Sexual harassment in Supreme Court of India

First disciplinary order of Supreme Court in sexual harassment case.

Sexual harassment and gender sensitivity at work places is an issue which requires serious attention as this is seriously related to making work places safe for women however personal over sensitivity of an individual about these matters shall always be a matter of concern. India has already ratified United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, on the 25th June, 1993.

The Supreme Court of India in their judgement in August, 1997, in the case of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, recognizing the International Conventions and Norms, interpreted gender equality of women, in relation to work and held that sexual harassment of women at the workplace, is against their dignity, and violative of Article 14, 15 (1) and 21 of the Constitution of India. It also held that it is the violation of the fundamental rights under Article 19 (1) (g) ‘to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business.’ Therefore it laid down a binding guide lines in this regard.

Guidelines to prevent sexual harassment issued in Vishakha Case:

1. Duty of the Employer or other responsible persons in work places and other institutions: It shall be the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places or other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.
2. Definition: For this purpose,sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (Whether directly or by implication) as:

a) Physical contact and advances;
b) a demand or request for sexual favours;
c) sexually coloured remarks;
d) showing pornography;
e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non – verbal conduct of sexual

Where any of these acts is committed in circumstances whereunder the victim of such conduct has a reasonable apprehension that in relation to the victim’s employment or work whether she is drawing salary, or honorarium or voluntary, whether in Government, public or private enterprise such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem. It is discriminatory for instance when the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment or work including recruiting or promotion or
when it creates a hostile work environment. Adverse consequences might by visited if the victim does not consent to the conduct in question or raises any objection thereto.

3. Preventive Step: All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in the public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without prejudice to the generality of this obligation they should take the following steps:

(a) Express prohibition of sexual harassment as defined above at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
(b) The Rules/Regulations of Government and Public Sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules/regulations prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in such rules against the offender.
(c) As regards private employers steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
(d) Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

4. Criminal Proceedings: Where such conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. In particular, it should ensure that victims, or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment. The victims of sexual harassment should have the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer.

5. Disciplinary Action: Where such conduct amounts to misconduct in employment as defined by the relevant service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer in accordance with those rules.

6. Complaint Mechanism: Whether or not such conduct constitutions an offence under law or a breach of the service rules, an appropriate complaint mechanism should be created in the employer’s organization for redress of the complaint made by the victim. Such complaint mechanism should ensure time bound treatment of complaints.

7. Complaints Committee: The complaint mechanism, referred to in (6) above, should be adequate to provide, where necessary, Complaints Committee, a special counsellor or other support service, including the maintenance of confidentiality.
The Complaints Committee should be heated by a woman and not less than half of its member should be women. Further, to prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior levels, such Complaints Committee should involve a third party, either NGO or other body who is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.
The Complaints Committee must make an annual report to the Government department concerned of the complaints and action taken by them. The employers and person in charge will also on the compliance with the aforesaid guidelines including on the reports of the Complaints Committee to the Government department.

8. Workers’ Initiative:  Employees should be allowed to raise issues sexual harassment at workers’ meeting and in other appropriate forum and it should be affirmatively discussed in Employer – Employee Meetings.

9. Awareness: Awareness of the rights of female employees in this regard should be created in particular by prominently notifying the guidelines ( and appropriate legislation when enacted on the subject ) in a suitable manner.

10. Third Party Harassment: Where sexual harassment occurs as a result of an act or omission by any third
party or outsider, the employer and person in charge will take all steps necessary and reasonable to assist the affected person in terms of support and preventive action.
11. The Central / State Governments are requested to consider adopting suitable measures including legislation to ensure that the guidelines laid down by this order are also observed by the employers in Private Sector.

12. These guidelines will not prejudice any rights available under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

Again in AEPC v. AK Chopra, Supreme Court decided:

This was the question formulated by Supreme Court:

Does an action of the superior against a female employee which is against moral sanctions and does not withstand test of decency and modesty not amount to sexual harassment ? Is physical contact with the female employee an essential ingredient of such a charge ? Does the allegation that the superior ‘tried to molest’ a female employee at the place of work, not constitute an act unbecoming of good conduct and behaviour expected from the superior ?

