|Justice TS Thakur|
The Supreme Court in Ruchi Majoo v Sanjeev Majoo had the occasion to the deal with the provisions of the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 regarding jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement of foreign orders/judgments. While examining the judicial pronouncements on the subject Justice T.S. Thakur has held as under;
Section 9 of the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 makes a specific provision as regards the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain a claim for grant of custody of a minor. While sub- Section (1) of Section 9 identifies the court competent to pass an order for the custody of the persons of the minor, sub-sections (2) & (3) thereof deal with courts that can be approached for guardianship of the property owned by the minor. Section 9(1) alone is, therefore, relevant for our purpose. It says :
"9. Court having jurisdiction to entertain application - (1) If the application is with respect to the guardianship of the person of the minor, it shall be made to the District Court having Jurisdiction in the place where the minor ordinarily resides." It is evident from a bare reading of the above that the solitary test for determining the jurisdiction of the court under Section 9 of the Act is the `ordinary residence' of the minor. The expression used is "Where the minor ordinarily resides". Now whether the minor is ordinarily residing at a given place is primarily a question of intention which in turn is a question of fact. It may at best be a mixed question of law and fact, but unless the jurisdictional facts are admitted it can never be a pure question of law, capable of being answered without an enquiry into the factual aspects of the controversy. The factual aspects relevant to the question of jurisdiction are not admitted in the instant case. There are serious disputes on those aspects to which we shall presently refer. We may before doing so examine the true purpose of the expression `ordinarily resident' appearing in Section 9(1) (supra). This expression has been used in different contexts and statutes and has often come up for interpretation. Since liberal interpretation is the first and the foremost rule of interpretation it would be useful to understand the literal meaning of the two words that comprise the expression. The word `ordinary' has been defined by the Black's Law Dictionary as follows: "Ordinary (Adj.) :Regular; usual; normal; common; often recurring; according to established order; settled; customary; reasonable; not characterized by peculiar or unusual circumstances; belonging to, exercised by, or characteristic of, the normal or average individual." The word `reside' has been explained similarly as under:
"Reside: live, dwell, abide, sojourn, stay, remain, lodge. (Western- Knapp Engineering Co. V. Gillbank, C.C.A. Cal., 129 F2d 135, 136.) To settle oneself or a thing in a place, to be stationed, to remain or stay, to dwell permanently or continuously, to have a settled abode for a time, to have one's residence or domicile; specifically, to be in residence, to have an abiding place, to be present as an element, to inhere as quality, to be vested as a right. (State ex rel. Bowden v. Jensen Mo., 359 S.W.2d 343, 349.)"
In Websters dictionary also the word `reside' finds a similar meaning, which may be gainfully extracted: "1. To dwell for a considerable time; to make one's home; live. 2. To exist as an attribute or quality with in. 3. To be vested: with in"
In Mrs. Annie Besant v. Narayaniah AIR 1914 PC 41 the infants had been residing in the district of Chingleput in the Madras Presidency. They were given in custody of Mrs. Annie Besant for the purpose of education and were getting their education in England at the University of Oxford. A case was, however, filed in the district Court of Chingleput for the custody where according to the plaintiff the minors had permanently resided. Repeating the plea that the Chingleput Court was competent to entertain the application their Lordships of the Privy Council observed: "The district court in which the suit was instituted had no jurisdiction over the infants except such jurisdiction as was conferred by the Guardians and Wards Act 1890. By the ninth Section of that Act the jurisdiction of the court is confined to infants ordinarily residing in the district.
It is in their Lordship's opinion impossible to hold that the infants who had months previously left India with a view to being educated in England and going to University had acquired their ordinary residence in the district of Chingleput."
In Mst. Jagir Kaur and Anr. v. Jaswant Singh AIR 1963 SC 1521, this Court was dealing with a case under Section 488 Cr.P.C. and the question of jurisdiction of the Court to entertain a petition for maintenance. The Court noticed a near unanimity of opinion as to what is meant by the use of the word "resides" appearing in the provision and held that "resides" implied something more than a flying visit to, or casual stay at a particular place. The legal position was summed up in the following words: ".......Having regard to the object sought to be achieved, the meaning implicit in the words used, and the construction placed by decided cases there on, we would define the word "resides" thus: a person resides in a place if he through choice makes it his abode permanently or even temporarily; whether a person has chosen to make a particular place his abode depends upon the facts of each case....."
In Kuldip Nayar & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. 2006 (7) SCC 1, the expression "ordinary residence" as used in the Representation of People Act, 1950 fell for interpretation. This Court observed:
"243. Lexicon refers to Cicutti v. Suffolk County Council (1980) 3 All ER 689 to denote that the word "ordinarily" is primarily directed not to duration but to purpose. In this sense the question is not so much where the person is to be found "ordinarily", in the sense of usually or habitually and with some degree of continuity, but whether the quality of residence is "ordinary" and general, rather than merely for some special or limited purpose.
