“Life is too short to be spent on litigating”; Karnataka High Court gives elaborate suggestions regarding jurisdiction of District Courts vis-à-vis hearing of First Appeals

Karnataka High Court

Karnataka High Court: While deciding the instant appeal wherein the Court took a concerned note of the time taken for this case to be listed for a final hearing (16 years), the Bench of Anant Ramanath Hedge*, J., stated that person seeking justice cannot afford to wait for decades and delay in hearing appeals and pendency of cases, does not augur well for the society at large. The Court therefore discussed and suggested certain measures to reduce the workload of the High Court and amend the provisions concerning pecuniary jurisdiction of the District Courts vis-à-vis their ability to hear and decide first appeals, thereby reducing the long delays in hearing appeals. The suggestions were made regarding Section 96 of CPC and appeals under Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.

After all, life is too short to be spent litigating for decades in courts”.

Kannappa, the propositus, had two wives- Shantavva (1st) and Thirakavva (2nd). The second marriage to Thirakavva became void as the first marriage was subsisting. Kannappa had 2 daughters Ratnavva and Laxmavva from his first wife and 1 daughter, Roopa from the second marriage.

Shantavva and Ratnavva instituted a partition suit, which was contested by Kannappa, Thirakavva and Roopa. During the pendency of the suit, Laxmavva, 2nd daughter of Shantavva was also impleaded after the death of Kannappa. Kannappa’s brother’s heirs were also impleaded as certain properties were jointly owned by Kannappa and his brother. The Trial Court held that two daughters from the first marriage, the daughter from the second marriage, and the first wife, all entitled to 1/4th share each.

As regards the property dispute in the case, the Court stated that the factual and legal perspective in the case did not pose many difficulties and that the questions of law, raised in the appeal are already well settled.

In this judgment, the Court focussed on the time taken for this case to be listed for a final hearing. The Court expressed its concern that such delays are very alarming for all stakeholders in the system. The Court pointed out that 28 years have elapsed since the claim for partition. 16 years have elapsed since the appeal was filed. “Ideally, the final verdict in an appeal should not take more than 2 years after admission. An appeal from the stage of filing till the disposal does not involve elaborate time-consuming procedures like a suit”.

Court’s Assessment and Opinion: Stating that it is high time to explore solutions to expediate hearing of appeals, the Court discussed the following*

Pecuniary jurisdiction:

Under Section 5 of the Karnataka High Court Act 1961, the Regular First Appeals would lie before the Single Judge, if the value of the subject matter of the suit is between Rs. 10,00,001 lakhs and Rs. 15 lakhs. If it exceeds Rs. 15 lakhs, then the Regular First Appeal lies before the Division Bench of the High Court. This pecuniary limit was fixed in 2007.

Section 19 of the Karnataka Civil Courts Act, 1964 the first appeal under Section 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 lies to the District Court if the value of the suit is between Rs. 5,00,001 and Rs. 10 Lakhs. This pecuniary limit was fixed in 2007. Furthermore, under Section 16 of the Act of 1964, the pecuniary limit for the suit before the Senior Civil Judge court commences from Rs. 5,00,001 and there is no upper limit; except if the suit is under Section 92 of the Code and the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.

The Court pointed out that a Senior Civil Judge has unlimited upper pecuniary jurisdiction while deciding the suit, whereas on being promoted as the District Judge, who sits in appeal under Section 96 of CPC, to decide the appeal from the Decree of the Senior Civil Judge, cannot entertain an appeal if the value of the subject matter of the suit exceeds Rs. 10 lakhs.

The Court further observed that property values have skyrocketed in the last 2 decades, which in turn has increased the number of appeals filed under Section 96 of CPC.

The Court opined that when the Senior Civil Courts are conferred with jurisdiction to decide the civil suits without any upper pecuniary limit, then logically the District Courts which decide the first appeals arising from the judgment and decree from the Senior Civil Judge Court, should also have no restrictions on the upper pecuniary limit. “The upper pecuniary limit of Rs. 10 lakhs on the First appeals in District Courts as per Section 96, defies logic”.

The Court also observed that escalation of property value has led to more Regular First Appeals being filed under Section 96 before the High Courts, which is why Section 5 of the Karnataka High Court Act providing for appeal under Section 96 of CPC to the High Court, has proved to be counterproductive.

Suggesting that provisions related to jurisdiction vis-à-vis first appeals under Karnataka High Court Act, 1961 and Karnataka Civil Courts Act, 1964 should be re-looked at, the Court stated that the State has established a good number of District Court under its “Justice at doorstep” policy; however, as laudable the policy is, it is high time to amend the provisions of the law relating to the jurisdiction of the High Court and the District Court to hear the first appeal under Section 96 of CPC governed by Section 5 of the Act of 1961 and Section 19 of the Act of 1964.

The Court pointed out that the High Court is functioning way below its sanctioning strength, which is probably causing this delay in hearing the appeals. “At present Karnataka High Court has the sanctioned strength of 62 High Court Judges. The current strength of High Court Judges is 53”.

Highlighting the high number of pending appeals, the Court suggested if the jurisdiction to deal with First appeal under Section 96 arising from the judgment and decree in suits from Senior Civil Judges is conferred on the District Judges, then it will serve multiple objectives like—

  • First Appeals will be decided by the courts nearer to the parties to the lis, which is the primary goal of the concept of ‘Justice to doorstep”. Furthermore, all parties to the original suits will have an opportunity to file a regular second appeal on a question of law which is now denied to the parties to the suit whose value of the suit is more than 10 lakhs.

  • More courts (nearly 200 courts, excluding Judges officiating in City Civil Courts and OOD) will be available to decide Regular Appeals and will have comparatively less number of cases to deal with, compared to the pendency in High courts.

  • Load on the High Court will reduce, and it will be able to focus its attention on the matters which exclusively fall within its jurisdiction.

  • Additional district courts have been established at the district level and taluka level, will be better equipped to absorb more appeals under Section 96 of CPC.

  • More Courts/judges at the district level adjudicating the appeals will ensure speedy and cost-effective justice for the parties.

The Court also deemed it fit to discuss the possibility of an amendment concerning the jurisdiction of the Court in deciding the appeals from the awards passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal. The Court opined that the time is ripe to amend the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to confer the jurisdiction on the District Courts to decide appeals from the awards of the Additional Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal or to bifurcate the same between the Civil Judges and the Senior Civil Judges depending upon the pecuniary value of the claim.

The Court stated that the afore-stated amendments suggested by them, have been long overdue, “Ours is a fast-developing nation that has sent two missions to Moon and one to Mars. When it comes to law reforms, we cannot afford to lag behind”.

In its concluding remarks, the Court stated that the afore-stated observations should not be construed as a criticism of the Judiciary or its stakeholders. The Court pointed out that given the heavy workload, judges and the Court staff have been working beyond scheduled working hours and adjudicating a huge number of cases.

The discussion in this judgment is an endeavour to invite the attention of all the stakeholders on the issue and let there be a productive deliberation at an appropriate level resulting in a workable solution for the issue flagged”.

[Thirakavva v. Ratnavva, 2023 SCC OnLine Kar 15, decided on 05-04-2023]

*Judgment was written by Justice Anant Ramanath Hegde

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Appellants- N.P Vivek Mehta, Adv.;

Respondents- Sanjay Kategiri, Adv.

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