues from both the sides are considered and whatever is common between the two drafts is taken out as an issue in the matter which has resulted in a judicial clog. As mentioned in the guidelines of the High Court of Delhi, there are situations where the pleaders are allowed to frame the issues.

The framing of the issues by the pleaders of any side could lead to the formation of a bias in the issues by themselves, leading to a miscarriage of justice. Moreover, "Draft Issues submitted by one party should not be mechanically adopted by the Court as it is primarily the duty of the judge to frame the Issues in the cases. Therefore, the judge is bound to apply his mind to pleadings of the parties before framing the Issues"[15].

Therefore, Courts should frame the issues after going through all the relevant material and pleadings, finding out the law area that is brought in question and what legal questions arise from the same, etc, which would not only save judiciary from forming a clog, but also save judicial time and effort.

A Comparitative Study With The Laws In Uk And Us Regarding The Framing Of Issues

Looking at the civil procedures in the United Kingdom and the United States, there is no specific process merely for the framing of issues. The framing of issues happens in the process of the first hearing in Indian courts, where a single hearing is entirely dedicated solely to both parties either agreeing or denying the existence of the claims.[16] With a legal system which is renowned for its delays, the dedication of a hearing merely for this purpose can be counterproductive.[17]

As mentioned earlier, courts have justified the need for a specific hearing solely for the framing of issues since they believe that this would provide clarity to both, the parties and the judges. However, the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure,[18] and the Civil Procedure Rules[19] in the United States of America and the United Kingdom have a more simplified process.

In the United Kingdom, the entire process happens through the written medium where the plaintiff submits the claims to the court. A copy of this is sent to the defendant who submits a reply. Based on this interaction, the judge then decides how to proceed.[20] Courts in the US follow a similar process which results in a lot of time being saved.[21] It provides the onus on the parties of the suit to ensure a quick trial, and to ensure there is no misuse of this freedom, the time for replies to claims are short.

The parties involved and the judges in a case comprehensively go through the documents, the facts in issue, the legal questions involved and all other relevant details before the first hearing. The fact that all of this gets over earlier not only implies a saving in time, but also implies a comfortable process for the parties, as well as the witnesses as they would not need to visit the court unnecessarily.[22]

With the process largely involving the interaction of the parties, and their lawyers, the possibilities of being settled before the trial stage is also massive. Very few cases in the United Kingdom end up reaching the trial stage since the exchange of information between the parties prior to this provides enough clarity and understanding to them regarding their own position, the position of the opposite side, and that a settlement between themselves without the involvement of the court could be beneficial to them.[23]

Mediation, a form of dispute settlement that India is push for further to reduce the workload of courts can be introduced by adapting this.[24] These is one crucial aspect where the Indian position could correct itself in.

Conclusion
The Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is an extremely lengthy procedural legislation which pays the most attention to all the minutiae, this can prove to be it's shortcoming as well. While the courts have established, and over time emphasised the importance of the step of framing charges, it is probably time to rethink its necessity.

The United States and the United Kingdom are clear examples of successful legal systems that operate without such a provision. With written communication between the parties preferred, a majority of the work that the court is required to do in the Indian legal system, by itself, is instead done by the parties, while keeping the court in the loop.

The elimination of this simple step in the process could lead to a massive saving of time by courts and ensure a reduction of backlogs over the longer time period. While this might seem to be a hard to accept concept at first, adapting to this could provide great returns in the longer run.

End-Notes:
  1. *
  2. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, No. 5, Acts of Parliament, 1908 (India).
  3. Id.
  4. Manmohan Das v. Ramdei, AIR 1931 PC 175.
  5. The Demanding Mistress: What is the Purpose and Significance of framing of issues in Civil Suits? The Demanding Mistress, http://thedemandingmistress.blogspot.com/2016/04/what-is-purpose-and-significance-of.html (last visited Sep 28, 2020).
  6. Banke Ram v. Sarasti Devi, AIR 1977 P&H 158.
  7. Anil Kumar v. Devender Kumar & Ors, (2019) 263 DLT 536.
  8. Id.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. As was observed in the case of Siddhi Chunilal v Suresh Gopalkishan, 2009
  12. (In AIR 2001 SC 490, in para-19)
  13. Siddhi Chunilal Vs. Suresh Gopkishan, 2009 (6) BCR 857.
  14. Practice in the Trial of Civil Suits, courtrulefile_7vp2yezq.pdf, http://delhihighcourt.nic.in/writereaddata/upload/courtrules/courtrulefile_7vp2yezq.pdf (last visited Sep 28, 2020)
  15. In Board of Trustees of the Port of Mormugao Vs. V.M. Salgaokar & Brothers
  16. First hearing Law Times Journal, http://lawtimesjournal.in/first-hearing/ (last visited Sep 28, 2020)
  17. Priyabrata Ghosh, Civil Justice System : Its Delays And Solutions, 9 Journal of the Indian Law Institute (2020).
  18. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure LII / Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp
  19. The Civil Procedure Rules 1998, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1998/3132/contents (last visited Sep 28, 2020).
  20. Seven Stages of the Civil Court Process Kerseys Solicitors, https://www.kerseys.co.uk/seven-stages-civil-court-process/ (last visited Sep 28, 2020).
  21. Civil Cases United States Courts, http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/types-cases/civil-cases (last visited Sep 28, 2020).
  22. Id.
  23. Seven Stages of the Civil Court Process Kerseys Solicitors, https://www.kerseys.co.uk/seven-stages-civil-court-process/ (last visited Sep 28, 2020).
  24. Effective implementation of Mediation in India: The way forward, https://www.barandbench.com/columns/effective-implementation-of-mediation-in-india-the-way-forward (last visited Sep 29, 2020)
Written By: Taneesha Ahuja - A 5th year law student pursuing BBA LLB at OP Jindal University, Sonipat.

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