Interpretation of judgement

A judgement should not be read as a statute.

Judgement in the context:

Every judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved or assumed to be proved, since the generality of the expressions, which may be found that they are not intended to be expositions of the whole law but governed or qualified by the particular facts of the case, in which such expressions are to be found. (per Lord Halsbury in Quinn v. Leathem, 1901 AC 495.)

Judgement as precedent:

In London Graving dock co. Ltd. vs. Horton (1951 AC 737 at p. 761), Lord Mac Dermot observed:

The matter cannot, of course, be settled merely by treating the ipsissima vertra of Willes, J. as though they were part of an Act of Parliament and applying the rules of interpretation appropriate thereto. This is not to detract from the great weight to be given to the language actually used by that most distinguished judge.

In Home Office vs. Dorset Yacht Co. (1970 (2) All ER 294) Lord Reid said:

Lord Atkin`s speech is not to be treated as if it was a statute definition it will require qualification in new circumstances.

Megarry, J. in (1971) 1 WLR 1062 observed:

One must not, of course, construe even a reserved judgment of Russell L. J. as if it were an Act of Parliament.

In Herrington v. British Railways Board (1972 (2) WLR 537) Lord Morris said:

There is always peril in treating the words of a speech or judgment as though they arewords in a legislative enactment, and it is to be remembered that judicial utterances aremade in the setting of the facts of a particular case. Circumstantial flexibility, one additional or different fact may make a world of difference between conclusions in two cases. Disposal of cases by blindly placing reliance on a decision is not proper.

The following words of Lord Denning in the matter of applying precedents have become locus classicus:

Each case depends on its own facts and a close similarity between one case and another is not enough because even a single significant detail may alter the entire aspect, in deciding such cases, one should avoid the temptation to decide cases (as said by Cardozo, J. ) by matching the colour of one case against the colour of another. To decide therefore, on which side of the line a case falls, the broad resemblance to another case is not at all decisive.

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Precedent should be followed only so far as it marks the path of justice, but you must cut the dead wood and trim off the side branches else you will find yourself lost in thickets and branches. My plea is to keep the path of justice clear of obstructions which could impede it.

Judgement be read in the context of facts:

Court should not place reliance on decisions without discussing as to how the factual situation fits in with the fact situation of the decision on which reliance is placed. Observations of Courts are neither to be read as Euclid`s theorems nor as provisions of the statute and that too taken out of the context. These observations must be read in the context in which they appear to have been stated. Judgments of Courts are not to be construed as statutes. To interpret words, phrases and provisions of a statute, it may become necessary for judges to embark into lengthy discussions but the discussion is meant to explain and not to define. Judges interpret statutes, they do not interpret judgments. They interpret words of statutes; their words are not to be interpreted as statutes.
Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. v. N.R.Vairamani, AIR 2004 SC 4778.

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Scope of Review of judgement by Civil Court

Review of an order or judgement by Civil Court:

What is Review:

The dictionary meaning of the word “review” is “the act of looking; offer something again with a view to correction or improvement. It cannot be denied that the review is the creation of a statute.

The power of review is not an inherent power. It must be conferred by law either specifically or by necessary implication. The review is also not an appeal in disguise. If cannot be denied that justice is a virtue which transcends all barriers and the rules or procedures or technicalities of law cannot stand in the way of administration of Justice. Law has to bend before Justice. If the Court finds that the error pointed out in the review petition was under a mistake and the earlier judgment would not have been passed but for erroneous assumption which in fact did not exist and its perpetration shall result in miscarriage of justice nothing would preclude the Court from rectifying the error.

[Source: Lily Thomas v. Union of India. (Supreme Court of India)]

 

Review literally and even judicially means re-examination or reconsideration. Basic philosophy inherent in it is the universal acceptance of human fallibility. Yet in the realm of law the courts and even the statutes lean strongly in favour of finality of decision legally and properly made. Exceptions both statutorily and judicially have been carved out to correct accidental mistakes or miscarriage of justice. Even when there was no statutory provision and no rules were framed by the highest court indicating the circumstances in which it could rectify its order the courts culled out such power to avoid abuse of process or miscarriage of justice.