And it answered the question in these words:

Any action or gesture, whether directly or by implication, aims at or has the tendency to outrage the modesty of a female employee, must fall under the general concept of the definition of sexual harassment.

Though the Supreme Court in it’s previous decision in the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan had given directions (in the year 1997 !) for formation of Committees at work places to look into the grievances of sexual harassment, it took no step to form such committee in it’s own establishment. With a view to redress such grivances in the premises of Supreme Court of India, itself, on 21st September 2013 SCI promulgated:


The complaint about sexual harassment:

A complaint of indecent behaviour bordering on sexual harassment was made against a practicing lawyer. The Committee under aforesaid Regulations of 2013 inquired into the matter and recommended that the said Advocate Mr. C.S. Nagesh, be barred from the premises of Supreme Court for a period of one year.

The Chief Justice of India, however did not accept the recommendation in entirety and barred the concerned advocate/lawyer for a period of six months only.

The relevant order dated 15th March, 2014, stated to have been passed under Regulation 15(c) can be reached here.

Comment: This is a new branch of discipline being developed. There are many new questions being raised by this order:

  1. In the absence of any law, does the order passed by Chief Justice of India, on administrative side, has sanction of law, especially when regulations do not provide for any punishment?
  2. Does this order serve a precedent to rusticate a person or to transfer out a person for minimum 6 months?
  3. The order of rustication being passed by Chief Justice of India himself, what are the judicial remedies against it?
  4. Would any court in the country, judicially review order passed by Chief Justice of India?

Legal Rights of Transgender Community

Transgender Rally demanding legal rights.Difficulties of Transgender Community:

Seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are sidelined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society’s unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.

A petition by Transgender Community:

A Petition was filed by National Legal Services Authority under Legal Services Act, for the benefit of Transgender Community seeking legal declaration of their gender identity than the one assigned to them, male or female, at the time of birth and their prayer is that non-recognition of their gender identity violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. Hijras/Eunuchs, who also fall in that group, claim legal status as a third gender with all legal and constitutional protection.

Legal rights of Transgender Community:

per K.S. Radhakrishnan, J

“74. Article 21, as already indicated, protects one’s right of self- determination of the gender to which a person belongs. Determination of gender to which a person belongs is to be decided by the person concerned. In other words, gender identity is integral to the dignity of an individual and is at the core of “personal autonomy” and “self-determination”. Hijras/Eunuchs, therefore, have to be considered as Third Gender, over and above binary genders under our Constitution and the laws.

75. Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 21, above discussion, would indicate, do not exclude Hijras/Transgenders from its ambit, but Indian law on the whole recognize the paradigm of binary genders of male and female, based on one’s biological sex. As already indicated, we cannot accept the Corbett principle of “Biological Test”, rather we prefer to follow the psyche of
the person in determining sex and gender and prefer the “Psychological Test” instead of “Biological Test”. Binary notion of gender reflects in the Indian Penal Code, for example, Section 8, 10, etc. and also in the laws related to marriage, adoption, divorce, inheritance, succession and other welfare legislations like NAREGA, 2005, etc. Non-recognition of the
identity of Hijras/Transgenders in the various legislations denies them equal protection of law and they face wide-spread discrimination.

