Friday, April 9, 2010

Scope of Revisionary Powers of a High Court

Section 115 of the Code of Civil Procedure has figured in quite a few judgments, although it is worded in a reasonably clear fashion. The provision has been explained in great detail in a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in Khanna v. Dillon. Let’s take a look at the provision:

(1) The High Court may call for the record of any case which has been decided by any Court subordinate to such High Court and in which no appeal lies thereto, and if such subordinate Court appears-
(a) to have exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law, or
(b) to have failed to exercise a jurisdiction so vested, or
(c) to have acted in the exercise of its jurisdiction illegally or with material irregularity,
the High Court may make such order in the case as it thinks fit:
Provided that the High Court shall not, under this section, vary or reverse any order made, or any order deciding an issue, in the course of a suit or other proceeding, except where the order, if it had been made in favour of the party applying for revision, would have finally disposed of the suit or other proceedings.

(2) The High Court shall not, under this section, vary or reverse any decree or order against which an appeal lies either to the High Court or to any Court subordinate thereto.

(3) A revision shall not operate as a stay of suit or other proceeding before the Court, except where such suit or other proceeding is stayed by the High Court.

The underlined portions of sub-section 1 are instrumental in understanding the true scope and use of the provision. First, it is established that the power of revision is vested only in the High Court. Second, it states that the Court may call for records suo motu or on the application of a party. Third, it is borne out that the records of any Court sub-ordinate to the High Court may be called for. Fourth, such powers of revision may be invoked only in cases which have been decided. Fifth, it may be invoked only in cases in which no appeal lies thereto.

The import of the first three limbs is that the High Court exercises its power of supervision over subordinate Courts in invoking its revisionary powers under the Code. The import of the fourth limb is that an application for revision may be made only after a case has been decided.

As for the fifth limb, this is the one usually perceived as the most ambiguous. It states that a revision may be sought only in cases “in which no appeal lies thereto”. The word “thereto” has been used for a reason; it is to convey that only in situations where an appeal cannot be filed before the High Court, a revision may be filed.

Stated otherwise, where the High Court may be approached through an appeal, be it the first appeal or a second one under Section 100, the High Court is barred from entertaining a revision application. This is because if the High Court may be approached in either the first or second appeals, then the questions sought to be posed in a revision application may be raised validly in the appeal as well. Therefore, since such questions may be placed before the High Court in appeal, there is no need to provide a party with an additional provision in the form of a revision application.

This provision has often been wrongly interpreted by parties to mean that since an appeal may lie from a decision before a higher appellate authority which is subordinate to the High Court, a revision may not lie before the High Court. In other words, when an appeal before an appellate forum (which is subordinate to the High Court) is available to a party, it is not entitled to seek a revision.

This is patently wrong because the High Court derives its powers by virtue of it being vested with supervisory jurisdiction which it may use to set aside a decision of a sub-ordinate Court on grounds of jurisdiction. This is evidenced from the limited circumstances detailed in sub-section 1 which refer to lack of jurisdiction or transgression of powers by a Court sub-ordinate to the High Court.

The next question is, is a Single Judge of the High Court subordinate to the High Court? It has been held that a Single Judge is not sub-ordinate to the High Court and there shall not lie a revision from his decision. This is also because a letters patent appeal is already available to a party aggrieved by the decision of the Single Judge.

If an appeal normally lies before the High Court either as a first appeal or a second appeal, and the right to file such appeal has expired on grounds of limitation, can a party validly rely on section 115 to file a revision instead of the appeal? This is possible because the section speaks of situations where an appeal does not lie and this could be on account of any reason, including unavailability of the right to appeal on grounds of limitation.

Can the decision of a High Court in a revision application be challenged? If yes, how? A decision or order of the High Court in a revision application is not an appealable order under Order 43 of the CPC nor can it be appealed as a decree (under Sections 96 or 100) because the order of the High Court in the revision application is not a decree. Therefore, for a remedy against the order of a Court under Section 115, one has to look beyond the CPC. This would mean the Constitution, but would it be Article 226 or 227?

Article 227 vests the Court with supervisory jurisdiction which it can exercise over subordinate Courts. Since we have already concluded that the High Court is not subordinate to itself, I am assuming Article 226 would be the right provision to invoke in such situations. Of course, I am not very sure of this conclusion, but it seems plausible. I shall continue the discussion in another post soon with a discussion of this judgment of the Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Sir,

    Apologies for joining late to this discusison and hence giving this late response.

    I think that the proposition you have laid down is quite correct and the only remedy lying against the decision in revision petition is Article - 226/227.

    At the same time, I dont think there would be any confusion existing that a revision may lie to High Court only if there is an appeal to any other appellate authority as the sub-section (2) clearly says that a HC may not vary or reverse any decree or order through 115 when there lies an appeal to the HC, which means that revision is possible ONLY in cases where there lies no appeal to HC.