Madras High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The five-judge bench of P.N. Prakash, N. Anand Venkatesh, R. Mahadevan, M. Sundar, A.A. Nakkiran, JJ. in a 3:2 majority decision, held that jurisdiction of the High Court on its original side over matters of child custody and guardianship is not ousted in view of the provisions of the Family Courts Act, 1984 (FCA)and the decision in Mary Thomas v. Dr.K.E.Thomas 1989 SCC OnLine Mad 268 continues to be a good law; while P.N. Prakash and N. Anand Venkatesh, JJ. disagreed with the majority opinion, and observed that the statutory jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, (GAWA)1890 is now exclusively vested with the Family Court and resort to the inherent jurisdiction under Clause 17 can be had only in cases where there is no statutory remedy before any court for redress.

The dissenting judges noted that the full bench in Mary Thomas v. Dr.K.E.Thomas 1989 SCC OnLine Mad 268 has not adverted to the actual conflict that was between Pamela Williams v Patrick Cyril Martin, 1969 SCC OnLine Mad 264 and Rajah of Vizianagaram v The Secretary of State for India (1936) 44 L.W. 904, and has not examined the provisions of the GAWA, nor have examined the object and purpose behind the Family Courts Act, 1984 (FC Act) or the scope and effect of Sections 7 and 8 of the FC Act. Further, there was absolutely no discussion about Clause 17 of the Letters Patent at all and the full bench has confined itself to the issue as to whether the High Court was a District Court under the FC Act, 1984, vis-à-vis, the definition of ‘District court’ contained in Section 2(4) of the Code of Civil procedure,1908 (CPC), further, it also overlooked the fact that resorting to Section 2(e) of the FC Act to telescope the definition of “District” into the Family Courts Act, 1984 was unnecessary, thus, the Court viewed that the decision in Mary Thomas requires reconsideration.

The Court noted that, one of the primary issues to be considered in this case is that whether the jurisdiction of the High Court under Clause 17 of the Letters Patent could be taken away by the FC Act, 1984, in respect of matters concerning guardianship, custody or access to a minor, and viewed that this line of argument is over-simplistic and it overlooks a vital distinction between two very different types of jurisdictions, viz., the statutory jurisdiction exercised by the High Court under the GAWA , and the jurisdiction of the High Court under Clause 17 of the Letters Patent.

Placing reliance on a decision in Navivahoo v. Turner, 1889 SCC OnLine PC 10 , the Court viewed that it has no application to a case concerning the exercise of inherent parens patriae jurisdiction by the High Court as according to the history of Clause 17, the jurisdiction of this Court as a parens patriae in respect of infants, mentally retarded persons in the State of Tamil Nadu is a facet of its inherent jurisdiction, inherited from the erstwhile Supreme Court of Madras. Further, it is evident from Section 9 of the GAWA, which states that a petition for appointment of a guardian for the person or property of minor shall be made to a “District Court” having jurisdiction in the place where the minor ordinarily resides. Moreover, Section 4(4) of GAWA, expressly defines the District Court as the meaning assigned to that expression in the Code of Civil Procedure,1882, and includes a High Court in the exercise of its ordinary original civil jurisdiction.  Thus, as per Section 4(4), it is clear that a High Court, while exercising jurisdiction in respect of a petition under the GAWA would be a District Court within the meaning of the Act, exercising its ordinary original civil jurisdiction for the City of Madras, and not under its inherent jurisdiction under Clause 17 of the Letters Patent.

The Court took note of the ruling in S.D. Joshi v High Court of Bombay (2011) 1 SCC 252 wherein the Court held that “the Family Courts are to exercise special jurisdiction which is limited to the subject-matters spelt out under Sections 7(1)(a) and (b) of the FC Act, and  is vested with all jurisdiction exercisable by any District Court or any subordinate civil court under the law”, and viewed that legislative intent envisaged the Family Court as a Court of exclusive jurisdiction in respect of certain matters concerning the family, including guardianship and custody of children It is like a Special Court constituted to hear certain types of cases following a specially devised procedure and whose orders are made subject to appeal under a special provision with a special period of limitation.

The Court noted that another primary question is whether the High Court is a “District Court” for the purpose of Sections 7 and 8 & 2(e) of the FC Act, 1984, read with Section 2(4) of the CPC, and further viewed that Section 7(1) of the FC Act, 1984, invests the Family Court with all the jurisdiction over a suit or proceeding in relation to the guardianship of the person, or the custody of, or access to, any minor which jurisdiction was being exercised by a District Court under any law for the time being in force. Thus, the guardianship and custody jurisdiction statutorily vested with the High Court under the GAWA, in its capacity as a District Court, can now be exercised only by the Family Court by virtue of Section 7 of the FC Act, 1984

The Court further observed that the High Court cannot exercise its statutory or inherent jurisdiction concurrently with the Family Court while deciding matters of custody and guardianship under the GAWA, as Section 7(1) read with Explanation (g) and Section 8(a) of the FC Act, 1984, leads to this inescapable conclusion that the jurisdiction exercised by any District Court in respect of matters of custody or guardianship under the GAWA , will be exercised by the Family Court and that no District Court  shall exercise such jurisdiction. Further, Explanation (g) to Section 7(1) of the FC Act, 1984, must be construed liberally to further the object of the legislation, that it would take within its fold, application for appointment of a guardian for the person and property of the minor as well.

Moreover, the inherent jurisdiction of the Madras High Court under Clause 17 of the Letters Patent, 1865, is not affected by the FC Act, 1984. However, resort to the inherent jurisdiction under Clause 17 can be had only in cases where there is no statutory remedy before any Court.