[Source: S. Nagaraj v. State of Karnataka, 1993 Supp.(4) SCC 595. (Supreme Court of India)]

 

Power of review in writ jurisdiction:

All proceedings in a civil Court terminate in a decision being given by the Judge and that decision constitutes the order of the Court. It is an order within the meaning of Section 2(14) which defines “order” as the formal expression of any decision of a civil Court which is not a decree. This is not a decree because it is not the formal expression of an adjudication in a suit. If it be the formal expression of the adjudication by the Court in a civil proceeding, the formal expression must take the shape of an order, and, therefore, it is clear beyond doubt that the decision of this Court on the writ application was an order within the meaning of the Civil Procedure Code. If that is so, let us turn to Section 114 to see what the effect of this view is with regard to the power of the High Court to review an order made on a writ application.

A review lies under Section 114 from a decree or order from which an appeal is allowed by the Court, but from which no appeal has been preferred. When we turn to Section 109, an appeal is allowed against an order if the High Court certifies the order to be a fit one for appeal, and although an appeal is allowed no appeal admittedly has been preferred from this order and therefore if the other conditions laid down by Order XLVII are satisfied, then it is difficult to understand why the High Court has no power to review an order passed on a writ application. Such an order is one which clearly falls under Section 114(a).

[Source: Appa Ramgonda Patil v. Dattatraya Vinayak Tengshe, (1958) 60 Bom LR 1312]

Scope of Review and distinction with correction of mistake:

Relevant Code: Civil  Procedure Code, 1908, Section 114, 151, 152,153 read with Order 47 Rule 1.

[R]eview of a judgment or decree lies inter alia where a mistake or an error apparent on the face of the record can be shown or where some new and important evidence has been uncovered. From a bare reading of the aforesaid provisions, it is clear that a review would lie where a party is able to show that the court has failed to consider a plea made by it or record a finding on the same or where the court has omitted to consider a relevant piece of evidence or new evidence has arisen subsequently which was not before the court at the time of hearing, inspite of due diligence on the part of such a party. It is evident that the court’s power of review envisages an enquiry into the merits of the case, which the court has omitted to take notice of in the first instance. The said power of review is quite distinct from the inherent powers of the court under Section 152 and 153 read with Section 151 to correct an accidental arithmetic or clerical mistake or error. It is relevant to note that both the powers are mutually exclusive, and cannot tread into each other’s realm. Any other interpretation would amount to overstepping the parameters laid down in the provisions. It is settled law that in the garb of correction of mistakes arising out of accidental slips or typographical errors, the judgment itself cannot be altered or modified by a Court in exercise of its inherent power.

[Source: MAJOR GENERAL KAPIL MEHRA v. UNION OF INDIA (Delhi)]

 

The Federal Court which preceded the Supreme Court of India, prior to independence, had no express power of review. Federal Court however, observed that even though no rules had been framed permitting the highest Court to review its order yet it was available on the limited and narrow ground developed by the Privy Council and the House of Lords.

[Source: Raja Prithwi Chand Lal Choudhury v. Sukhraj Rai (AIR 1941 FC 1,2 : 1940 FCR 78 : (1941) 1 MLJ Supp 45)]

 

An order made by the Court was final and could not be altered …neverthless, if by misprision in embodying the judgments, by errors have been introduced, these Courts possess, by Common Law, the same power which the Courts of record and statute have of rectifying the mistakes which have crept in….The House of Lords exercises a similar power of rectifying mistakes made in drawing up its own judgments, and this Court must possess the same authority. The Lords have however gone a step further, and have corrected mistakes introduced through inadvertence in the details of judgments; or have supplied manifest defects in order to enable the decrees to be enforced, or have added explanatory matter, or have reconciled inconsistencies.

[Source: Rajunder Narain Rae v. Bijai Govind Singh (1836) 1 Moo PC 117]

It is impossible to doubt that the indulgence extended in such cases is mainly owing to the natural desire prevailing to prevent irremediable injustice being done by a Court of last resort, where by some accident, without any blame, the party has not been heard and an order has been inadvertently made as if the party had been heard.

[Source: R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate and others, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No.2)’s case, 1999 (1) All ER 5770]

The role of judiciary merely to interpret and declare the law was the concept of bygone age. It is no more open to debate as it is fairly settled that the courts can so mould and lay down the law formulating principles and guidelines as to adapt and adjust to the changing conditions of the society, the ultimate objective being to dispense justice. In the recent years there is a discernable shift in the approach of the final courts in favour of rendering justice on the facts presented before them, without abrogating but by-passing the principle of finality of the judgment.