244. The words "ordinarily" and "resident" have been used together in other statutory provisions as well and as per Law Lexicon they have been construed as not to require that the person should be one who is always resident or carries on business in the particular place.
245. The expression coined by joining the two words has to be interpreted with reference to the point of time requisite for the purposes of the provision, in the case of Section 20 of the RP Act, 1950 it being the date on which a person seeks to be registered as an elector in a particular constituency.
246. Thus, residence is a concept that may also be transitory. Even when qualified by the word "ordinarily" the word "resident" would not result in a construction having the effect of a requirement of the person using a particular place for dwelling always or on permanent uninterrupted basis. Thus understood, even the requirement of a person being "ordinarily resident" at a particular place is incapable of ensuring nexus between him and the place in question."
Reference may be made to Bhagyalakshmi and Anr. v. K.N. Narayana Rao AIR 1983 Mad 9, Aparna Banerjee v. Tapan Banerjee AIR 1986 P&H 113, Ram Sarup v. Chimman Lal and Ors. AIR 1952 All 79, Smt. Vimla Devi v. Smt. Maya Devi & Ors. AIR 1981 Raj. 211, and in re: Dr. Giovanni Marco Muzzu and etc. etc. AIR 1983 Bom. 242, in which the High Courts have dealt with the meaning and purport of the expressions like `ordinary resident' and `ordinarily resides' and taken the view that the question whether one is ordinarily residing at a given place depends so much on the intention to make that place ones ordinary abode.
Recognition of Foreign Orders and Decrees
Recognition of decrees and orders passed by foreign courts remains an eternal dilemma in as much as whenever called upon to do so, Courts in this country are bound to determine the validity of such decrees and orders keeping in view the provisions of Section 13 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1908 as amended by the Amendment Act of 1999 and 2002. The duty of a Court exercising its Parens Patraie jurisdiction as in cases involving custody of minor children is all the more onerous. Welfare of the minor in such cases being the paramount consideration; the court has to approach the issue regarding the validity and enforcement of a foreign decree or order carefully. Simply because a foreign court has taken a particular view on any aspect concerning the welfare of the minor is not enough for the courts in this country to shut out an independent consideration of the matter. Objectivity and not abject surrender is the mantra in such cases. That does not, however, mean that the order passed by a foreign court is not even a factor to be kept in view. But it is one thing to consider the foreign judgment to be conclusive and another to treat it as a factor or consideration that would go into the making of a final decision. Judicial pronouncements on the subject are not on virgin ground. A long line of decisions of the court has settled the approach to be adopted in such matters. The plentitude of pronouncements also leaves cleavage in the opinions on certain aspects that need to be settled authoritatively in an appropriate case.
A survey of law on the subject would, in that view, be necessary and can start with a reference to the decision of this Court in Smt. Satya V. Shri Teja Singh, (1975) 1 SCC
120. That was a case in which the validity of a decree for divorce obtained by the husband from a Court in the State of Naveda (USA) fell for examination. This Court held that the answer to the question depended upon the Rules of private International Law. Since no system of Private International Law existed that could claim universal recognition, the Indian Courts had to decide the issue regarding the validity of the decree in accordance with the Indian law. Rules of Private International Law followed by other countries could not be adopted mechanically, especially when principles underlying such rules varied greatly and were moulded by the distinctive social, political and economic conditions obtaining in different countries. This Court also traced the development of law in America and England and concluded that while British Parliament had found a solution to the vexed questions of recognition of decrees granted by foreign courts by enacting "The recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations Act, 1971" our Parliament had yet to do so. In the facts and circumstances of that case the Court held that the husband was not domiciled in Naveda and that his brief stay in that State did not confer any jurisdiction upon the Naveda Court to grant a decree dissolving the marriage, he being no more than a bird of passage who had resorted to the proceedings there solely to find jurisdiction and obtain a decree for divorce by misrepresenting the facts as regards his domicile in that State. This Court while refusing to recognize the decree observed:
"True that the concept of domicile is not uniform throughout the world and just as long residence does not by itself establish domicile, a brief residence may not negative it. But residence for a particular purpose falls to answer the qualitative test for, the purpose being accomplished the residence would cease. The residence must answer "a qualitative as well as a quantitative test", that is, the two elements of factum et animus must concur. The respondent went to Naveda forum-hunting, found a convenient jurisdiction which would easily purvey a divorce to him and left it even before the ink on his domiciliary assertion was dry. Thus the decree of the Naveda Court lacks jurisdiction. It can receive no recognition in our courts."
