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Legal GK - Introduction to CPC and How to File a Civil Case

Broadly, there are two kinds of disputes in the courts of law – civil and criminal offences.  Any transgression of the law, that does not amount to a criminal offence or crime, is a civil offence. The Civil Procedure Code is a code that lays out the procedure to be followed by the parties and the machinery they must engage in order to get their rights enforced. Such a law is known as an adjective law.


The way a civil case proceeds, is that a matter is first brought to the court by one of the parties and the court examines the claim being made. Upon deciding whether it is a just claim, a notice is served upon the alleged wrong-doer, the court sets the process of adjudication in motion. 

The Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) lays down the detailed procedure for determination of disputes by courts of law. In general, the Code of Civil Procedure is applicable to all civil disputes (that is, private disputes, which are not criminal). The only instances where it does not apply are:

  • Where the parties agree to privately resolve the dispute through contract, such as by arbitration.
  • Where an independent tribunal has been established and the jurisdiction of civil courts is excluded. For example matters pertaining to the terms of service of government servants, income tax or regulatory matters are decided by dedicated tribunals established under other legislations (such as the Income Tax Act Appellate Tribunal under the Income Tax Act).
  • Where a particular legislation provides jurisdiction to another forum. E.g. the jurisdiction for winding up of a company’s affairs usually vests in the High Court.

The CPC is an extremely detailed statute and commentaries on the CPC run into several thousands of pages. Let us first understand the difference between Crimial and Civil cases.

(a)  Any private party may file a civil suit against another private party. In a criminal court proceeding, the prosecution, which is the State, levels the charges.

 

(b)  Also, in a criminal proceeding, the burden of proving that the crime was committed by the defendant lies on the prosecution. The defendant only has to ensure that the evidence brought forward is not enough to find him guilty.

 

(c)   In a civil case, if the plaintiff establishes that it is more likely that the offence was committed than not, the burden of proof will shift to the defendant.

Lets understand some of the important terms from CPC.

 

· Suit and Adjudication

 

The word suit has been defined by the courts. The word 'suit' ordinarily means a Civil proceeding instituted by the presentation of a plaint. Every suit is instituted by the presentation of a plaint by a plaintiff. It is brought against the defendant, and when there is no civil suit there is no decree.

A plaint is the written submission by the plaintiff containing the allegations against the defendant.

When the court makes a determination on judicial grounds on the matter that was brought up in the dispute, it is known as an adjudication. 

When a suit is brought to the court, the court takes steps to hear both sides of the dispute, and then after examining the evidence, adjudicates upon the dispute. A decree is passed by the court after adjudicating upon the matter or all the matters raised in the suit; this decree directs the losing party to take the necessary action for the winning party.


 · Decree, Judgement and Order

 

A Court may pass an adjudication relating to certain matters in a suit or all the matters in the suit.

 

There are basically three types of decrees

1. Preliminary decree

2. Final decree

3. Partly preliminary and partly final.

 

Preliminary decree

When an adjudication decides the rights of the parties with regard to all or any of the matters in controversy in the suit, but does not completely dispose of the suit, it is a preliminary decree.  A preliminary decree is passed in those cases in which the Court has first to adjudicate upon the rights of the parties and has then to remain inactive until it is in a position to pass a final decree.  There is a conflict of opinions as to whether there can be more than one preliminary decree in the same suit.  In case of an appeal against a preliminary decree the final decree automatically falls for there is no preliminary decree thereafter in support of it.

 

Final decree

A decree may be said to be final in two ways-when there has been no appeal filed against the decree or when the matter has been decided by the highest Court, or when the Court passing it completely disposes of the suit.  A final decree is one which completely disposes of the suit and finally settles all the questions in controversy between the parties and nothing further remains to be decided thereafter.  Ordinarily there will be only one final decree in the suit.  However, where two or more causes of action are joined together there can be more than one final decree.

 

Judgment

Judgment means the statement given by the Judge on the grounds of a decree or order.  The essential elements of a judgment is that there should be a statement of the grounds of the decision.  Every judgment must contain-a concise statement of the case-the points for determination-the decision thereon-the reasons for such acquisition.  A judgment can be distinguished from a decree in the sense that a judgment means the statement given by the Judge of the grounds of a decree or order.  A judgment contemplates a state prior to the passing of a decree or an order, and after the pronouncement of a judgment a decree shall follow.

 

Order

An order means the formal expression of any decision of a Civil court which is not a decree.  A judicial order must contain the discussion of the question at issue and the reasons which prevailed with the Court to pass the order.  The distinction may be drawn between a decree and order on the following grounds:

1. A decree can only be passed in the suit which commenced by the presentation of a plaint.  An order may arise from a petition or application.

2.  A decree conclusively determines the rights of the parties however an order may not finally determine such rights

3. There cannot be a preliminary order

4.  In certain suit is one preliminary decree and the other final decree may be passed, however a number of orders may be passed in the same suit.

5.  Every decree is appealable but every order is not unless specified.

 

Res Judicata

What if a matter is already decided or under active consideration by another court? No Court shall proceed with the trial of any suit in which the matter in issue is also directly and substantially in issue in the previously instituted suit between the same parties and that the Court in which the previous suit is pending is competent to grant of the relief claimed. Similarly, if a matter is already decided, it will not be taken up again by another court. The policy of the law is to confine the plaintiff to one litigation, thus the possibility of two contradictory verdicts is negated.  It intends to protect the person from multiplicity of proceedings and avoids a conflict of decisions. 

