Supreme Court: In an appeal against the judgment and order passed by the Allahabad High Court, wherein the Court quashed the order passed by the Revisional Court and relegated the parties to the remedy of having their rights, in respect of the suit property, adjudicated by the appropriate forum, the Three-Judge Bench of B.R Gavai, Dipankar Datta* and Aravind Kumar, JJ. while upholding the impugned judgment and order, held that the decision rendered by a Court on the merits of a controversy in favour of the plaintiff without first adjudicating on its competence to decide such controversy would amount to a decision being rendered on an illegal and erroneous assumption of jurisdiction and, thus, be assailable as lacking in inherent jurisdiction and be treated as a nullity in the eye of law. Thus, the Trial Court had no authority to decree the suit against the respondent 4 in exercise of its power under Rule 10 of Order VIII, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (‘CPC’). Further, it said that the question of jurisdiction would assume importance even at the stage a Court considers the question of grant of interim relief.


Appellants claimed that their great-grandmother had orally gifted them the suit property, Appellants had instituted a suit before the Trial Court under Section 38 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 against three defendants in respect of the suit property praying for a permanent injunction against the three defendants from interfering with the appellants’ peaceful possession of the suit property.

Defendant 1 filed his written statement in the Suit, but no written statement was filed on behalf of the other two respondents. The appellants moved an application under Rules 5 and 10 of Order VIII, CPC for pronouncement of judgment against respondent 4, and the same was allowed by the Trial Court by its order dated 5-08-1991. The Trial Court framed 11 issues for consideration in the Suit, of which the very first one was on its competency to try the Suit.

Defendant 1 passed away Appellants, after which his sons, respondents 4 and 5 transferred the suit property to the respondents 1 to 3 (“Purchasers”) vide a sale deed. The Suit against defendant 1 remained pending even after his demise, and none of his other heirs were brought on record as substituted defendants. The Suit against him was finally dismissed in 2009.

Appellants, as purported decree holders, filed an execution application before the Executing Court praying that respondents 4 and 5 be punished for violating the order dated 5-08-1991 and that the sale deed in favour of the Purchasers be declared invalid. The Executing Court, vide an interim order restrained the Purchasers from interfering in any manner with the suit property.

Thereupon, the Purchasers filed their objection under Section 47, CPC in an execution application filed before the Executing Court, wherein they submitted that the order dated 5-08-1991 was neither a judgment nor a decree and could not be executed. The Executing Court allowed the objections of the purchasers, resulting in dismissal of the execution application. A revision was carried out by the appellants before the Revisional Court, wherein the Court dismissed the objection filed by the purchasers and directed the Executing Court to proceed with the execution of the decree.

The revisional order was challenged by the purchasers before the High Court. The High Court held the order dated 5-08-1991, and consequently the decree drawn on the basis thereof, to be beyond jurisdiction and nullity. The Trial Court had no authority to decree the Suit against one defendant without adjudicating upon the controversy involved. Further, the order dated 5-08-1991 was not a judgment within the scope of Section 2(9) read with Rule 4(2) of Order XX, CPC and did not meet the basic requirements of a “judgment” and a decree as per section 2(9) and 2(2), CPC, respectively. Aggrieved, the appellants filed the present appeal.

Issue: Whether the order dated 5-08-1991 suffered from a jurisdictional error so grave that the decree drawn up subsequently is incapable of execution by the Executing Court and an objection that it is inexecutable was available to be raised under Section 47 CPC by the respondents 1 to 3?


After examining the scope and extent of power exercisable under Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC, the Court said that Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC, used as the primary source of power by the Trial Court in passing the order dated 5-08-1991, it postulates the procedure that could be adopted when a party fails to present its written statement upon the same being called for by the court.

The Court held that Rule 10 is permissive in nature, enabling the Trial Court to exercise, in a given case, either of the two alternatives open to it. Notwithstanding the alternative of proceeding to pronounce a judgment, the court still has an option not to pronounce judgment and to make such order in relation to the suit it considers fit. The verb ‘shall’ in Rule 10, although substituted with ‘may’ by the Amendment Act of 1976, does not elevate the first alternative to the status of a mandatory provision, that in every case where a party from whom a written statement is invited fails to file it, the court must pronounce the judgment against him. If that were the purport, the second alternative to which ‘shall’ equally applies would be rendered otiose.

Referring to Balraj Taneja v. Sunil Madan, (1999) 8 SCC 396, wherein it was held that a Court is not supposed to pass a mechanical judgment invoking Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC merely based on the plaint, upon the failure of a defendant to file a written statement. The Court said that only on being satisfied that there is no fact which need to be proved on account of deemed admission, could the Court pass a judgment against the defendant who has not filed the written statement; but if the plaint itself suggests involvement of disputed questions of fact, it would not be safe for the court to pass a judgment without requiring the plaintiff to prove the facts. Further, it reiterated that Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC is by no means mandatory in the sense that a Court has no alternative but to pass a judgment in favour of the plaintiff, if the defendant fails or neglects to file his written statement.

The Bench said that if the defendant defaults in filing written statement and the first alternative were the only course to be adopted, it would be tantamount to a plaintiff being altogether relieved of its obligation to prove his case to the satisfaction of the court. The Court added that a plaint in a suit is not akin to a writ petition where not only the facts are to be pleaded but also the evidence in support of the pleaded facts is to be annexed, whereafter, upon exchange of affidavits, such petition can be decided on affidavit evidence. Since facts are required to be pleaded in a plaint and not the evidence, which can be adduced in course of examination of witnesses, mere failure or neglect of a defendant to file a written statement controverting the pleaded facts in the plaint, in all cases, may not entitle him to a judgment in his favour unless by adducing evidence he proves his case/claim.

The Court noted that defendant 1 had filed his written statement dealing with the appellants’ plaint before the order dated 5-08-1991 was made. There he denied the assertions made by the plaint and objected to the maintainability of the suit before the Trial Court. The Trial Court is presumed to know the written statement of the defendant 1was on record or else it would not have fixed the next date for settling ‘issues. In a situation where maintainability of the suit was in question and despite the defendant 1 not having filed his written statement, it was not a case where the Trial Court could simply pronounce judgment without even recording a satisfaction that it had the jurisdiction to try the suit and adjudicate the contentious issues.

The Court observed that it is to avoid a situation of contradictory/inconsistent decrees that power under Rule 10 of Order VIII ought to be invoked with care, caution, and circumspection, only when none of several defendants file their written statements and upon the taking of evidence from the side of the plaintiff, if deemed necessary, the entire suit could be decided. Where even one of several defendants had filed a written statement, it would be a judicious exercise of discretion for the Court to opt for the second alternative in Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC unless, of course, extraordinary circumstances exist warranting recourse to the first alternative.

The Court said that in the matter at hand, the filing of the written statement by one of the respondents denying the averments made in the plaint warranted that the appellants’ claims be proved by evidence, oral and/or documentary, instead of decreeing the suit against one of the defendants in a most slipshod manner.

The Court noted that Section 47, CPC, being one of the most important provisions relating to execution of decrees, mandates that an executing court shall determine all questions arising between the parties to the suit or their representatives in relation to the execution, discharge, or satisfaction of the decree and that such questions may not be adjudicated in a separate suit.

The Court held that the Executing Court and the High Court were right in holding that the objection raised by the respondents 1 to 3 to the executability of the decree was well-founded.

Examining the meaning of the term “jurisdiction”, the Court said that the essence really is that a court must not only have the jurisdiction in respect of the subject matter of dispute for the purpose of entertaining and trying the claim, but also the jurisdiction to grant relief that is sought for. Once the jurisdiction on both counts is available, it is immaterial if jurisdiction is exercised erroneously. An erroneous decision cannot be labelled as having been passed ‘without jurisdiction’. Therefore, it is imperative that the distinction between a decision lacking in inherent jurisdiction and a decision which suffers from an error committed in the exercise of jurisdiction is borne in mind.

After referring to catena of judgments, the Court said that jurisdiction is the entitlement of the civil court to embark upon an enquiry as to whether the cause has been brought before it by the plaintiff in a manner prescribed by law and whether a good case for grant of relief claimed been set up by him. Further, it observed that the question of jurisdiction must be determined at commencement and not at the end of the enquiry. The question of jurisdiction would assume importance even at the stage a Court considers the question of grant of interim relief.

The Court held that a decision rendered by a Court on the merits of a controversy in favour of the plaintiff without first adjudicating on its competence to decide such controversy would amount to a decision being rendered on an illegal and erroneous assumption of jurisdiction and, thus, be assailable as lacking in inherent jurisdiction and be treated as a nullity in the eye of law. Thus, it held that the order dated 5-08-1991 is held to be ab initio void and the decree drawn up is inexecutable.

After referring to Balraj Taneja(supra), the Court said that it is unquestionable that a “judgment”, if pronounced by a Court under Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC, must satisfy the requirements of Rule 4(2) of Order XX, CPC, and thereby conform to its definition provided in section 2(9) thereof.

The Court reiterated one of the cardinal principles of the justice delivery system, that any verdict of a competent judicial forum in the form of a judgment/order, that determines the rights and liabilities of the parties to the proceedings, must inform the parties what is the outcome and why one party has succeeded and not the other.

Further, it said all civil courts in the country must regulate their judicial work in accordance with the terms of the CPC. Any egregious breach or violation of such provisions would be ultra vires.

After examining whether there is a ‘decree’ within the scope of section 2(2), CPC, the Court held that a decree that follows a judgment or an order would be inexecutable in the eyes of law and execution thereof, if sought for, would be open to objection in an application under Section 47, CPC.

[Asma Lateef v. Shabbir Ahmad, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 42, decided on 12-01-2024]

*Judgment Authored by: Justice Dipankar Datta

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dipankar Datta

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