In Dhanwanti Joshi v. Madhav Unde 1998(1) SCC 112, one of the questions that fell for consideration was whether the bringing away of a child to India by his mother contrary to an order of US Court would have any bearing on the decision of the Courts in India while deciding about the custody and the welfare of the child. Relying upon McKee v. KcKee, 1951 AC 352: 1951(1) All ER 942 and J v. C 1970 AC 668:1969(1) All ER 788, this Court held that it was the duty of the Courts in the country to which a child is removed to consider the question of custody, having regard to the welfare of the child. In doing so, the order passed by the foreign court would yield to the welfare of the child and that Comity of Courts simply demanded consideration of any such order issued by foreign courts and not necessarily their enforcement. This court further held that the conduct of a summary or elaborate inquiry on the question of custody by the Court in the country to which the child has been removed will depend upon the facts and circumstance of each case. For instance summary jurisdiction is exercised only if the court to which the child had been removed is moved promptly and quickly, for in that event, the Judge may well be persuaded to hold that it would be better for the child that the merits of the case are investigated in a court in his native country, on the expectation that an early decision in the native country would be in the interests of the child before the child could develop roots in the country to which he had been removed. So also the conduct of an elaborate inquiry may depend upon the time that had elapsed between the removal of the child and the institution of the proceedings for custody. This would mean that longer the time gap, the lesser the inclination of the Court to go for a summary inquiry. The court rejected the prayer for returning the child to the country from where he had been removed and observed:
"31. The facts of the case are that when the respondent moved the courts in India and in the proceedings of 1986 for habeas corpus and under Guardians and Wards Act, the courts in India thought it best in the interests of the child to allow it to continue with the mother in India, and those orders have also become final. The Indian courts in 1993 or 1997, when the child had lived with his mother for nearly 12 years, or more, would not exercise a summary jurisdiction to return the child to USA on the ground that its removal from USA in 1984 was contrary to orders of US courts." We must at this stage refer to two other decisions of this Court, reliance upon which was placed by the learned counsel for the parties. In Sarita Sharma v. Sushil Sharma (2000) 3 SCC 14 this Court was dealing with an appeal arising out of a habeas corpus petition filed before the High Court of Delhi in respect of two minor children aged 3 years and 7 years respectively. It was alleged that the children were in illegal custody of Sarita Sharma their mother. The High Court had allowed the petition and directed the mother to restore the custody of the children to Sushil Sharma who was in turn permitted to take the children to U.S.A. without any hindrance. One of the contentions that was urged before this Court was that the removal of children from U.S.A. to India was against the orders passed by the American Court, which orders had granted to the father the custody of the minor children. Allowing the appeal and setting aside the judgment of the High Court, this Court held that the order passed by the U.S. courts constituted but one of the factors which could not override the consideration of welfare of the minor children. Considering the fact that the husband was staying with his mother aged about 80 years and that there was no one else in the family to lookafter the children, this Court held that it was not in the interest of the children to be put in the custody of the father who was addicted to excessive alcohol. Even this case arose out of a writ petition and not a petition under the Guardians and Wards Act.
In V. Ravi Chandran (Dr.) (2) v. Union of India and Ors. (2010) 1 SCC 174 also this Court was dealing with a habeas corpus petition filed directly before it under Article 32 of the Constitution. This Court held that while dealing with a case of custody of children removed by a parent from one country to another in contravention of the orders of the court where the parties had set up their matrimonial home, the court in the country to which the child has been removed must first consider whether the court could conduct an elaborate enquiry on the question of custody or deal with the matter summarily and order the parent to return the custody of the child to the country from which he/she was removed, leaving all aspects relating to child's welfare to be investigated by Court in his own country. This Court held that in case an elaborate enquiry was considered appropriate, the order passed by a foreign court may be given due weight depending upon the circumstances of each case in which such an order had been passed. Having said so, this Court directed the child to be sent back to U.S. and issued incidental directions in that regard.
In Shilpa Aggarwal (Ms.) v. Aviral Mittal & Anr. (2010) 1 SCC 591 this Court followed the same line of reasoning. That was also a case arising out of a habeas corpus petition before the High Court of Delhi filed by the father of the child. The High Court had directed the return of the child to England to join the proceedings before the courts of England and Wales failing which the child had to be handed over to the petitioner-father to be taken to England as a measure of interim custody leaving it for the court in that country to determine which parent would be best suited to have the custody of the child. That direction was upheld by this Court with the observation that since the question as to what is in the interest of the minor had to be considered by the court in U.K. in terms of the order passed by the High Court directing return of the child to the jurisdiction of the said court did not call for any interference.