[S. Annapoorni v. K.Vijay, 2022 SCC OnLine Mad 4367, decided on 02.09.2022


Appearances

For Petitioner: Advocate B. Poongkhulali

For Respondent : Advocate A.R. Palanisaamy


Also Read:

Madras High Court’s 3:2 verdict upholds its original jurisdiction in child custody cases; holds Mary Thomas to be a good law

 

Madras High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: In a case relating to the issue of concurrent jurisdiction of the High Court over matters of child custody and guardianship with the family Courts, the five-judge bench of P.N. Prakash, N. Anand Venkatesh, R. Mahadevan, M. Sundar, A.A. Nakkiran, JJ. in a 3:2 majority decision, held that jurisdiction of the High Court on its original side over matters of child custody and guardianship is not ousted in view of the provisions of Explanation (g) to Section 7(1) read with Sections 8 and 20 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 (FCA)and the decision in Mary Thomas v. Dr.K.E.Thomas 1989 SCC OnLine Mad 268 continues to be a good law.

P.N. Prakash and N. Anand Venkatesh, JJ disagreed with the majority opinion of R. Mahadevan, M. Sundar, A.A. Nakkiran, JJ and observed that the statutory jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 is now exclusively vested with the Family Court and resort to the inherent jurisdiction under Clause 17 can be had only in cases where there is no statutory remedy before any court for redress.

The Court observed that the jurisdiction vested upon this Court under Clause 17 of Letters Patent of 1865 would broadly fall within the Civil Jurisdiction, however, what has been vested is an inherent jurisdiction of the superior Court in the nature of ‘parens patriae’ (parent of the nation) jurisdiction to safeguard the interests of such category of persons, such as, infants, lunatics and idiots, who are incapable or not in a position to take care of themselves or to safeguard their own interests.

The Court further observed that, to view an inherent jurisdiction such as the ‘parens patriae’ jurisdiction as a residuary jurisdiction or a purely supervisory jurisdiction would be to discourage against the very nature of such jurisdiction. Further, while the power and jurisdiction available to this Court under Clause 17 are not only much broader and larger in its scope and extent, but also would encompass every situation that warrants the interference of the High Court as a superior Constitutional Court in order to safeguard the interests of infants; and the jurisdiction vested in the Family Court by statute on guardianship is only one facet of the jurisdiction which inheres in a superior Constitutional Court, like the High Court. Thus, the fields occupied by the High Court and the Family Court cannot be said to be one and the same in the matters of guardianship and custody and while the jurisdiction of the High Court is much larger, there may be very few areas of overlapping jurisdiction between them.

Placing reliance on the ruling in Fuerst Day Lawson Ltd. v. Jindal Exports Ltd., (2011) 8 SCC 333 , wherein the the Court held that “Letters Patent jurisdiction has to be expressly excluded and in the absence of an express repeal, the Letters Patent may be impliedly taken away only where the special enactment is a self-contained code”, the Court viewed that the FCA,1984 is only a procedural legislation and not a self-contained code because the substantive laws continue to be the statutory provisions or the personal laws relating to marriage, maintenance etc. As such, in the absence of any express repeal, the Letters Patent cannot be taken away by a legislation.

Moreover, Article 225 of the Constitution of India expressly preserves the jurisdiction of the existing High Courts, the jurisdiction of the High Court under Clause 17 is thus constitutionally preserved and in the absence of a self-contained code that deals with guardianship, the powers of the High Court cannot be ousted. Further, in view of Article 372, Clause 17 will continue to be in force until repealed or amended by a competent legislature or by an appropriate self-contained code. Thus, it is now well established that the High Court as a superior Constitutional Court can deal with matters of guardianship and custody even in its exercise of writ jurisdiction.

The Court referred to the ruling in Benedict Denis Kinny v. Tulip Brian Miranda, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 13043, and observed that the power of the Constitutional Courts in exercise of their inherent jurisdiction are inviolable as they cannot be taken away by legislation or even by a constitutional amendment if that would hamper the basic structure of the Constitution. Thus, to say that such a broad power of a constitutional court which can be taken away only by way of a constitutional amendment and not by a statute but can be limited by statute to be used only as a residuary power, is a contradiction of sorts.

Hence, the Court observed that “since the parens patriae jurisdiction of the High Court is an inherent power stated expressly in the Letters Patent and saved by Articles 225 and 372 of the Constitution, they continue to be part of the inherent powers of the superior constitutional courts and no statute much less a procedural Legislation, can place fetters on such a power”.

Further, the Court while interpreting Section 7 (1) read with Explanation (g) of the FMA, 1984 observed that the power to appoint a guardian for the property of the minor also along with the person of a minor would not be legally permissible.

It was also observed that the Parliament in its wisdom, has used the term ‘High Court’ not in one but in eight different provisions of FCA, thus, it has consciously chosen to not to use this term in Sections 7 and 8 of FCA, hence, the Court cannot read anything into a statutory provision which is plain and unambiguous .Further, reading the FCA as a whole starting from 59th Report of the Law Commission to statement of objects and reasons and provisions, it is clear that the Parliament never intended to deprive High Court of its powers in guardianship of the person or the custody of or access to any minor matters and its intention was only to create Special Courts and move these matters out of the realm of regular District Courts.

Moreover, the Court observed that the High Court does not need an appendix of either the Guardians and Wards Act,1890(GAWA) or any other statute in order to exercise its jurisdiction under Clause 17 of the Letters Patent, and if the petition has stated the provisions under the GAWA and invoked the jurisdiction of the High Court under Clause 17 it will not make the High Court a District Court for the purposes of its exercise of jurisdiction under Clause 17 of the Letter Patent,thus, the exercise of the ordinary original jurisdiction of the High Court within the meaning of Section 4(4) of the GWA when invoked along with the meaning of Clause 17 of the Letters Patent, cannot be said to be ousted by the FCA,1984.

The Court further viewed that Section 4(4) of GAWA talks about the 1882 CPC. Therefore, the definition of ‘District Court’ under GAWA is hardly a guide to conclude the reference on hand. It further noticed that under GAWA, the term ‘the Court’ has also been explained vide section 4(5) and that inter-alia talks about District Court having jurisdiction to entertain an application under GAWA for appointment of guardian. Thus, a conjoint reading of sections 4(4), 4(5) and section 3 of GAWA makes it clear that the power of the High Court is intact.