 76. Article 14 has used the expression “person” and the Article 15 has used the expression “citizen” and “sex” so also Article 16. Article 19 has also used the expression “citizen”. Article 21 has used the expression “person”. All these expressions, which are “gender neutral” evidently refer to human-beings. Hence, they take within their sweep Hijras/Transgenders and are not as such limited to male or female gender. Gender identity as already indicated forms the core of one’s personal self, based on self identification, not on surgical or medical procedure. Gender identity, in our view, is an integral part of sex and no citizen can be discriminated on the ground of gender identity, including those who identify as third gender….”

per A.K. Sikri, J.:

“…….The role of the Court is to understand the central purpose and theme of the Constitution for the welfare of the society. Our Constitution, like the law of the society, is a living organism. It is based on a factual and social realty that is constantly changing. Sometimes a change in the law precedes societal change and is even intended to stimulate it. Sometimes, a change in the law is the result in the social realty. When we discuss about the rights of TGs in the constitutional context, we find that in order to bring about complete paradigm shift, law has to play more pre-dominant
role. As TGs in India, are neither male nor female, treating them as belonging to either of the aforesaid categories, is the denial of these constitutional rights. It is the denial of social justice which in turn has the effect of denying political and economic justice….”

Declaration of rights of Transgender Community by Supreme Court of India:

Supreme Court of India after deliberating upon various aspects of human rights, has given following specific directions to restore the status and dignity of Transgender (Hijra/Kinner/Eunuch) Community:

We, therefore, declare:
(1) Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as “third gender” for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.
(2) Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.
(3) We direct the Centre and the State Governments to take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission
in educational institutions and for public appointments.
(4) Centre and State Governments are directed to operate separate HIV Sero-survellance Centres since Hijras/ Transgenders face several sexual health issues.
(5) Centre and State Governments should seriously address the problems being faced by Hijras/Transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.
(6) Centre and State Governments should take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in the hospitals and also provide them separate public toilets and other facilities.
(7) Centre and State Governments should also take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.
(8) Centre and State Governments should take steps to create public awareness so that TGs will feel that they are also part and parcel of the social life and be not treated as untouchables.
(9) Centre and the State Governments should also take measures to regain their respect and place in the society which once they enjoyed in our cultural and social life.

[Source: National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (Supreme Court of India)]

Civil suit and writ jurisdiction

Dismissal of plaint in writ jurisdiction:

Scope of writ jurisdiction:

Undoubtedly the High Court, under article 227, has the jurisdiction to ensure that all subordinate courts as well as statutory or quasi-judicial tribunals, exercise the powers vested in them, within the bounds of their authority. The High Court has the power and the jurisdiction to ensure that they act in accordance with the well-established principles of law. The High Court is vested with the powers of superintendence and/or judicial revision, even in matters where no revision or appeal lies to the High Court. The jurisdiction under this article is, in some ways, wider than the power and jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. It is, however, well to remember the well-known adage that greater the power, greater the care and caution in exercise thereof. The High Court is, therefore, expected to exercise such wide powers with great care, caution and circumspection. The exercise of jurisdiction must be within the well-recognised constraints. It can not be exercised like a “bull in a china shop”, to correct all errors of judgment of a court, or tribunal, acting within the limits of its jurisdiction. This correctional jurisdiction can be exercised in cases where orders have been passed in grave dereliction of duty or in flagrant abuse of fundamental principles of law or justice.

[Source: Jai Singh v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, ((2010) 9 SCC 385)]

Dismissal of Civil Suit in writ jurisdiction:

The only question which was required to be determined in this case was whether the High Court while exercising its power under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India is competent to set aside the plaint ?

A petition under Article 226 or Article 227 of Constitution of India can neither be entertained to decide the landlord-tenant dispute nor it is maintainable against a private individual to determine an intense dispute including the question whether one party harassing the other party. The High Court under Article 227 has the jurisdiction to ensure that all subordinate courts as well as statutory or quasi-judicial tribunals, exercise the powers vested in them within the bounds of their authority but it was not the case of the 1st respondent that the order passed by the Munsiff Court was without any jurisdiction or was so exercised exceeding its jurisdiction. If a suit is not maintainable it was well within the jurisdiction of the High Court to decide the same in appropriate proceedings but in no case power under Articles 226 and 227 of Constitution of India can be exercised to question a plaint.

[Source: Jacky v. Tiny @ Antony (Supreme Court of India)]

Judicial Review: Power of Supreme Court.