Representative Suits and PIL

 

This kind of suit may be filed by one or more persons on behalf of others having the same interest in the suit.  Certain conditions must be fulfilled in cases of representative suits

1.  Parties must be numerous

2.  They must have the same interest in the suit

3.  Permission must be granted or direction must be given by the Court

4.  Notice must be given to the parties to be represented in the suit.

 

This is different from Public Interest Litigation because the requirement of locus standi is more relaxed and it is not necessary for the person to have an interest in the suit if the matter in issue in the suit affects the general public.

 

Pleadings, Plaint and Written Statement

 

The pleadings usually contain a short statement providing the material facts on which the party relies for his claim or defense.  There are a few rules which the pleadings submitted must follow, and they are :-

1.  The Pleadings must only state the facts and not law

2.  Facts should be material facts and must not give evidence.

 

The plaint is a document or a set of documents submitted by the plaintiff establishing her cause of action, the maintainability of the suit, and the nature of remedy that she seeks from the court.

 

Written Statement 

A written statement signifies the reply by the defendant to the plaint filed by the plaintiff. When a plaint is filed, the Court examines the charge and serves a summons on the alleged wrongdoer, the defendant. He must respond within a month or 3 months by filing a written statement in his defense.

 

There are some very important rules concerning the manner in which the statement of defence ought to be presented. This includes:

1.    All the documents supporting the defence or counterclaim must be produced

2.    Any facts that the defendant considers relevant, whether new or old, must be brought up.

3.    The denials and assertions must be specific, clear and explicit and must not be vague.

4.    The statement must deal with every given fact, and any allegation that is not denied is taken to be admitted.

 

Counterclaim & Set Off

A counterclaim is a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff.  A counterclaim has to be a claim that could have been the subject matter of another suit and it is essentially a cross action. The defendant submits his claims in a document(s). The term ‘plaint’ incorporates this document as well, although the defendant’s plaint need not pertain to the same information as in a plaintiff’s plaint.

Temporary and Permanent Injunction 

An injunction is like a spoke in the wheel. It aims to maintain the status quo and prevent any possible further injury to the plaintiff, sometimes for the duration of the trial and sometimes as a part of a permanent decree given at the conclusion of the trial. A permanent injunction restrains a party from ever doing a particular act and is granted on merits at the conclusion of the trial.

 

A temporary injunction on the other hand is granted only until the disposal of the suit and it cannot be granted against the third party. This applies, for example, when the property in dispute is deteriorating or being damaged; the plaintiff can ask for a temporary injunction on the defendant’s neglect of the goods. And, for instance, if the defendant is likely to sell or transact using the property in dispute, it is necessary to get an injunction on the sale of the property. 

First and Second Appeal

 

In order to safeguard the possible loopholes in the judicial process and to give the losing party an opportunity to be heard by a reviewing body, there is a provision for appeal in our judicial system. An appeal is always made to a higher authority, a reviewing body which will look into the matter on certain points and decide whether the  adjudication previously made should be reversed or modified or retained. A person may appeal if he is aggrieved by the decision of the court, but there is no guarantee that his appeal will be allowed.


While an appeal may be a vital part of the judicial process, it is difficult to know till when the recursive appeal process may continue. An appeal sometimes causes inevitable delays in the delivery of justice, but at other times, it provides a much needed intervention in order to reverse or modify a wrong decision.


An appeal is the judicial review of the decision of an inferior Court by a higher Court. 

The three basic elements of an appeal are:

1.  A decision

2.  An aggrieved person

3.  A reviewing body.

 

It is not an inherent or natural right

An appeal may do three things

1.  Reverse the order

2.  Modify the order

3.  Dismiss the order

The characteristics of a first appeal may be listed as follows

1.  First appeal applies against the decree passed by the Court exercising original jurisdiction

2.  First appeal may be filed in a superior Court which may or may not be the High Court

3.  First appeal may be made on a question of fact, law or a mixed question

4.  Letters patent appeal may lie against the judgment of a single Judge to a division bench.

 

It may be distinguished from a second appeal in the following ways

1.  A second of the lies against the decree of the first appeal

2.  A second appeal may be made only to the High Court

3.  The only grounds for a second appeal is that there is a substantial question of law.

4.  There is no letters patent appeal in second appeal.

  

Filing a case in a court

A civil case (called a suit) may be filed in case of a dispute between two parties – say, when there is a dispute over performance of a contract, or for payment of money. It is commenced by filing a plaint. The specific event which entitles you to file a suit is known as a ‘cause of action’ – e.g. the time from which one party alleges that some action was to be performed by another party (but was not performed) or the time from when payment was due (but not paid).

The time period within which a case may be filed should be within the Limitation Act (discussed separately).

In which court should you file a suit?

Every suit that you file will have a monetary value. How is the monetary value of a suit determined? The monetary value of a suit is determined as per the principles mentioned under the Suits Valuation Act, 1887 (not relevant to be discussed in more detail).

Courts have jurisdiction depending on the monetary value of a suit. For example, the District Court in a particular district may only accept cases above INR 1 lakh. Suits having a lower monetary value may have to be filed in court of subordinate judge. This is known as the pecuniary jurisdiction of a court. Pecuniary jurisdiction based on monetary value differs from state to state. The pecuniary limits of courts in Maharashtra may be different from limits in West Bengal.

A suit must be filed in the lowest court that is competent to try it. 

Where should the Court be located?

There should be some relation between the court where the suit is filed and the place where the dispute arose. This concept is understood as the territorial jurisdiction of a court.

I hope this was a nice first lesson on Civil Procedure Code. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and let us know if you found this useful as well, so we can decide whether or not to give you more such legal capsules to learn!
 

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