Almighty alone is the dispenser of absolute justice – a concept which is not disputed but by a few. We are of the view that though Judges of the highest Court do their best, subject of course to the limitation of human fallibility, yet situations may arise, in the rarest of the rare cases, which would require reconsideration of a final judgment to set right miscarriage of justice complained of. In such case it would not only be proper but also obligatory both legally and morally to rectify the error. After giving our anxious consideration to the question we are persuaded to hold that the duty to do justice in these rarest of rare cases shall have to prevail over the policy of certainty of judgment as though it is essentially in public interest that a final judgment of the final court in the country should not be open to challenge yet there may be circumstances, as mentioned above, wherein declining to reconsider the judgment would be oppressive to judicial conscience and cause perpetuation of irremediable injustice.

[Source: Rupa Ashok Hurra vs Ashok Hurra]
Thus rectification or review of an order thus stems from the fundamental principle that justice is above all. It is exercised to remove the error and not for disturbing finality.

Judgement must contain reasons

Why judgment must contain reasons:

It is duty of the Judge to uphold his own integrity and let the losing party know why he lost the case.

Reason is the heartbeat of every conclusion, and without the same it becomes lifeless.

The absence or reasons has deprived the Supreme Court from knowing the circumstances which weighed with the High Court to dismiss the matter in limine. It was an unsatisfactory method of disposal. The necessity to provide reasons, howsoever brief, in support of the High Courts’ conclusions is too obvious to be reiterated. Obligation to give reasons introduces clarity and excludes or at any rate minimises the chances of arbitrariness and the higher forum can test the correctness of those reasons. It becomes difficult for this Court in all such cases to remit the matters to the High Court inasmuch as by the time cases reach this Court, several years would have passed. In an article ‘On Writing Judgments’, Justice Michael Kirby of Australia [(1990) (Vol.64. Australian Law Journal p.691)] has approached the problem from the point of view of the litigant, the legal profession, the subordinate Courts/tribunals, the brother Judges and the judges’ own conscience. To the litigant, the duty of the Judge is to uphold his own integrity and let the losing party know why he lost the case. The legal profession is entitled to have it demonstrated that the Judge had the correct principles in mind, had properly applied them and is entitled to examine the body of the Judgment for the learning and precedent that they provide and for the reassurance of the quality of the Judiciary which is still the centre-piece of our administration of justice. It does not take long for the profession to come to know, including through the written pages of published judgments, the lazy Judge, the Judge prone to errors of fact etc. The reputational considerations are important for the exercise of appellate rights, for the Judges’ own self-discipline, for attempts at improvement and the maintenance of the integrity and quality of our judiciary. From the point of view of other Judges, the benefit that accrues to the lower heirachy of Judges and tribunals is of utmost importance. Justice Asprey of Australia had even said in Pettit vs. Dankley [(1971 (1) NSWLR 376 (CA)] that the failure of a Court to give reasons is an encroachment upon the right of appeal given to a litigant. In our view, the satisfaction which a reasoned Judgment gives to the losing party or his lawyer is the test of a good Judgment. Disposal of cases is no doubt important but quality of the judgment is equally, if not more, important. There is no point in shifting the burden to the higher Court either to support the judgment by reasons or to consider the evidence or law for the first time to see if the judgment needs a reversal.

[Source: Hindustan Times Limited vs Union of India (Supreme Court of India) See also  Fauja Singh vs. Jaspal Kaur (1996 (4) SCC 461)]

 

Providing of reasons in orders is of essence in judicial proceedings:

Every litigant who approaches the Court with a prayer is entitled to know the reasons for acceptance or rejection of such request. Either of the parties to the lis has a right of appeal and, therefore, it is essential for them to know the considered opinion of the Court to make the remedy of appeal meaningful. It is the reasoning which ultimately culminates into final decision which may be subject to examination of the appellate or other higher Courts. It is not only desirable but, in view of the consistent position of law, mandatory for the Court to pass orders while recording reasons in support thereof, however, brief they may be. Brevity in reasoning cannot be understood in legal parlance as absence of reasons. While no reasoning in support of judicial orders is impermissible, the brief reasoning would suffice to meet the ends of justice at least at the interlocutory stages and would render the remedy of appeal purposeful and meaningful. It is a settled canon of legal jurisprudence that the Courts are vested with discretionary powers but such powers are to be exercised judiciously, equitably and in consonance with the settled principles of law. Whether or not, such judicial discretion has been exercised in accordance with the accepted norms, can only be reflected by the reasons recorded in the order impugned before the higher Court. Often it is said that absence of reasoning may ipso facto indicate whimsical exercise of judicial discretion.

[Source: State of Rajasthan v. Rajendra Prasad Jain(Supreme Court of India)]
[See also  Shroff v. Mistry (Gujarat High Court) which contains extracts from virtually all similar decisions of Supreme court of India on the subject.]