Inherent powers of the Court under the CPC

By Sunit Kumar Mondal, Prachi Thanvi & Shubhi Surana, GNLU

Editor’s Note: This paper aims to analyze the inherent powers of the court as enshrined under section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code. It does so by examining the bare provision itself along with its implementation by the courts using case laws and then goes on to study the various limitations imposed upon it through judicial decisions. It also presents an analysis of Section 151 including its benefits, implementation, misuse and the limitations subsequently imposed.

INTRODUCTION

Courts are set up to redress to the plethora of issues that are bound to crop up when people live together in a country as vast as ours. They are given authority by the laws of our country which guide and limit them. Yet, no matter how well and minutely codified our laws may be, it is not humanly possible to account for every eventuality and in order to not let this very obvious tautology interfere with the meting out of justice efficiently and effectively, the Code of Civil Procedure, which regulates the procedural aspect of all civil litigation, has been provided with the dimension of inherent powers of the court.

Section 148 to 153 provide for the said inherent powers, which come to the rescue in case of any unforeseen circumstances. They are complementary to the powers otherwise specifically conferred by the Code of Civil Procedure and the court is free to exercise them for the ends of justice or to prevent the abuse of the process of the court by virtue of an obligation to provide justice (ex debitio justitae) in the absence of express provisions of the Code.

Section 148 states that when any period is fixed or granted by the court for the doing of any act, the court has the power to extend the said period even if it has expired.

Section 149 allows the court to allow a party to make up the deficiency of court-fees payable on a plaint, memorandum of appeal etc., even after the expiry of the limitation prescribed for the filing of such suit or appeal.

Section 150 talks of transfer of business of one court to another, wherein the court which receives the said business shall have the same powers and duties as the court from which the business is transferred.

Section 151 talks about the inherent powers of the court and says that nothing in the code shall limit the power of the court to make any order that will necessarily for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the process of the court.

Section 152 confers the power to correct any mistakes made in judgements, decrees or orders at any time upon the court, either of its own accord or upon receiving application.

Section 153 allows the court to amend any defect or error in any proceeding in a suit. Also, it dictates that all necessary amendments shall be made for the purpose of determining the real question or issue raised by or depending on such a proceeding. Further, 153A gives the court the power to amend a decree or order where the appeal has been summarily dismissed, and 153B deems the place of trial to be an open court.

SECTION 151

The bare provision of the Section provides as follows:

“Saving of inherent powers of the court.– Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect the inherent power of the Court to make such orders as may be necessary for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the process of the Court.”

This indicates, as emphasised, that the said provision, which is the first and only section to explicitly use the term ‘inherent power’, is brought into the picture only when the following two aspects are in question:

1. The ends of justice are to be achieved (and the Code falls short of the legislation required for this)

In the case of Debendranath v. Satya Bala Dass[i], the phrase “ends of justice” was explained and it was held that “ends of justice are solemn words and not mere polite expression in juristic methodology and justice is the pursuit and end of all law. But these words do not mean vague and indeterminate notions of justice according to statutes and laws of the land”.

Thus this cause of use of inherent powers indicates that the court may exercise the said powers in order for substantive justice to prevail. The Court is allowed to exercise these powers in instances like the following:

  • To recall its own orders and correct its mistakes, as was done in Keshardeo v. Radha Kissen[ii],
  • To pass an injunction in a case not covered by Order 39, as was seen in Manohar Lal Chopra v. Sheth Harilal[iii],
  • To set aside an ex parte order passed against the party, as in Martin Burn Ltd. V. R. N. Banerjee[iv]
  • To add, delete or transpose any party to a suit Salia Bala Dassi v. Nirmala Sundari Dassi[v] 

The aforementioned were just a few instances of the exercise of the inherent powers of the Court. The crux of the matter here, however, remains that these powers can be exercised by the Court in the light of justice, equity and good conscience.

 2. The process of the court is to be protected from abuse

The ‘abuse’ herein referred to is said to occur when a Court (being the perpetrator of the said abuse in this case) employs a procedure in doing something that it never intended to do and there is miscarriage of justice. The injustice so done to the party must be remedied on the basis of the doctrine of actus curiae neminem gravabit (an act of the court shall prejudice no one).  Similarly, a party to a case will become the perpetrator of the abuse in instances when the said party does acts like the following:

  • Obtaining benefits by practising fraud on the Court or a party to the proceedings, as seen in Daddu Dayal Mahasabhav. Sukhdev Arya[vi]
  • Circumventing statutory provisions, as example of which can be found in Manilal Mohanlal v. Sardar Sayed Ahmed[vii]
  • Resorting to or encouraging multiplicity of proceedings, as seen in Nair Service Society Ltd. V. K. C. Alexander[viii]
  • Introducing scandalous or objectionable matter in the proceedings, as was done by a party in Shankarlal v. Ramankilal[ix]

Thus, the powers implied by S.151 can also be invoked by the Court on grounds like the ones mentioned above, i.e. on the basis of abuse of the process of the court by either the parties or a lower court. The bottom line in either case is to maintain the sanctity of justice and to uphold the essence of the laws along with their object. Injustice should be eradicated as soon as possible and the provision for the inherent powers of the Court is but another tool to help do the same.