Moreover, Section 100-A of Code of Civil Procedure ,1908 (CPC) makes it clear that the Letters Patent of any High Court cannot be swept away by section 2(4) CPC and if anything contained in the Letters Patent has to be excluded it has to be done expressly.

The Court denied any reconsideration of the decision in Mary Thomas Vs. Dr.K.E.Thomas 1989 SCC OnLine Mad 268 as the full bench in this case has appropriately dealt with the issue and the only fact that the said decision did not advert to, discuss or analyse the conflict between the decisions in Pamela Williams v Patrick Cyril Martin, 1969 SCC OnLine Mad 264 and in the Rajah of Vizianagaram v The Secretary of State for India (1936) 44 L.W. 904 alone, cannot be a reason to hold that this decision requires reconsideration as there was no apparent conflict between these two judgements. Further, these judgements have been rendered by two Division Benches at different points in time where the legal circumstances surrounding them were very different.

Further, the Court noted that the reconsideration of Mary Thomas has been sought on two grounds that the full bench did not consider Raja Soap Factory v. S.P. Shantharaj, (1965) 2 SCR 800,and Section 20 of FCA has overriding effect, and viewed that the Mysore High Court did not have original jurisdiction on the date of presentation of plaint in Raja Soap Factory. Moreover, Section 20 of FCA has no application as clause 17 of Letters Patent confers substantive power while section 20 is a procedural provision and there is nothing inconsistent.

[S. Annapoorni v. K.Vijay, 2022 SCC OnLine Mad 4367, decided on 02.09.2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

B. Poongkhulali, Advocate, for the Petitioner;

A.R. Palanisaamy, Advocate, for the Respondent.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of AM Khanwilkar and JB Pardiwala*, JJ, in a matter relating to custody of two minor children, has advised the parents to respect each other and resolve the conflict respectfully, to give the children ‘a good foundation for the conflict that may, God forbid, arise in their own lives.’

Stating that the two minor children, aged 13 and 9, in the case at hand are watching their parents very closely, the Court observed,

“The parties should try to do their best to remain relaxed and focused. It is critical to maintain boundaries between the adult problems and children. It is of utmost interest to protect the innocence of children and allow them to remain children. They must not be burdened by any adult problem. Minor children do not have the coping skills or the intellectual ability to understand any issues like the financial constraints, adult relationship issues or their parents unhappiness.”

The Court also explained the Doctrine of Parental Alienation Syndrome, i.e. the efforts made by one parent to get the child to give up his/her own positive perceptions of the other parent and get him/her to agree with their own viewpoint. It has two psychological destructive effects: (1) It puts the child in the middle of a loyalty contest, which cannot possibly won by any parent; (2) It makes the child to assess the reality, thereby requiring to blame either parent who is supposedly deprived of positive traits. The Court, hence, observed that the intent of the court should be to circumvent such ill effects.

Key Facts

The Court was deciding the case where, after the relationship between the parents went sour, the father took both the minor children away from the mother. Here are some key facts necessary to understand the case:

  1. Daughter was born in India but travelled to the USA when her father got a Job there. Son was born in the USA and is hence, a natural citizen of the USA.
  2. When the father lost his job, the children stayed with the mother who worked on getting a degree. She eventually became a resident of the USA holding H1B visa and sponsorship. She has a good job and earns a handsome salary and has the resources to provide for a comfortable life to her children in the USA.
  3. Despite several interventions by Courts and Authorities, the father did not allow the mother to meet the children unsupervised. He even alleged that the mother was mentally ill and was hence, not fit to take care of the children.
  4. A shared parenting plan[1] was arrived at between the parties vide order dated 12th May 2021 passed by the Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, giving both the parties joint custody of their children. The visitation schedule was clearly laid down. The parties agreed to not relocate without the consent of the other party and without the Court’s permission by way of a 60 day prior notice and the passports of the children were to stay in alternation with the non-custodian parent while the children were in the custody of the other parent.
  5. A separation agreement was also entered upon between the parties dated 27th July 2021.
  6. On 28th July 2021, the father intimated the US Court that he would like to take his minor children on a vacation to India. Since the travel itinerary shared by him was such that the children would miss their school by a week, the mother declined to accept it and requested the father to go to India for his vacation, and during that period, the kids would stay with their mother.
  7. On 16th August 2021, the father allegedly, took the children away from her house in her absence. The mother claimed that on the same night, she received a distress call from her minor daughter who informed her that her father was taking both of them to India on the 17th August 2021. However, as per the travel itinerary, the travel was to happen on 19th August 2021.
  8. The daughter again gave a distressed call to her mother from India pleading her to take her back to the USA.
  9. The shared parenting plan ultimately came to be terminated by the Court at Ohio vide order dated 9th February 2022 at the instance of the mother.

Children will have a better future in the USA

  1. Both the minor children are residents of the USA.
  2. The son is a natural citizen and the daughter is a permanent resident of the USA.
  3. Both the children have been brought up in the social and cultural milieu of the USA. They are accustomed to the lifestyle, language, customs, rules and regulations, etc. of that country.
  4. The children are residents of the USA. One of whom is a natural citizen and will have better future prospects if goes back to the USA.
  5. The minor daughter has a remarkable high IQ. She has been identified to be a gifted child. In such circumstances, both the minor children were admitted in a special school meant for children with such remarkably high IQ in the USA. Such schools in the USA are specialized in providing education to the gifted children which, ultimately, helps in the overall development of such children. The special education ultimately enhances the potential of such children. Both the children in the present case have better prospects of getting refined education that may ultimately enhance their potential they already possess and are already accustomed to and comfortable with.
  6. It is the fundamental right of the mother to have the company of her children and not to be deprived of the same without a reasonable cause.
  7. The allegations levelled by the father that the mother suffers from some mental illness appears to be absolutely wild and reckless.