We do not propose to burden this judgment by referring to a long line of other decisions which have been delivered on the subject, for they do not in our opinion state the law differently from what has been stated in the decisions already referred to by us. What, however, needs to be stated for the sake of a clear understanding of the legal position is that the cases to which we have drawn attention, as indeed any other case raising the question of jurisdiction of the court to determine mutual rights and obligation of the parties, including the question whether a court otherwise competent to entertain the proceedings concerning the custody of the minor, ought to hold a summary or a detailed enquiry into the matter and whether it ought to decline jurisdiction on the principle of comity of nations or the test of the closest contact evolved by this Court in Smt. Surinder Kaur Sandhu v. Harbax Singh Sandhu and Anr. (1984) 3 SCC 698 have arisen either out of writ proceedings filed by the aggrieved party in the High Court or this Court or out of proceedings under the Guardian & Wards Act. Decisions rendered by this Court in Mrs. Elizabeth Dinshaw v. Arvand M. Dinshaw and Anr. (1987) 1 SCC 42, Sarita Sharma's case (supra), V. Ravi Chandran's case (supra), Shilpa Aggarwal's case (supra) arose out of proceedings in the nature of habeas corpus. The rest had their origin in custody proceedings launched under the Guardian & Wards Act. Proceedings in the nature of Habeas Corpus are summary in nature, where the legality of the detention of the alleged detenue is examined on the basis of affidavits placed by the parties. Even so, nothing prevents the High Court from embarking upon a detailed enquiry in cases where the welfare of a minor is in question, which is the paramount consideration for the Court while exercising its parens patriae jurisdiction. A High Court may, therefore, invoke its extra ordinary jurisdiction to determine the validity of the detention, in cases that fall within its jurisdiction and may also issue orders as to custody of the minor depending upon how the court views the rival claims, if any, to such custody. The Court may also direct repatriation of the minor child for the country from where he/she may have been removed by a parent or other person; as was directed by this Court in Ravi Chandran's & Shilpa Agarwal's cases (supra) or refuse to do so as was the position in Sarita Sharma's case (supra). What is important is that so long as the alleged detenue is within the jurisdiction of the High Court no question of its competence to pass appropriate orders arises. The writ court's jurisdiction to make appropriate orders regarding custody arises no sooner it is found that the alleged detenue is within its territorial jurisdiction.
In cases arising out of proceedings under the Guardian & Wards Act, the jurisdiction of the Court is determined by whether the minor ordinarily resides within the area on which the Court exercises such jurisdiction. There is thus a significant difference between the jurisdictional facts relevant to the exercise of powers by a writ court on the one hand and a court under the Guardian & Wards Act on the other. Having said that we must make it clear that no matter a Court is exercising powers under the Guardian & Wards Act it can choose to hold a summary enquiry into the matter and pass appropriate orders provided it is otherwise competent to entertain a petition for custody of the minor under Section 9(1) of the Act. This is clear from the decision of this Court in Dhanwanti Joshi v. Madhav Unde(1998) 1 SCC 112, which arose out of proceedings under the Guardian & Wards Act. The following passage is in this regard apposite:
"We may here state that this Court in Elizabeth Dinshaw v. Arvand M. Dinshaw (1987) 1 SCC 42 while dealing with a child removed by the father from USA contrary to the custody orders of the US Court directed that the child be sent back to USA to the mother not only because of the principle of comity but also because, on facts, -- which were independently considered -- it was in the interests of the child to be sent back to the native State. There the removal of the child by the father and the mother's application in India 46 were within six months. In that context, this Court referred to H. (infants), Re (1966) 1 ALL ER 886 which case, as pointed out by us above has been explained in L. Re (1974) 1 All ER 913, CA as a case where the Court thought it fit to exercise its summary jurisdiction in the interests of the child. Be that as it may, the general principles laid down in McKee v. McKee (1951) 1 All ER 942 and J v. C (1969) 1 All ER 788 and the distinction between summary and elaborate inquiries as stated in L. (infants), Re (1974) 1 All ER 913, CA are today well settled in UK, Canada, Australia and the USA. The same principles apply in our country. Therefore nothing precludes the Indian courts from considering the question on merits, having regard to the delay from 1984 -- even assuming that the earlier orders passed in India do not operate as constructive res judicata."
It does not require much persuasion for us to hold that the issue whether the Court should hold a summary or a detailed enquiry would arise only if the Court finds that it has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter. If the answer to the question touching jurisdiction is in the negative the logical result has to be an order of dismissal of the proceedings or return of the application for presentation before the Court competent to entertain the same. A Court that has no jurisdiction to entertain a petition for custody cannot pass any order or issue any direction for the return of the child to the country from where he has been removed, no matter such removal is found to be in violation of an order issued by a Court in that country. The party aggrieved of such removal, may seek any other remedy legally open to it. But no redress to such a party will be permissible before the Court who finds that it has no jurisdiction to entertain the proceedings.