Principles for review by Supreme Court of Philippines:

Supreme Court of  a country is the last court of record. Thereafter, no remedy of review of an order is left to a litigant. What should be the principles to decide the scope of judicial review by last court of land:

in the exercise of the Supreme Court’s power of review, the Court is not a trier of facts and does not normally undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties during the trial of the case considering that the findings of facts of the CA are conclusive and binding on the Court.  However, the Court had recognized several exceptions to this rule, to wit:

(1) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises or conjectures; (2) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible;
(3) when there is grave abuse of discretion;
(4) when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;
(5) when the findings of facts are conflicting;
(6) when in making its findings the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee;
(7) when the findings are contrary to the trial court;
(8) when the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;
(9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner’s main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent;
(10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; and
(11) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion. ………….

(Italics in original; underscoring supplied; citations omitted)

Insular Life Assurance Company, Ltd. v. Court of Appeals. (G.R. No. 126850, April 28, 2004, 428 SCRA 79, 85-86).(Supreme court of Philippines)

Territorial Jurisdiction of Court

Determination of territorial jurisdiction of court

CPC, Section 15 to 20 govern territorial jurisdiction:

Section 15 to 20 of the Code of Civil Procedure indicate the place where a suit can be instituted. Section 15 states that every suit shall be instituted in the court of the lowest grade competent to try it. Section 16 then proceeds to state that the the suit shall be instituted where the subject-mater is situate. Then comes Section 20 which is relevant for our purposes. It reads as under:

20. Other suits to be instituted where defendants reside or cause of action arises- Subject to the limitations aforesaid, every suit shall be instituted in a Court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction-
(a) the defendant, or each of the. defendants where there are more then one, at the time of the commencement of the suit, actually and voluntarily resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain; or
(b) any of the defendants, where there are more than one, at the time of the commencement of the suit, actually and voluntarily resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain, provided that in such case either the leave of the Court is given, or the defendants who do not reside, or carry on business, or personally work for gain, as aforesaid, acquiesce in such institution; or
(c) the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises.
Explanation: A corporation shall be deemed to carry on business at its sole or principal office in India or, in respect of any cause of action arising at any place where it has also a subordinate office, at such place.

Application of clause (c) of section 20 of CPC:

It will thus be seen that Clauses (a) and (b) are not attracted in the facts of this case. None of defendants at the time of the commencement of the suit actually and voluntarily resides or carried on business or personally worked for gain within the territorial jurisdiction of the Chandigarh Court. Clause (b) can apply only if atleast one of the defendants actually and voluntarily resided or carried on business or personally worked for gain while the others did not. But that is not the case here. The case must, therefore, be governed by Clause (c) which requires that the whole or part of the cause of action must be shown to have arisen within the territorial limits of the Chandigarh Court. Now as is evident from the averments in the plaint no part of the cause of action arose within the territorial jurisdiction of the Chandigarh Court. On the averments in the plaint taken at their face value the case set up by the plaintiff is that after his father left Mandsaur his two brothers joined hands, manipulated the accounts and siphoned away the funds belonging to the partnership firm. The entire dispute is in relation to what happened at Mandsaur. Secondly, it must also be remembered that even according to the plaintiff after his father returned to Mandsaur there was some talk of settlement of the dispute and consequently an agreement was executed on 26th November, 1992 at Bhilai by which the partnership was dissolved and it was agreed that the liabilities would be settled within one month. Now this agreement was executed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Chandigarh Court. Unless this agreement is set aside there is no question of the Chandigarh Court entertaining a suit for dissolution of the partnership and rendition of accounts. The plaintiff cannot wish away the agreement by merely suiting that it is a void document. He cannot rest content by alleging that the document has no efficacy in law and must, therefore, be ignored. If it is the case of the plaintiff that this document was obtained by fraud or misrepresentation by suppression of material facts or for any other like reason he must have the agreement set aside through Court and unless he docs that he cannot go behind the agreement, ignore it as a void document and proceed to sue for dissolution of the partnership and rendition of accounts. It is not a matter of the volition of the plaintiff to disregard the document as void and proceed to ignore it altogether without having it declared void by a competent Court. It, therefore, appears clear to us that no part of the cause of action arose within the territorial jurisdiction of the Chandigarh Court.