Directions

  1. Father to travel to the USA immediately along with the children, preferably within two weeks.
  2. Once the two minor children reach the USA, it will be open for the mother to take care of her children.
  3. The father can stay back in the USA if he wants and if the laws of the country permit him to do so. But if he decides to come back to India, then the mother shall make both the minor children speak to their father on-line at least once every week.
  4. The Court also left it open for the parties to go back to the Court at Ohio and revive the shared parenting plan as was arrived at vide order dated 12th May 2021.

[Rajeswari Chandrasekhar Ganesh v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 885, decided on 14.07.2022]


*Judgment by: JB Pardiwala

Counsels

For mother: Advocate Prabhjit Jauhar

For father: Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora


[1] Shared parenting means the parents share the rights and responsibilities as provided for in a plan approved by the Court as to all or some of the aspects of the physical and legal care of their children. The mother and the father together, under a shared parenting agreement, are granted custody, care and control of the minor children until further order that may be passed by the Court subject to certain terms and conditions.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case relating to the custody of a 5-year-old who had lost both his parents to COVID-19 and the Gujarat High Court had handed over the custody to his maternal aunt and not his grand parents, the bench of MR Shah* and Anirudhha Bose, JJ has held that income and/or the age and/or the bigger family cannot be the sole criteria to tilt the balance and not to give the custody of the grandson to the paternal grandparents.

While handing over the custody of the minor to the maternal aunt, the following factors had weighed in with the High Court:

  • The paternal grandparents are old age – 71 and 63 years respectively against which the maternal aunt is aged 46 years
  • The maternal aunt is having a bigger family;
  • The grandfather is a retired government servant – depending upon the pension against which the maternal aunt is a government employee and therefore she will be in a better position to take care of the minor.

However, what the High Court failed to consider was that the child had shown his inclination to stay with the paternal grandparents. Also, the custody remained with the grandfather pursuant to the interim order passed by the High Court. Nothing was observed by the High Court that during the interim custody period, the paternal grandparents did not take proper care of the minor.

The Supreme Court, hence, observed that the reasons/grounds for granting custody to the maternal aunt may be relevant but not germane.

“There cannot be any presumption that the maternal aunt being unmarried having an independent income; younger than the paternal grandparents and having a bigger family would take better care than the paternal grandparents. In our society still the paternal grandparents would always take better care of their grandson. One should not doubt the capacity and/or ability of the paternal grandparents to take care of their grandson. It is said that the grandparents love the interest rather than the principle. Emotionally also the grandparents will always take care better care of their grandson. Grand Parents are more attached emotionally with grandchildren.”

The Court also considered the fact that the grandparents have also managed to get admission of the minor in a school in Ahmedabad.

Hence, the following factors weighed in with the Supreme Court while granting the custody to the grandparents:

  • The minor will get better education in Ahmedabad, which is a Metro City compared to the education in Dahod.
  • Being a retired person, the paternal grandparents would devote more time and take care of minor better than the maternal aunt who is serving in the government department.
  • Income and/or the age and/or the bigger family cannot be the sole criteria to tilt the balance and not to give the custody of the grandson to the paternal grandparents.
  • The High Court has not observed anything against the paternal grandparents that they have not taken proper care of the minor grandson while interim custody of the corpus was them and/or they acted detrimental to the interest of the minor.

Stating that it was a very difficult choice as it cannot be said that the maternal aunt may not take proper care of the minor son of her deceased sister, the Court said that on the facts and circumstances of the case, the High Court committed an error in not handing over and/or continuing the custody of the minor to the paternal grandparents. The Court observed that,

“if the balance is to be struck between the paternal grandparents and the maternal aunt, for the reasons stated above, the balance would certainly tilt in favour of the paternal grandparents.”

The Court, however, directed that

  • the maternal aunt shall have visitation right to meet the minor on regular basis preferably once in a month, subject to the convenience of the child.
  • during the vacation and/or holidays the grandparents may permit the minor to visit and stay with the maternal aunt, of course subject to wishes and convenience of the minor and it may not adversely affect the interest of the minor including his education and even the extra curriculum activities.
  • It is also expected to have video calling between the corpus and maternal aunt on regular basis.

[Swaminathan Kunchu Acharya v. State of Gujarat, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 733, decided on 09.06.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah


Counsels

For grandparents: Advocate D.N. Ray

For Maternal Aunt: Advocate Rauf Rahim

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dr Y.K. Srivastava, J., expressed that, in a matter of custody of a minor child, the paramount consideration is the “welfare of the minor” and not rights of the parents or relatives under a statute which are in force.

A claim for guardianship or custody, in a writ of habeas corpus, may not be held to be an absolute right, and would yield to what would appear to be in the interest of the child. In such cases, it is not a question of liberty but of nurture and care.

Instant habeas corpus petition was initially filed by the paternal grandparents seeking custody of the corpus a minor child stated to be of the age of 19 months at that point of time, who was said to be with her maternal grandfather.

It has been stated that despite various requests maternal grandfather was not handing over the custody of the corpus to the paternal grandparents and that the same amounted to illegal detention.

Factual Matrix 

Present habeas corpus petition principally seeks to raise claims with regard to guardianship and custody of the petitioner 1 (corpus) who is girl child stated to have been born on 04.06.2018 and presently aged about three years. It is not disputed that the mother of petitioner 1, upon being seriously ill was taken away by respondent 4 along with the minor child for medical treatment and she died on 31.07.2019 and since then the petitioner 1 is under the care and custody of the respondent 4, her maternal grand­father. The lodging of the FIR under Sections 498­A, 304­B IPC and Section 3/4 Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, in which the petitioners 2, 3 and 4, are named as accused and the pendency of the criminal proceedings are reflected from the records.

Principal Issue

Whether from the facts of the case, it can be stated that the custody of the child is illegal?

Analysis, Law and Decision

Writ of habeas corpus is a prerogative writ and an extraordinary remedy. It is a writ of right and not a writ of course and may be granted only on reasonable ground or probable cause being shown as held in Mohammad Ikram Hussain v. State of U.P., AIR 1964 SC 1625 and Kanu Sanyal v. District Magistrate, (1973) 2 SCC 674.

Jurisdiction

The exercise of the extraordinary jurisdiction for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus would,  be seen to be dependent on the jurisdictional fact where the applicant establishes a prima facie case that the detention is unlawful.

Object and Scope of Writ of Habeas Corpus

In the case of Syed Saleemuddin v. Dr Rukhsana, (2001) 5 SCC 247, it was held that in a habeas corpus petition seeking transfer of custody of a child from one parent to the other, the principal consideration for the court would be to ascertain whether the custody of the child can be said to be unlawful or illegal and whether the welfare of the child requires that the present custody should be changed.

In the decision of Walker v. Walker & Harrison, 1981 New Ze Recent Law 257, the question as to what would be dominating factors while examining the welfare of a child was considered and it was observed that while material considerations have their place, they are secondary matters. More important are stability and security, loving and understanding care and guidance, and warm and compassionate relationships which are essential for the development of the child’s character, personality and talents.

Further, elaborating more it was noted that question of a claim raised by maternal grand­father for guardianship of a minor child whose mother had died after giving birth to the child was subject matter of consideration in Shyamrao Maroti Karwate v. Deepak Kisanrao Tekham, (2010) 10 SCC 314, and reiterating that in the matter of custody of a minor child, paramount consideration is welfare of minor and not rights of parents or relatives, it was held that the appointment of the maternal grand­father as guardian, was justified.

Court stated that considering the facts of the case in particular the allegations against the respondent and pendency of a criminal case for an offence punishable under Section 498­A IPC, it was observed in the decision in the case of Nil Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413, that one of the matters which is required to be considered by a court of law is ‘character’ of the proposed guardian and that the same would be a relevant factor.

In an earlier decision in the case of Kirtikumar Maheshankar Joshi v. Pradipkumar Karunashanker Joshi, (1992) 3 SCC 573,  where in almost similar circumstances the father was facing a charge under Section 498­A IPC, it was held that though the father being a natural guardian, has a preferential right to the custody of the children, but in the facts and circumstances of the case, it would not be in the interest of the children to hand over their custody to the father.

Therefore, in an application seeking a writ of habeas corpus for custody of a minor child, the principal consideration for the Court would be to ascertain whether the custody of the child can be said to be unlawful and illegal and whether the welfare of the child requires the present custody should be changed and the child should be handed over in the care and custody of somebody else other than in whose custody the child presently is.

Power of the High Court, in granting a writ, in child custody matters, may be invoked only in cases where the detention of a minor is by a person who is not entitled to his/her legal custody.

 High Court observed that,

A writ of habeas corpus, is employed in certain cases, to enable a party to enforce a ‘right to control’ – arising out of a domestic relationship, especially to enable a parent to get custody and control of a child, alleged to be detained by some other person.

 Guardianship v. Welfare of the Child

 Bench expressed that while examining the competing rights with regard to guardianship vis-à-vis welfare of the child, the predominant test for consideration would be – what would best serve the welfare and interest of the child.

The interest of the child would prevail over legal rights of the parties while deciding matters relating to custody.

In Court’s opinion, the custody of a minor child with her maternal grandfather was not in any manner illegal and improper detention.

Reasoning out the above opinion, Court stated that the child from her infancy, when she was of a tender age, appears to be living with her maternal grand­ father. This together with the fact that the father who is claiming custody is named as an accused in a criminal case relating to the death of the mother of the corpus, would also be a relevant factor.

“…in deciding questions relating to custody of a minor child, as in the present case, the paramount consideration would be welfare of the minor and not the competing rights with regard to guardianship agitated by the parties for which the proper remedy would be before the appropriate statutory forum.”

In view of the above petition was dismissed. [Reshu v. State of U.P., Habeas Corpus WP No. 9 of 2020, decided on 22-10-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for Petitioner:­ Rajeev Sawhney, Rajiv Lochan Shukla, Ramanuj Yadav, Virendra Kumar Yadav

Counsel for Respondent:­ G.A., Abhinav Gaur, Ankur Verma, Manoj Kumar Rajvanshi, Prakash Chandra Yadav

Case BriefsHigh Courts

The parents together are a young child’s world. It is together that they groom him into his youth. It is together that they ensure the overall development of his personality in its myriad facets.

But marriage, like life, sometimes takes an unpleasant turn, where the spouses could turn into an estranged couple. 

It is in this situation that the Court, in the exercise of its parens patriae jurisdiction, called upon to perform the onerous task of keeping the young child’s world, as much together as can be. 

Allahabad High Court: J.J. Munir, J., observed that

What is important while deciding the issue of custody between two natural guardians, is where the minor’s welfare would be best secured. The statute indicates a preference for the mother, so far as a child below five years is concerned.

The instant petition was filed for a writ of habeas corpus, instituted by Master Anav’s mother, the first petitioner, asking the Court to liberate the minor from his father’s custody by entrusting the minor into hers, is about a young child’s devastating world.

Petitioner 1 states that during her stay with her husband, she was tortured physically and mentally, both. Her mother even gave dowry.

Later, petitioner 1 realised that her husband had an amorous relationship with her sister-in-law and another girl from the village to which she objected in vain. She was even forced to abandon the marriage and go back to her mother’s home.

The discord between parties was mediated by kinsmen, which resulted in what Meenakshi claims to be a mutual divorce.

Further, it was stated that Meenakshi after the above settlement went back to her mother’s home along with her young son, Anav. After some time petitioner 1 claimed that there was an unholy alliance between Meenakshi’s brother, Sunny and her estranged husband with two making it common cause to oust her minor son from her mother’s home.

While Ram Narayan wanted his son to stay with him, Sunny who is arrayed as the respondent 6 to this petition, wanted the child out of his mother’s home, where Meenakshi stays, because he thought Meenakshi may claim a share for her son in her ancestral property.

In light of the above motive, Meenakshi was beaten up and her son was snatched away, leading to locking up Meenakshi.

Later Anav was handed over to Meenkashi’s husband.

Analysis and Decision

Bench observed that the mother of the minor came up with serious allegations about her son being kidnapped by force by her brother and being delivered into her husband’s custody.

Court found no tangible evidence in regard to the child being forcibly removed from mother’s custody.

The minor is a young child of tender years. He is just four years old. The Court did not find him capable of expressing an intelligent preference between his parents, in whose custody, he would most like to be.

Amongst many things that this Court noticed is the fact that the father is not, particularly, interested in raising the minor.

A perusal of the settlement between the parties contained clause wherein it was specifically stated that the minor, Anav, then aged two and a half years, would stay in his mother’s custody.

The above-stated discloses the disinclination of the father to bear a whole-time responsibility for the minor’s custody and the complementary inclination of the mother to take that responsibility.

Mother’s right and that of the father, under Section 6(a) as to guardianship has been considered at par by the Supreme Court in Githa Hariharan v. Reserve Bank of India, (1999) 2 SCC 228.

So far as custody goes, as distinct from guardianship, between the two natural guardians, the mother is to be preferred by virtue of the proviso to Section 6(a) of the Act of 1956, in the case of a child below five years of age.

Bench observed the Supreme Court Decision in Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413, wherein it was held that

A court while dealing with custody cases, is neither bound by statutes nor by strict rules of evidence or procedure nor by precedents. In selecting proper guardian of a minor, the paramount consideration should be the welfare and well-being of the child.

Court added to its observation in custody matters that,

But, the general rule about custody of a child, below the age of five years, is not to be given a go-by. If the mother is to be denied custody of a child, below five years, something exceptional derogating from the child’s welfare is to be shown.

Bench noted that nothing on record was placed where it could be stated that the mother was unsuitable to raise the minor. Court found that the mother in the present case is more educated than the father.

Adding to the above, Court also stated that:

The mother, being found fit to have the minor’s custody, it cannot be the best arrangement to secure the child’s welfare, or so to speak, repair his devastated world. He must have his father’s company too, as much as can be, under the circumstances.

This Court must, therefore, devise a suitable arrangement, where the minor can meet his father in an atmosphere, that is reassuring and palliative. The father must, therefore, have sufficient visitation while the minor stays with his mother.

Hence, the habeas corpus writ petition was allowed in view of the above discussion. [Meenakshi v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1475, decided on 02-12-2020]


Advocates who represented the parties in the matter:

Counsel for Petitioner:- Sushil Kumar Sharma, Mohit Kumar

Counsel for Respondent:- G.A., Amar Nath, Shravana Kumar Yadav

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: J.J., Munir, J., addressed a matter wherein the father of the minor children has been facing trial for criminal charges and has instituted the petition seeking custody of his minor children.

The instant petition was instituted for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two minor children.

Minors’ Custody

It was stated that respondent 4 and respondent 5 be directed to produce the two minor-children detenues before the Court and minors be given into the father’s custody who has instituted the instant petition.

Digvijay Singh, counsel for the petitioners and Pankaj Kumar Tyagi, counsel appearing on behalf of respondent 4 and Sri Jhamman Ram, Additional Government Advocate appearing on behalf of the State.

Analysis and Decision

The issue of minor’s custody in the present matter came into light after the unnatural death of their mother, regarding which Awadesh Gautam (husband) and four others of his family were reported to the police by the respondent 4 charging them with murder and destruction of evidence.

It was alleged that the minors were taken forcibly by respondent 4 when the husband of the deceased was sent to jail.

Bench on perusal of the above stated observed that the question regarding maintainability of a habeas corpus writ petition to decide issues regarding custody of children or guardianship between a parent snd some other kindred, or between two parents, both of whom are natural guardians, all of this has been fairly well-settled. The stated issue came up for consideration before the Supreme Court in Syed Saleemuddin v. Dr Rukhsana, (2001) 5 SCC 247 wherein it was held that:

“…in an application seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus for custody of minor children the principal consideration for the Court is to ascertain whether the custody of the children can be said to be unlawful or illegal and whether the welfare of the children requires that present custody should be changed and the children should be left in care and custody of somebody else. The principle is well settled that in a matter of custody of a child the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration of the Court.”

In Tejaswini Gaud v. Shekhar Jagdish Prasad Tewari, (2019) 7 SCC 42 it was held that:

“19. Habeas corpus proceedings is not to justify or examine the legality of the custody. Habeas corpus proceedings is a medium through which the custody of the child is addressed to the discretion of the Court. Habeas corpus is a prerogative writ which is an extraordinary remedy and the writ is issued where in the circumstances of the particular case, ordinary remedy provided by the law is either not available or is ineffective; otherwise a writ will not be issued. In child custody matters, the power of the High Court in granting the writ is qualified only in cases where the detention of a minor by a person who is not entitled to his legal custody. In view of the pronouncement on the issue in question by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, in our view, in child custody matters, the writ of habeas corpus is maintainable where it is proved that the detention of a minor child by a parent or others was illegal and without any authority of law.

20. In child custody matters, the ordinary remedy lies only under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act or the Guardians and Wards Act as the case may be. In cases arising out of the proceedings under the Guardians and 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 are significant differences between the enquiry under the Guardians and Wards Act and the exercise of powers by a writ court which is summary in nature. What is important is the welfare of the child. In the writ court, rights are determined only on the basis of affidavits. Where the court is of the view that a detailed enquiry is required, the court may decline to exercise the extraordinary jurisdiction and direct the parties to approach the civil court. It is only in exceptional cases, the rights of the parties to the custody of the minor will be determined in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction on a petition for habeas corpus.”

In the present matter, Court stated that the custody cannot be termed as unlawful. Respondent 4 is the minors’ grandmother who has been given custody of the minors’ by Neeraj Gautam, the cousin or relative of Awadhesh’s in the presence of the Station House Officer.

Awadhesh who is the father of the minors’ could say that being the natural guardian of the two minors’ he has the right to seek their custody from the grandmother.

It is precisely this right which Awadhesh asserts, by virtue of Section 6 (a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. He says he is the sole natural surviving guardian, and therefore, entitled to the minors’ custody. It is, no doubt, true that Awadhesh is the minors’ natural guardian under Section 6 (a) of Act, 1956, but the issue about the minors’ custody is not so much about the right of one who claims it, as it is about the minors’ welfare.

The issue of welfare of the child cannot be mechanically determined. It is to be sensitively approached, taking into consideration both broad and subtle factors that would ensure it best.

The principle governing custody of minor children, apart from other issues, fell for consideration of the Supreme Court in Nil Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413.

In the above-cited case, the facts disclose that the father, who claimed the minors’ custody from his maternal grandfather and grandmother was like her, an accused in a case relating to his wife’s dowry death. Fathers’ involvement in a case relating to wifes’ dowry death was regarded by the Supreme Court as an important factor to be carefully addressed.

“…fact about the involvement of a natural guardian, in a criminal case relating to the death of a spouse, was held to be an important consideration while determining the question of welfare of the minor.”

Court interacted with the eldest amongst the minors’ who expressed that he is not disturbed at all about the fact that his maternal grandmother has placed him and his sister at Sri Braddhanand Bal Ashram. 

Further, the child added that he does not wish to go back to his father or stay with him. On being asked the reason, he says that he fears for his life. He also said that he wishes to stay at the hostel. During the course of the conversation, the child emotionally brokedown and wept. He insisted upon staying with the hostel and refused to go back to his father.

Later the Court looked into the allegations for which the father was facing trial, wherein it was noted that the wife had called up her mother stating that there was a conspiracy afoot, where she could be crushed to death under the wheels of a tractor. Later on, she was found dead near portraying it as an accident.

The totality of the circumstances on record shows that unless acquitted, it would not be appropriate to place the two minor children in their father’s custody.

Bench held that the father is not entitled to the minors’ custody when he is facing criminal charges. Once he is acquitted, it would be open to him to make an appropriate application seeking their custody to the Court of competent jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

In the totality of the circumstances obtaining for the present, this Court did not find it appropriate to grant any visitation rights to Awadhesh Gautam.[Shaurya Gautam v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1372, decided on 10-11-2020]

Kerala High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench of K. Harilal and T.V Anil Kumar, JJ. dismissed an appeal made by the maternal grandparents of the child after taking into consideration, the welfare of the child.

This case is related to the custody of the child. In this case, appellant – maternal grandparents of the child – submitted before the Court that their daughter Sajna was married to the respondent and she was later found dead in her matrimonial house in a suspicious condition. They further claimed that the 2-year girl child of the appellant was always taken care of by them and the respondent- father never took care of the child as if he was not interested in the child. A petition was filed by the grandparents in the Family Court for a decree of perpetual prohibitory injunction restraining the respondent from taking forcible custody of the child. The Family Court dismissed the petition. Aggrieved thereby, this appeal had been filed by the grandparents.

Learned counsels for the appellant Jacob Sebastian and K.V Winston submitted that after the suspicious death of the appellant’s daughter, the child was taken care of by them and the respondent declined to take care of her. A case was also lodged against the respondent in the police station under Sections 498-A, 304-B, 302, 201 and 149 of the Penal Code, 1860. Further, the respondent was a drunkard and spendthrift who used to ill-treat their deceased daughter and demanded dowry. His cruel conduct towards his wife resulted in her death. Respondent remarried for his pleasure, forgetting that he had a child to look after. Thus, he was unfit to seek permanent custody of the child. They also alleged respondent to have sexually harassed the child.

Learned counsels for the respondent, G. Sreekumar averred that after the death of his wife, respondent alone had maintained the child and taken care of her affairs. Appellant or her family members never took care of the child. He was not responsible for the death of his wife and as a matter of fact, her death was due to heart failure. She was an epileptic patient even before marriage which had been suppressed. It was claimed that the respondent was a driver by occupation and able to meet the financial needs of the child.

The Court observed that whenever there is a rival claim for guardianship, the court’s power to appoint the most suitable person among the contestants could be exercised only upon taking into view those considerations which weigh in favour of the welfare of the child. The Court also observed that the allegations made by the appellant were false. Also, the respondent earned well whereas the appellants were old and had less financial means. Moreover, the allegation made regarding sexual harassment was false.  The Court thus dismissed the appeal and gave permanent custody of the child to the respondent-father. However, appellants were allowed to meet the child on the premises of the Family Court every Saturday from 10:30 AM to 4:00 PM.[Suhara v. Muhammad Jaleel, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 1237, decided on 10-04-2019]

Punjab and Haryana High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab & Haryana High Court: A Single Judge Bench of Amol Rattan Singh, J., dismissed a petition filed against the order of the lower court whereby the application of the petitioner under Order VII, Rule 11 of CPC was dismissed.

The main issue that arose before the Court was whether the lower court had the territorial jurisdiction to hear the petition under Section 25 of the Guardian and Wards Act, 1990 read with Section 10 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 and Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The Court observed that the application in respect of the guardianship of the minor is to be made to the District Court having jurisdiction in the place where minor ordinarily resides. The Court referred to the case of Sunita Jain v. Mittar Sain Jain2002 SCC OnLine P&H 869, wherein it was held that the place of residence of a minor child below 5 years of age would be the place of residence of the mother. The custody of a child below 5 years of age (especially a female child), would naturally lie with the mother, and therefore the deemed custody would be with the mother even if actual custody was with the father.

The Court held that in the instant case the age of the child was 11 months and hence applying the rule laid down in Sunita Jain’s case, the natural custody of such child would lie with the mother. Hence, the petition for the guardianship of the child was rightly instituted before the District Court of Khadur Sahib. Resultantly, the petition of the petitioner was dismissed and the order of lower court was upheld. [Tejbir Singh v. Baljit Kaur, 2018 SCC OnLine P&H 1682, order dated 02-11-2018]

Kerala High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Anthony Dominic, CJ and Dama Seshadri Naidu, J. decided a public interest litigation, wherein it declined to issue guidelines for objective assessment in a scientific manner for the court or other authorities concerned to decide issues relating to custody of children.

The petitioners were estranged husbands involved in cases relating to custody of children, pending before the Family Court with their wives as opposite parties. Grievance of the petitioners was that they often faced adverse orders in matters of visitation rights, interim custody of wards, guardianship and other such issues, before the Family Court. They submitted that the orders passed by the Family Court lacked objective assessment based on scientific criteria and were often passed purely on the subjective satisfaction of the Judges; the ‘interest of the child’ quite often became a casualty. Learned counsel for the petitioners impressed upon the need of laying down scientific guidelines by the High Court for an objective assessment of the welfare of the child which should be prime consideration in disputes of such nature.

The High Court, after duly considering the submissions made on behalf of the parties, held the law to be well settled that in a case where custody of a minor child becomes the subject matter of the dispute between the warring parents, the Court is required to decide the issue keeping the welfare of the child in the forefront. Further, in disputes of such a nature, the Court has to appreciate the issue as a whole, and not by going entirely on the legal rights of the parties. The exercise of such a discretionary power by a Court could not be curtailed by issuing any guidelines, as was sought by the petitioners. On the other hand, if at all the legislature is satisfied that this exercise of power has to be regulated by any statutory yardstick, it is for the legislature to step in and enact any appropriate law as it may be competent to do so.

In such circumstances, the Court held that no such relief as prayed for by the petitioners could be granted and therefore, the petition was dismissed. [Sachin Narayanan Pillai v. State of Kerala,2018 SCC OnLine Ker 1460, decided on 21.3.2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: While deciding the instant review petition wherein the issue was raised that whether the either parties during the trial can use the Counselor’s report furnished in the course of mediation proceedings or the Mediator’s report in case the process fails. The petitioner further raised a grievance against the decision of this Court dated 07.02.2017 holding that the reports furnished by the Counselor and Mediator were not confidential and will not fall within the bar of confidentiality. Allowing the petition it was observed by the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna, JJ., that ‘confidentiality’ is the essence of mediation proceedings, thus constituting “a permanent ‘dark area’ and off limits, till such time appropriate and nuanced clear rules are enacted by legislation or binding norms by way of limited exception”.

As per the facts, the parties to the instant petition are disputants before the Family Court claiming guardianship of the son born to them. In order to resolve the dispute amicably, the parties opted for Mediation which unfortunately failed. The Counselor appointed by the Mediator submitted its report to this Court thereby causing the decision of 07.02.2017. The counsel for the petitioner Prosenjeet Banerjee referring to the Delhi High Court Mediation and Conciliation Rules, 2004, Conciliation Rules of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and Mediation Training Manual issued by the Supreme Court, argued that mediation is purely a confidential process and anything said or any view expressed by the parties; or documents obtained etc in the course of the process, need not be a part of the mediation report especially when the mediation has failed. It was also argued that the Mediator was not authorised by the Court to refer the dispute to the Counselor. The respondents via Inderjeet Saroop put forth before the Court that the Counselor’s report is only to be referred for the purposes of appreciation of the parties’ stand vis-à-vis their child and urged the Court to exercise it’s parens patriae jurisdiction for the benefit of the child.

Perusing the contentions and facts and referring to the various Rules and Conventions namely UNCITRAL Rules, Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 etc. all highlighting the confidentiality aspect of mediation, the Court observed that a Mediator is not an amicus curiae and therefore the process itself involves a neutral third party who in a non- judgmental fashion acts as a facilitator for the disputants to reach an agreement. Therefore mediation process depends upon maintaining confidentiality at all times till the end of the proceedings, thus a mediator cannot file reports to the Court especially when the process has failed. Mediators cannot involve experts or counselors in the process and if any need arises, the parties must approach the Court to explain requirement and the Court in such cases may use its discretion under Section 12 of the Family Courts Act, 1984. In case a counselor is appointed, a mediator shall not present when the parties are interacting with the counselor and interactions of the counselor and Court should be confidential as well. Based on the observations, the Court directed the Family Court to

disregard the reports of the Mediator and Counselor when it will determine the case upon its merits. It was also held that the said report will not be a subject of debate or argument. [Smriti Madan Kansagra v. Perry Kansagra, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 12156, decided on 11.12.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: While disposing of an appeal filed under Section 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 the Single Bench of R.M.T. Teekaa Raman, J. held that a gift by a father to his minor child can be accepted by child’s mother under the Mohammedan Law.

 The plaintiff had filed a suit for partition and for permanent injunction against the defendants restraining them from alienating the suit properties. The plaintiff contended that suit properties were acquired by Hashim Saheb who possessed the same till he died intestate on 12.06.2004. The plaintiff and the third defendant were daughters,  Defendants 1 and 2 were sons and the fourth defendant was the widow of Hashim Saheb. The trial court found that Hashim Bai had executed a gift settlement in respect of most of the suit properties to his sons and thereby refused the relief of partition as claimed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff, in appeal, contended that at the time of execution of the Gift Deeds, the second defendant was minor and his mother had represented on his behalf and hence the same was not valid as under Mohammedan law women have no rights to act as guardian.

The High Court noted that Section 359 of Mulla’s Principles of Mohammedan Law which governs the guardianship of the property of the minors, describes that only the father or father’s father can act as a guardian. Further, the general rule under Section 156 requires that a gift to a minor by a person other than his father or guardian will be completed by delivery of possession to the father or guardian. However, the instant case falls under Section 155 which omits the requirement of transfer of possession when a father gifts property to his child. On a conjoint reading of Section 155 with that of Section 359, the Court concluded that when mother was the only person who could look after the interest of the minor, acceptance of the gift by the mother was not invalid, and in such cases, the completion of the gift for his benefit is to be the sole consideration. [Shamshed Begum v. Sadiq Basha, 2016 SCC OnLine Mad 16883, decided on December 22, 2016]