Thus, it can safely be said that the provision for the inherent powers of the Court, be it 148 or 151, is quite essential to the working of our judicial system. This is because, though we can lay claim to one of the finest works of legislation and codification as our constitutional framework along with detailed legislations to support it, there have always been and will always be eventualities that have not been presupposed. It is this very fact that necessitates the presence of provisions like these. If they were to be removed, the sword that is the judiciary, would stand blunt and ineffective, being constrained by a mere lack in codification, and the core purpose of the law in question would be defeated, just because there was no additional clause.

However, even the Courts cannot be given completely unrestrained freedom and discretion, in order to protect justice and the interests of the people. Hence, several limitations have been imposed upon these powers, as will be observed in the following section.

It is made clear that the substance of this project has been restricted to the topic or occurrences secured by the provisions of Section 151 of the code, just and entire plan is not made the topic of this article.

LIMITATIONS AND SCOPE

Section 151 CPC is not a substantive provision which creates or confers any power or jurisdiction on courts. It merely recognizes the discretionary power inherent in every court as a necessary corollary for rendering justice in accordance with law, to do what is “right” and undo what is “wrong”, that is, to do all things necessary to secure the ends of justice and prevent abuse of its process. As the provisions of the Code are not exhaustive, Section 151 recognizes and confirms that if the Code does not expressly or impliedly cover any particular procedural aspect, the inherent power can be used to deal with such situation or aspect, if the ends of justice warrant it. The breadth of such power is coextensive with the need to exercise such power on the facts and circumstances. A court has no power to do that which is prohibited by law or the Code, by purported exercise of its inherent powers. If the Code contains provisions dealing with a particular topic or aspect, and such provisions either expressly or by necessary implication exhaust the scope of the power of the court or the jurisdiction that may be exercised in relation to that matter, the inherent power cannot be invoked in order to cut across the powers conferred by the Code or in a manner inconsistent with such provisions. In other words the court cannot make use of the special provisions of Section 151 of the Code, where the remedy or procedure is provided in the Code.

The inherent powers of the court being complementary to the powers specifically conferred, a court is free to exercise them for the purposes mentioned in Section 151 of the Code when the matter is not covered by any specific provision in the Code and the exercise of those powers would not in any way be in conflict with what has been expressly provided in the Code or be against the intention of the legislature. While exercising the inherent power, the court will be doubly cautious, as there is no legislative guidance to deal with the procedural situation and the exercise of power depends upon the discretion and wisdom of the court, and in the facts and circumstances of the case. The absence of an express provision in the Code and the recognition and saving of the inherent power of a court, should not however be treated as a carte blanche to grant any relief. The power under Section 151 will have to be used with circumspection and care, only where it is absolutely necessary, when there is no provision in the Code governing the matter, when the bona fides of the applicant cannot be doubted, when such exercise is to meet the ends of justice and to prevent abuse of process of court.

Supreme Court of India has by a plethora of decisions held that the powers are in addition and complementary to the powers conferred by this code and it can never be said that these powers can override the provisions of the code. Section 151 is intended only to supplement the other provisions of code and not to evade or ignore them or to invent a new procedure and thus inherent power cannot prevail over statute. Moreover, the only thing which needs to be kept in mind while exercising the inherent powers is that they when exercised do not come in conflict with what has been expressly provided for or those exhaustively covering a particular topic or against the intention of the legislature.

When there is no case of grant of a particular relief under a particular statute, power under sec.151 need not be exercised. Where in a case claiming maintenance by a Hindu woman married to a Hindu Male having a living lawful wedded wife, it cannot be granted U/s 25 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the marriage being void under section 5(1) thereof, and such reliefs cannot be granted by invoking sec.151

 A court cannot override the express provision of law but if there is no express provision in the statute, then the apex court has held that the court can exercise its power in a suitable case. Hence as per the judgment in the case of Ram Chand & Sons Sugar Mills (p) Ltd. v. Kanhaya Lal Bhargava, the power u/s 151 cannot be exercised if its exercise is inconsistent with or comes into conflict with any of the powers expressly or by necessary implication conferred by the other provisions of the code.

