Court under maintenance proceedings under S. 125 of CrPC, can usurp jurisdiction of Civil Courts? Del HC decides

Delhi High Court: Chandra Dhari Singh, J., decided a maintenance case wherein the marital status of the parties was the crux of the matter and expressed that,

“…there is no straight jacket formula for judging the validity of the marriage between the parties.”

A petition was filed under Section 397/401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1908 seeking setting aside of the decision passed by the Family Court whereby the petitioner was directed to pay maintenance of Rs 4,000 to respondent 1 and Rs 3,000 to respondents 2 and 3 till attaining the age of maturity.

Petitioner’s counsel argued that he was never married to respondent 1 and the trial court committed a grave error in granting maintenance in favour of respondents towards whom he had no obligation of maintenance.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court noted that the Magistrate has a discretionary power that is to be exercised while appreciating the evidence and material on record when awarding maintenance to the parties.

Essentials of a Valid Marriage

The Bench observed that there is no straight-jacket formula for judging the validity of the marriage between the parties. Every case has to be judged on its own merits depending upon the conditions provided under the statutory or personal law for solemnization of marriage.

The legal standard for determining the marital status of the parties in maintenance proceedings has been set out by the Supreme Court in the case of Santosh v. Naresh Pal, (1998) 8 SCC 447.

Further, a Coordinate Bench of this Court had also dealt with the issue of marital status in maintenance matter in the case of Nasir Khan v. Sarphina George, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 8467, wherein the Petitioner husband impugned the order granting maintenance in the revisional jurisdiction. It was contended that the Trial Court erred in passing the order on maintenance since the respondent was not her legally wedded wife. Further, he argued that no witnesses were produced to establish the factum of marriage between the parties. Court negated the contentions of the Petitioner mainly on the ground that the parties to the marriage were living together for several years and this raised a reasonable presumption in favour of the accused.

 Several other decisions were referred for the above-stated.

This Court observed elaborated stating that the Court in proceedings under Section 125 CrPC was required to merely decide the quantum of maintenance based on the prima facie evidence regarding the marital status of the parties.

The task of deciding the marital status of the parties has been conferred with the Civil Courts and the Court under maintenance proceedings under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. may not usurp the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts.

Therefore, the litmus test for determining the marital status of the parties in maintenance proceedings was prima facie satisfaction of the Magistrate concerned and nothing more.

Section 125 CrPC and Revisional Jurisdiction

 Established Law:

The Revisional Court need not re-assess or re-appreciate the material and evidence on record before the Trial Court. A Revisional Court is to limit its jurisdiction for adjudicating upon the material illegalities and irregularities apparent in the impugned orders.

The conclusive determination of marital status in cases of maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC, shall, therefore, be declared by the Civil Court and the Revisional Court shall restrain itself to the questions before it without reopening the evidence.

In the Supreme Court decision of Pyla Mutyalamma v. Pyla Suri Demudu, (2011) 12 SCC 189, the Court had set out the standards of revisional jurisdiction to be exercised by the High Courts in maintenance proceedings under Section 125 of the CrPC.

Decision

High Court noted that respondents produced 10 witnesses during evidence to establish their relationship with the petitioner. Court stated that the statements of the witnesses/neighbours, clearly imply that the parties were living together for a long time and were known to be husband and wife to the people residing in their neighbourhood.

Adding to the above, documentary evidence was also produced.

Production of the ration card as a documentary proof of marital relation between the parties met the requirement of prima facie evidence in establishing the matrimonial relationship between the parties.

With regard to the DNA test, Court explained that after more than 10 years of adjudication into the question of subsistence of a marital relationship between the Petitioner and Respondent 1, it was not necessary to go into the legitimacy of the birth of the children, when prima facie proof was already produced in their favour.

Therefore, High Court found no substantial ground for invoking the revisional jurisdiction to interfere with the impugned judgment. [Mohd Shakeel v. Sabia Begum, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 271, decided on 28-1-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the petitioner: Salim Malik and Shavana, Advocates

For the respondent: Aditya Gaur, Advocate

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