Nature of ex parte order:
Order 9 Rule 6 of Civil Procedure Code 1908, provides that When the plaintiff appears and the defendant does not appear when the suit is called on for hearing, if it is proved that the summons was duly served:
“(a)……………………………………………. the Court may proceed ex parte”.
The whole question is, what do these words mean?
our laws of procedure are based on the principle that, as far as possible, no proceeding in a Court of law should be conducted to the detriment of a person in his absence. There are of course exceptions, and this is one of them. When the defendant has been served and has been afforded an opportunity of appearing, then, if he does not appear, the Court may proceed in his absence. But, be it noted, the Court is not directed to make an ex parte order.
Of course the fact that it is proceeding ex parte will be recorded in the minutes of its proceedings but that is merely a statement of the fact and is not an order made against the defendant in the sense of an ex parte decree or other ex parte order which the Court is authorised to make. All that rule 6 (1) (a) does is to remove a bar and no more. It merely authorises the Court to do that which it could not have done without this authority, namely to proceed in the absence of one of the parties. The contrast in language between rules 7 and 13 emphasises this. Now, as we have seen, the first hearing is either for the settlement of issues or for final hearing. If it is only for the settlement of issues, then the Court cannot pass an ex parte decree on that date because of the proviso to Order XV, rule 3(1) which provides that that can only. be done when “the parties or their pleaders are present and none of them objects”.
On the other hand, if it is for final hearing, an ex parte decree can be passed, and if it is passed, then Order IX, rule 13 comes into play and before the decree is set aside the Court is required to make an order to set it aside. Contrast this with rule 7 which does not require the setting aside of what is commonly, though erroneously, known as “the ex parte order”. No order is contemplated by the Code and therefore no order to set aside the order is contemplated either. But a decree is a command or order of the Court and so can only be set aside by another order made and recorded with due formality.
Then comes rule 7 which provides that if at an adjourned hearing the defendant appears and shows good cause for his “previous non-appearance”, he can be heard in answer to the suit “as if he had appeared on the day fixed for his appearance”. This cannot be read to mean, as it has been by some learned Judges, that he cannot be allowed to appear at all if he does not show good cause. All it means is that he cannot be relegated to the position he would have occupied if he had appeared, We turn next to the adjourned hearing. That is dealt with in Order XVII. Rule I (1) empowers the Court to adjourn the hearing and whenever it does so it must fix a day “for the further hearing of the suit”, except that once the hearing of the evidence has begun it must go on from day to day till all the witnesses in attendance have been examined unless the Court considers, for reasons to be recorded in writing, that a further adjournment is necessary. Then follows rule 2-
“Where., on any day to which the hearing of the suit is adjourned, the parties or any of them fail to appear, the Court may proceed to dispose of the suit in one of the modes directed in that behalf by Order IX or make such other order as it thinks- fit”.
Now rule 2 only applies when one or both of the parties do not appear on the day fixed far the adjourned hearing. In that event, the Court is thrown back to Order IX with the additional power to make “such order as it thinks fit”. When it goes back to Order IX it finds that it is again empowered to proceed ex parte on the adjourned hearing in the same way as it did, or could have done, if one or other of the parties had not appeared at the first hearing, that is to say, the right to proceed ex parte is a right which accrues from day to day because at each adjourned hearing the Court is thrown back to Order IX, rule 6. It is not a mortgaging of the future but only applies to the particular hearing at which a party was afforded the chance to appear and did not avail himself of it. Therefore, if a party does appear on “the day to which the hearing of the suit is adjourned”, he cannot be stopped from participating in the proceedings simply because he did not appear on the first or some other hearing.
If the defendant does not appear at the adjourned hearing (irrespective of whether or not he appeared at the first hearing) Order XVII, rule 2 applies and the Court is given the widest possible discretion either “to dispose of the suit in one of the modes directed in that behalf by Order IX or make such other order as it thinks fit”. The point is this. The Court has a discretion which it must exercise. Its hands are not tied by the so called ex parte order; and if it thinks they are tied by Order IX, rule 7 then it is not exercising the discretion which the law says it should and, in a given case, interference may be called for.
We agree with the Tribunal, and with the High Court, that no good cause was shown and so the defendant had no right to be relegated to the position that he would have occupied if he had appeared on 17-3-1953, but that he had a right to appear through counsel on 20-3-1953 and take part in the proceedings -from the stage at which they had then reached, subject to such terms and conditions as the Tribunal might think fit to impose, is we think, undoubted. Whether he should have been allowed to cross- examine the three witnesses who were examined after the appearance of his counsel, or whether he should have been allowed to adduce evidence, is a matter on which we express no opinion, for that has to depend on whatever view the Tribunal in a sound exercise of judicial discretion will choose to take of the circumstances of this particular case, but we can find no justification for not at least allowing counsel to argue.
[ Source: Sangram Singh vs Election Tribunal, Kotah,Bhurey, 1955 AIR 425, 1955 SCR (2) 1]
Note: Thus ex parte order does not mean that a party is thrown out of proceedings but is just a step in proceedings.