Averments about territorial jurisdiction in plaint:

Para 7 of plaint stated as under:

That the plaintiff himself was doing business of the firm from Chandigarh and in that connection had been engaged in all operations necessary for conduct of business. In fact, the Head Office of the firm was at Bombay where the firm was registered. The factory/plant was located at Mandsaur. Chandigarh was one of the Branch Office of the firm M/s. Rajaram and Brothers. Not only this, the stationary printed by the firm also showed that Chandigarh is the Branch Office of the firm. The stationery has been in continuously use since the year 1974.

Vague description of activity can not help:

The averment does not say that any of the defendants were involved in carrying on business at Chandigarh. The plaintiff is quite vague as to the type of business activity as was carrying on. He also does not say whether it was with the consent of the other partners or his own. There is no averment that intimation of the opening of the branch at Chandigarh was given to the Registrar of Firms as required by Section 61 of the Partnership Act. Printing of stationery is neither here nor there. It is not the plaintiffs say that accounts were maintained in respect of business at Chandigarh. Mere bald allegation that he was having a branch office of the firm at Chandigarh will not confer jurisdiction unless it is shown that a part of the cause of action arose within the territorial jurisdiction of that Court. None of the defendants was ever residing in Chandigarh or did any business whatsoever in Chandigarh and, therefore, suit was not maintainable.

[Source: Subodh Kumar v. Shrikant Gupta. (Supreme Court of India)]

Information Technology Act, 2000 as amended in 2008

Cyber Law in India:

Information Technology Act, 2000 is the law governing e-commerce, internet and Cyber laws in India. The only legal commentary on the subject has been thoroughly revised and updated and now it’s 2014 edition is available for sale as Kindle Edition.

About the Kindle eBook on Information Technology Act, 2000:

“Facebook arrests, blocking of web sites etc. wakes up to understand what is the law behind such Government action and if it was justified. The relevant law in India is Information Technology Act, 2000. This kindle book is a legal commentary on the provisions of Information Technology Act, 2000 as enacted by the Parliament of India. This statute primarily governs the law relating to Internet, Digital Communication and other such matters. This statute covers variety of new legal rights and liabilities apart from creating various authorities for enforcement of new rights and liabilities. Certain acts have been defined as offenses which are punishable with fine or imprisonment. This book, apart from the original enacted provisions of the statute also contains legal commentary on virtually every provision to assist the the legal implications of each provision. Commentary also contains reference to existing case law on the subject without confining itself to the courts of India and incorporating judicial precedents from all over the world. Where ever direct case law is not available, an anlogous provision and case law thereon has been dealt with to thoroughly analyze the provisions of this Act. This is a 2014 edition and includes a thorough commentary on the notorious provisions introduced by Amending Act of 2008. “

Scroll below to read extracts from book or click the image to buy:

Section 66-A, is a restriction upon the right of ‘Free Speech’ or ‘Freedom of Speech & Expression’ guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India. It curtails the freedom of expression by prohibiting under coercion of penal action, certain kinds of expression. However the restrictions under this provision have to meet the test of reasonableness as specified under article 19(2) Which is as under:

‘Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercises of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign, State, public, order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.’