Inherent powers can be exercised when no other remedy is available. Sec.151 hence cannot be invoked as substitute for appeal, revision or review. In exercise of inherent powers however, the court cannot override general principle of law. It could only be for securing ends of justice and prevent abuse of process of court. The inherent powers of the court u/s 151 also cannot be invoked to grant a relief beyond scope of law. For instance if in an auction proceedings once the law has fixed 15 days time to deposit the full amount of purchase money in the court, such period cannot be extended u/s 151. Moving over from the general approach, the following are some of the instances where the inherent powers of the Courts are limited along with case laws:

  • In the exercise of inherent powers a court cannot invest itself with jurisdiction not vested in it by law[x];
  • Grant an order of stay circumventing the provisions of Section 10 of the Code[xi];
  • To allow set-off in execution proceedings at the instance of an auction-purchaser, ignoring the provisions at the instance of an auction-purchaser, ignoring the provisions of Order 21 Rule 84[xii];
  • Remand a case, ignoring the provisions of Order 41 Rules 23 and 25[xiii];
  • Reopen the questions which had already been heard and finally decided by it and which are consequently barred by the general principles of res judicata[xiv];
  • To appoint a Commissioner keeping aside the provisions of Section 75[xv];
  • Review its orders or judgements in the absence of statutory provisions of Order 9 Rule 9 or 13[xvi];
  • Direct an arbitrator to make a fresh award[xvii];
  • Restrain any party from taking proceedings in a court of law. Or implead legal representatives on record after the suit is abated[xviii];
  • To make an order restraining execution of the decree against the surety[xix]; or set aside an order which was right when it was made[xx].

CONCLUSION

In the conclusion we want to express that after studying the judicial trend/various judicial pronouncements one thing is made clear by the courts that excepting few special cases the court has a whole power to allow reliefs u/s 151 if it is facilitating in the ends of justice or preventing from the abuse of process of court.

Secondly, if few rudiments are trailed by every court then it would not be troublesome or confusing occupation to focus the stage with reference to when the inherent powers ought to be summoned.

Thirdly, it appears that the ground of having vested with inherent powers might be utilized as positive weapon to support few passes in procedural parts of a case by the courts in the matters where the advice come and contend on details. Also after the research endeavor it is shown that the courts are even cautious enough in respect to the stage and circumstances for conjuring inherent powers and have strictly emulated the standards legislating the provisions of Section 151.

Fourthly, in respect to the correct utilization of inherent powers the courts have summoned them in fitting cases and yes it doesn’t imply that there are no occurrences where the courts have abused it however one can say that there is less abuse and as a rule the Apex court or the High courts have redressed such abuse and have compensated the parties.

Thus, in our perspective inherent powers are of utmost importance and are the best illustrations to demonstrate the cautiousness of the legislature to empower all the individuals have access to justice even under such circumstances where there is no express provision and an issue or problem at law has emerged.

Edited by Hariharan Kumar

[i] AIR 1950 Cal 217 273

[ii] AIR 1953 SCR 136

[iii] AIR 1962 SC 527

[iv] AIR 1958 SC 79

[v] AIR 1958 SC 394

[vi] (1990) 1 SCC 189

[vii] AIR 1954 SC 349

[viii] AIR 1968 SC 1165

[ix] AIR 1951 Kant 23

[x] Raja Soap Factory v. S.P Shantharaj, AIR 1965 SC 1449: (1965) 2 SCR 800; State of W.B  v Indira Debi, (1977) 3 SCC 559

[xi] Manohar Lal Chopra v. Seth Hiralal, AIR 1962 SC 527: 1962 Supp (1) SCR 450

[xii] Manilal Mohanlal v Sardar Sayed Ahmed, AIR 1954 SC 349

[xiii] Mahendra Manilal v Sushila Mahendra, AIR 1965 SC 364

[xiv] Rikhabdass v Ballabhdas, AIR 1962 SC 551 at p. 554: 1962 Supp (1) SCR 475; UOI v Ram Charan, AIR 1964 SC 215 at p. 218: (1964) 3 SCR 467

[xv] Padam Sen v State of UP, 1961 SC 218 at p. 220: (1961) 1 SCR 884

[xvi] Arjun Singh v Mohindra Kumar, AIR 1964 SC 993

[xvii] Padam Sen v State of UP, 1961 SC 218 at p. 220: (1961) 1 SCR 884

[xviii] UOI v Ram Charan, AIR 1964 SC 215 at p. 218: (1964) 3 SCR 467

[xix] Bank of Bihar Ltd. v Dr. Damodar Prasad, AIR 1969 SC 297

[xx] A.C Estates v Serajuddin & Co., AIR 1966 SC 935 at p. 939: (1966) 1 SCR 235

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *