Legal Blog: Framing Preliminary Issue - Mixed Questions of Law & Fact : The Law

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Framing Preliminary Issue - Mixed Questions of Law & Fact : The Law

Justice G.P. Mathur
The Supreme Court in its decision reported as Ramesh B. Desai v. Bipin Vadilal Mehta, (2006) 5 SCC 638, has laid down that Order 14 Rule 2 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908 confers no jurisdiction on a Court to decide the mixed questions of fact and law as a preliminary issue. It is clearly held in this judgment that where for a decision on an issue of law depends firstly upon the decision of a disputed fact then the issue cannot be tried as a preliminary issue. The Supreme Court has therefore made it clear that once there are disputed questions of facts which require trial, the issue cannot be decided as a preliminary issue. The relevant extracts from the aforesaid judgment are reproduced hereunder;

12. Sub-rule (2) of Order XIV Rule 2 CPC lays down that where issues both of law and of fact arise in the same suit, and the Court is of opinion that the case or any part thereof may be disposed of on an issue of law only, it may try that issue first if that issue relates to (a) the jurisdiction of the Court, or (b) a bar to the suit created by any law for the time being in force. The provisions of this Rule came up for consideration before this Court in Major S.S. Khanna vs. Brig. F.J. Dillon AIR1964 SC 497, and it was held as under:- 

"Under O. 14 R. 2 where issues both of law and of fact arise in the same suit, and the Court is of opinion that the case or any part thereof may be disposed of on the issues of law only, it shall try those issues first, and for that purpose may, if it thinks fit, postpone the settlement of the issues of fact until after the issues of law have been determined. The jurisdiction to try issues of law apart from the issues of fact may be exercised only where in the opinion of the Court the whole suit may be disposed of on the issues of law alone, but the Code confers no jurisdiction upon the Court to try a suit on mixed issues of law and fact as preliminary issues. Normally all the issues in a suit should be tried by the Court: not to do so, especially when the decision on issues even of law depends upon the decision of issues of fact, would result in a lop-sided trial of the suit."

Though there has been a slight amendment in the language of Order XIV Rule 2 CPC by the Amending Act, 1976, but the principle enunciated in the above quoted decision still holds good and there can be no departure from the principle that the Code confers no jurisdiction upon the Court to try a suit on mixed issue of law and fact as a preliminary issue and where the decision on issue of law depends upon decision of fact, it cannot be tried as a preliminary issue.

13. The plea raised by the contesting respondents is in fact a plea of demurrer. Demurrer is an act of objecting or taking exception or a protest. It is a pleading by a party to a legal action that assumes the truth of the matter alleged by the opposite party and sets up that it is insufficient in law to sustain his claim or that there is some other defect on the face of the pleadings constituting a legal reason why the opposite party should not be allowed to proceed further. In O.N. Bhatnagar vs. Smt. Rukibai Narsindas and others (1982) 2 SCC 244 (para 9) it was held that the appellant having raised a plea in the nature of demurrer, the question of jurisdiction had to be determined with advertence to the allegations contained in the statement of claim made by respondent 1 under Section 91(1) of the Act and those allegations must be taken to be true. In Roop Lal Sathi vs. Nachhattar Singh Gill (1982) 3 SCC 487 (para 24), it was observed that a preliminary objection that the election petition is not in conformity with Section 83(1)(a) of the Act i.e. it does not contain the concise statement of the material facts on which the petitioner relies, is but a plea in the nature of demurrer and in deciding the question the Court has to assume for this purpose that the averments contained in the election petition are true. Reiterating the same principle in Abdulla Bin Ali and others vs. Galappa and others (1985) 2 SCC 54, it was said that there is no denying the fact that the allegations made in plaint decide the forum and the jurisdiction does not depend upon the defence taken by the defendants in the written statement. In Exphar Sa and another vs. Eupharma Laboratories Ltd. and another (2004) 3 SCC 688 (para 9), it was ruled that where an objection to jurisdiction is raised by way of demurrer and not at the trial, the objection must proceed on the basis that the facts as pleaded by the initiator of the impugned proceedings are true. The submission in order to succeed must show that granted those facts the court does not have jurisdiction as a matter of law. In this case the decision of the High Court on the point of the jurisdiction was set aside as the High Court had examined the written statement filed by the respondents in which it was claimed that the goods were not at all sold within the territorial jurisdiction of Delhi High Court and also that the respondent No. 2 did not carry out business within the jurisdiction of the said High Court. Following the same principle in Indian Mineral & Chemicals Co. and others vs. Deutsche Bank (2004) 12 SCC 376 (paras 10 and 11), it was observed that the assertions in a plaint must be assumed to be true for the purpose of determining whether leave is liable to be revoked on the point of demurrer.

14. The principle underlying Clause (d) of Order VII Rule 11 is no different. We will refer here to a recent decision of this Court rendered in Popat and Kotecha Property vs. State Bank of India Staff Association (2005) 7 SCC 510 where it was held as under in para 10 of the report: -

"10. Clause (d) of Order 7 Rule 7 speaks of suit, as appears from the statement in the plaint to be barred by any law. Disputed questions cannot be decided at the time of considering an application filed under Order 7 Rule 11 CPC. Clause (d) of Rule 11 of Order 7 applies in those cases only where the statement made by the plaintiff in the plaint, without any doubt or dispute shows that the suit is barred by any law in force."

It was emphasized in para 25 of the reports that the statement in the plaint without addition or subtraction must show that it is barred by any law to attract application of Order 7 Rule 11 CPC. The principle is, therefore, well settled that in order to examine whether the plaint is barred by any law, as contemplated by sub-rule (d) of Order VII Rule 11 CPC, the averments made in the plaint alone have to be seen and they have to be assumed to be correct. It is not permissible to look into the pleas raised in the written statement or to any piece of evidence. Applying the said principle, the plea raised by the contesting respondents that the Company Petition was barred by limitation has to be examined by looking into the averments made in the Company Petition alone and any affidavit filed in reply to the Company Petition or the contents of the affidavit filed in support of Company Application No. 113 of 1995 filed by the respondents seeking dismissal of the Company Petition cannot at all be looked into.

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