Since, we shall be discussing the cases from around the globe, it may be pointed out that in USA, the freedom of speech is absolute as there is no provision in the constitution similar to article 19(2). However Supreme Court of USA has evolved several tests, one of which is the test of ‘clear and present danger’ which is similar to test of reasonableness provided in article 19(2) but it is not the same. In fact Justice Douglus of USA Supreme Court was of the view that even in USA the ‘Judges sometimes try to read the word “reasonable” into the First Amendment or make the rights it grants subject to reasonable regulation.’1 He also took note of the fact that ‘this limitation is strictly construed; any restriction amounting to an “imposition” which will “operate harshly” on speech or the press will be held invalid.’2


More extracts:

Constitutional Validity u/a 19(1)(a) The restrictions imposed by the s. 66-A have to be tested on the anvil of objects for which it is permissible to impose the restriction u/a. 19(2) of Constitution. These can be summed up as under:

1. Interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India,
2. Security of State,
3. Friendly relations with foreign State,
4. Public order
5. Decency or morality,
6. Contempt of court
7. Defamation or
8. Incitement to an offence.

All the above subjects are covered by specialized laws which deal with matters ex post facto. Some of above subjects are also covered by other provisions of this Act, itself. It is yet to be seen as to under which of the above 8 objects, s.66-A, seeks to achieve. At best S. 66-A can relate to decency or cyber-stalking but it does not employ these words. It would be appropriate to deal with each clause of section 66-A separately.

Clause (a) deals with an act of ‘Intimidation’ through electronic message while former is covered by IPC. Obviously c. (a) is similar in term with the c. (a) of 127 of U.K. Communications Act, 2003 in so far as word ‘menace’ is concerned. But similarity ends there itself. Obviously this clause relate to an offence of intimidation itself and not an ‘incitement to do an offence’. It may be seen that unless a message falls within one of the 8 categories specified in article 19(2) of Constitution, it would be hit by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Act of intimidation, unless it is contrary to interest of Sovereignty and Integrity of India or Security of State or Friendly relations with foreign State or in alternative it is accompanied by disturbance of public order or incitement to commit an offence or is contrary to decency or morality or amounts to contempt of court or defamation, mere menacing nature of message is beyond the legislative competence of the Parliament and is unconstitutional, being hit by article 19(1)(a).

Clause (b) starts with the word ‘false’ and thereafter employs a series of words which have different………….

Click the image to buy:

Replevin: Recovery of personal property.

Action for recovery of personal property:

Facts for an action for replevin:

A corporation was engaged in the business of providing public transportation.  On December 13, 1990, one of its buses, while traveling north and approaching the Alabang northbound exit lane, swerved and crashed into the radio room of respondent Philippine National Construction Company (PNCC).

The incident was initially investigated by respondent PNCC’s toll way patrol, Sofronio Salvanera, and respondent Pedro Balubal (Balubal), then head of traffic control and security department of the South Luzon tollway. The bus was thereafter turned over to the Alabang Traffic Bureau for it to conduct its own investigation of the incident. Because of lack of adequate space, the bus was, on request of traffic investigator Pat. Cesar Lopera (Lopera), towed by the PNCC patrol to its compound where it was stored.

Subsequently, petitioner made several requests for PNCC to release the bus, but respondent Balubal denied the same, despite petitioner’s undertaking to repair the damaged radio room.  Respondent Balubal instead demanded the sum of P40,000.00, or a collateral with the same value, representing respondent PNCC’s estimate of the cost of reconstruction of the damaged radio room.  By petitioner’s estimate, however, the damage amounted to P10,000.00 only. Petitioner therefore filed a complaint for recovery of personal property (replevin) with damages against respondents PNCC and Balubal with the Regional Trial Court, which however dismissed the complaint.

Constitution of Philippines about right to property:

The Constitution grants the right against unreasonable seizures. Thus, Section 2, Article III provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The seizure and impounding of petitioner’s bus, on Lopera’s request, were unquestionably violative of “the right to be let alone” by the authorities as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Decision of the Supreme Court allowing replevin:

This Court’s statement in Victory Liner [A.M. No. MTJ-00-1321, March 10, 2004, 425 SCRA 79.] on the lack of a “clear-cut policy” refers to the practice, rightly or wrongly, of trial court judges of issuing orders for the impounding of vehicles involved in accidents.  It has no application to the instant case which involves the seizure and distraint implemented by respondents upon a verbal order by Lopera without the benefit or color of legality afforded by a court process, writ or order.

That a year after the incident the driver of the bus was criminally charged for reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property in which the bus could possibly be held as evidence does not affect the outcome of this case.  As explained in Bagalihog v. Fernandez (G.R. No. 96356, June 27, 1991, 198 SCRA 614.):

It is true that property held as evidence in a criminal case cannot be replevied.  But the rule applies only where the property is lawfully held, that is, seized in accordance with the rule against warrantless searches and seizures or its accepted exceptions.  Property subject of litigation is not by that fact alone in custodia legis.  As the Court said in Tamisin v. Odejar, [108 Phil. 560 (1960)] “A thing is in custodia legis when it is shown that it has been and is subjected to the official custody of a judicial executive officer in pursuance of his execution of a legal writ.”  Only when property is lawfully taken by virtue of legal process is it considered in the custody of the law, and not otherwise.   (Emphasis and underscoring supplied; italics in the original; citations omitted)

Article 1962 of the Civil Code provides:

Art. 1962. A deposit is constituted from the moment a person receives a thing belonging to another, with the obligation of safely keeping it and of returning the same.  If the safekeeping of the thing delivered is not the principal purpose of the contract, there is not deposit but some other contract.

The police authorities,  through  Lopera,  having  turned  over the bus to respondents for safekeeping, a contract of deposit (term bailment is used in India) was perfected between them and respondents.

Petitioner’s prayer for recovery of possession of the bus is, in light of the foregoing discussion, thus in order.


Theft of immovable property.

Squatting in property if a theft?

Ronald Alexander Hobby (“Petitioner”) was charged with, and convicted of, theft of property valued in excess of $100,000 and related offenses arising out of his unauthorized occupancy of a home for a period of approximately seven months. He held on to property on the basis of a lease document from the landlady, who denied its execution, on oath.

Defence disputing theft:

Petitioner contends that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction for theft “in any amount.” Petitioner argues that a theft of a house did not occur, as the house was not asported to another location, and thus, the evidence is insufficient “to prove the mode of theft specifically set forth in the indictment.” Alternatively, Petitioner contends that the State failed to prove that he deprived Brathwaite (Landlady) and Severn Bank (Mortgagee) of the property through deception because there was no prospective purchaser or lessee “displaced” as a result of his occupancy; i.e., there was no deprivation and thus no theft. Petitioner also asserts that the State failed to prove that he exerted unauthorized control over the property, as his action in occupying the home as a “squatter” did not constitute theft under the theory of “exerting unauthorized control.”<!–nextpage–>

Discussion/enunciation of law of Maryland about theft:

C.L. § 7-104 of the Maryland Code prohibits theft committed in several ways, including the following two: (a) Unauthorized control over property. – A person may not willfully or knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over property, if the person: (1) intends to deprive the owner of the property; (2) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or (3) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property. (b) Unauthorized control over property – By deception. – A person may not obtain control over property by willfully or knowingly using deception, if the person: (1) intends to deprive the owner of the property; (2) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or (3) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property. “Obtain” is defined, in relevant part, in C.L. § 7-101(g) as “(1) in relation to property, to bring about a transfer of interest in or possession of the property[.]” “Property,” as used in the theft statute, “means anything of value[,]” C.L. § 7-101(i)(1), and includes “real estate” as well as “a thing growing on or affixed to, or found on land, or part of or affixed to any building[.]” C.L. § 7-101(2)(i) and (2)(vi). Contra Sheffield v. State, 708 So.2d 899, 900, 902, 906, 910 (Ala. Crim. App. 1997), cert. denied, 708 So.2d 911 (Ala. 1997) (The Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama held that a person could not steal real property, specifically an “interest in land,” because Alabama‟s theft statute failed to explicitly include “real property” within the definition of “property”; the Court further observed: “[I]n most states, the evolution of [the types of property that can be the subject of theft and theft-related offenses] has produced a broader definition of „property‟ than it has in Alabama–a definition that, in most instances, explicitly and specifically includes real property.”). In Maryland, the common law crime of larceny was traditionally defined as “the intentional taking, without legal warrant, of the personal property of another with the unlawful intention to deprive the owner of such property.” Murray v. State, 214 Md. 383, 386, 135 A.2d 314, 315 (1957) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). “[M]odern [theft] statutes[, however,] have generally covered other kinds of property as well.” Wayne R. LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law § 19.4 (2d ed.) (updated Oct. 2013). In Maryland, “[b]y chapter 849 of the Acts of 1978, . . . the General Assembly . . ., effective July 1, 1979, consolidated a number of theft-related offenses . . . into a single newly created statutory offense known as theft.” Jones v. State, 303 Md. 323, 326, 493 A.2d 1062, 1063 (1985).3 By Chapter 849 of the Acts of 1978, the General 3 The consolidated theft statute “combin[ed] what were previously seven separate larceny offenses into the one crime of theft[,]” including “larceny, larceny by trick, larceny after trust, embezzlement, false pretenses, shoplifting, and receiving stolen (Continued…) Assembly expanded the common law definition of “property” to include, among other things, “real estate” and “things growing on or affixed to, or found on land, or part of or affixed to any building[.]” 1978 Md. Laws 2466. That definition remains in force today. The theft statute distinguishes between “personal property” and “property,” as seen in C.L. § 7-104(c), which, in contrast to C.L. § 7-104(a) and (b), narrowly prohibits possessing stolen personal property; specifically, pursuant to C.L. § 7-104(c), “[a] person may not possess stolen personal property knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it probably has been stolen[.]” (Emphasis added). The modern consolidated theft statute does not distinguish, however, between “movable” and “immovable” property, as does the Model Penal Code. See Model Penal Code § 223.2. In addition, the modern consolidated theft statute does not require asportation4 of property. See Charles E. Moylan, Jr., Maryland‟s Consolidated Theft Law and Unauthorized Use § 4.2, 24 (2001) (“Significantly missing from the current definition of theft‟s proscribed acquisition, however, are common law larceny‟s requirements of a trespassory taking (the caption) and a carrying away (asportation).”)

It was concluded:

We reject Petitioner‟s argument that theft of the house did not occur as the house remains at its original location and was not asported to another location. Petitioner confuses the common law crime of larceny with theft under the modern consolidated theft statute. Asportation, or the carrying away or removal of property, is not required under the modern consolidated theft statute. See C.L. § 7-104; Moylan, supra, at 24. Stated otherwise, the State is not required to demonstrate that Petitioner carried away the house from its original location to prove that Petitioner committed theft of the house. And, the indictment did not aver that Petitioner carried away the home. As to theft of the house pursuant to C.L. § 7-104(b)–theft by deception–viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State (as we must), we are convinced that the evidence is sufficient to support the conclusion that Petitioner committed theft by obtaining control and possession of the property through deception, and, specifically, that Petitioner brought about the physical transfer of possession of the house located at 2742 Kirk Drive through deception.

To be a dwelling, the place must be of human habitation, that is, a “place to sleep in[.]”

A structure does not become a dwelling until someone occupies it. Once a dwelling, however, the structure does not lose its character as a dwelling simply because it is left vacant for a time. The length of the vacancy, moreover, does not, of itself, disturb the character of the place as a dwelling. “Certain it is that the dweller and his entire household may be away for months, without depriving the house of its character as his dwelling.” Id. at 127, 962 A.2d at 1002 (citations omitted). We observed: To be sure, burglary does not require that the dwelling be occupied by its residents at the time of the breaking; however, the law distinguishes a temporarily unoccupied dwelling house from a building [that], although at times used as a dwelling, has at the time of the breaking been abandoned by its occupants. The former is a proper subject of burglary; the latter is not.

Source: Hobby v. State  [Maryland (USA) Court of Appeal]