Report No. 114
6.17. Appeal or Revision.-
Should there be a provision for a higher level review of the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya? Views were equally divided on both sides but the balance tilted in favour of at least one appeal against the decision of Gram Nyayalaya. The question posed is: whether an appeal would lie against the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya or a limited revision can be permitted on the questions of law by the next higher court. This is a point. The belief that a review of the decision by a Higher Court ensures justice, lacks foundation. Appeal creates a peculiar illusion in the mind of a litigant against whom adverse decision is rendered. It is no doubt true that even the best of legally trained mind may commit an error.
A power of review of decision by an appellate forum also ensures against arbitrary or biased decision. It also ensures against the decision contrary to the well-accepted legal principles. But it has also generated an egocentric activity most especially where the parties are unequal and the weaker of the two parties has obtained a decision in his favour. In such a situation, the opponent who is economically better off considers his defeat, a slur on his status and he has twin objectives in preferring the appeal. He wants to satisfy his ego and simultaneously wants to tire-out the opponent or to put him to such heavy expenditure by way of appeal and further appeal that the pursuit of justice becomes a mirage.
A provision of an appeal by itself is no guarantee of a just decision. It has some supervisory flavour. An assumption that an appeal to the higher court ensures justice is wholly misleading. Numerous cases can be cited in which the plaintiff won in the trial court, lost in first appeal before the District Court, won in second appeal in the High Court and lost in the appeal by his opponent in the Supreme Court. Which of the four is a just decision. And it is a trite saying in the corridor of courts that if a higher forum for appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court is devised, the Judgment of the Supreme Court there is ever likely of it being reversed. After all it said and done, a total eradication of a subjective point of view in decision-making process is wholly impossible.
Coupled with that is the fact that while interpreting socially beneficial legislation, the social philosophy and value system of the Judge at various levels in the hierarchy of courts plays an important pact in decision making process. How can one explain the reversal of numerous decisions of the High Court by the Supreme Court, and how can one explain the reversal of the decision of the Supreme Court by its larger Bench? This proves, if proof was needed, that there is an element of subjectivism in all decision making process. It has to be curtailed, controlled, restrained and as far as possible eliminated. Having said that it must be confessed that it looms large for whatever worth it is.
It is equally fallacious to assume that the errors are not committed at higher level. Number of decisions of the Supreme. Court can be cited to substantiate the proposition that the decision of the trial Court which was set aside by the High Court was restored by the Supreme Court. It can, therefore, be said with confidence that a provision for appeal is not a guarantee of justice nor a bulwark against arbitrary or biased decision. It is equally true that no one is infallible. The court of appeal accordingly has been described a court of error. Therefore, its jurisdiction has been held to be coextensive with the trial court. It was said that at least there must be one forum which must have power to correct the errors of newly created forum of Gram Nyayalaya.
In the past when the Nyaya Panchayat enjoyed very limited jurisdiction, there was near unanimity of opinion that no appeal should be permitted against its decision. A revision by the next Higher Court was generally provided. Its net effect has been, as pointed out earlier, in the view expressed by Punjab1 and Madras High Courts2 is to completely strangulate the Nyaya Panchayat. Literally, every decision save the one arrived at by consent of parties of Nyaya Panchayat was interfered with thereby destroying the confidence of lay judges in their ability to render decision and the confidence of litigants. In some of the judgments, severe strictures were made against the lay Judges composing the Nyaya Panchayat.
This was one single major reason why the entire experiment of Nyaya Panchayat was stillborn. was further said that now that a very wide jurisdiction is being conferred on the Nyaya Panchayat, at least one appeal should be provided for. The Law Commission has considerable hesitation in making a provision for appeal against the decision of the Nyaya Panchayat in any matter save the criminal cases in which substantive sentence is imposed as the past experience of appeals over appeals not permitting a final decision to be arrived at in the lifetime of the litigant as revealed in the Bleak House by Charles Dickens stares in the face.
As the Gram Nyayalaya ensures to some extent a trial and decision by one's own peers or compatriots, attempt must be made to generate faith in their decision making process. Experience also teaches us that a forum for appeal cannot necessarily cure all errors. It may, in fact, introduce or multiply errors. Again provision for appeal against a decision of a body composed amongst others of lay Judges to a body consisting of a Judge alone, would introduce an inner contradiction. The last apprehension is that once an appeal is allowed, it would strike at the root of the decision by consensus which ought to be the primary object of Gram Nyayalaya. Therefore, having regard to all these circumstances, the Commission is of the opinion that no appeal would lie against any decision of the Gram Nyayalaya except the one in which at the end of a criminal trial a substantive sentence is imposed.
Another view expressed was that if the Commission is not in favour of providing an appeal against the decision of Gram Nyayalaya, in order to correct possible errors of law which, if not corrected, would affect subsequent decisions by the same Gram Nyayalaya, a provision should be made for a revision on a question of law involved in the decision of Gram Nyayalaya and the forum for the same must be the District Court. The Commission is not unaware of the fact that even this is a danger signal. Prior to its deletion by Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1973 (49 of 1973), section 110 incorporated the expression 'substantial question of law'. Section 30 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923, provides that the appeal shall not lie against any order unless substantial question of law is involved in the appeal.
Whenever an appeal was preferred limited to a substantial question of law, a very interesting debate ensued: what constitutes a 'substantial question of law'? There is no dearth of precedents in which it was held that a perverse appreciation of evidence, or no reasonable person would ever come to the decision which is under appeal or a construction of a document by itself without anything more is a substantial question of law. One has, therefore, to tread warily because a limited jurisdiction, by process of interpretation, can be widened to defeat the very purpose of conferring limited jurisdiction. Some compromise has to be arrived at, which would guard against proliferation of litigation from court to court and a valve to provide an escape route against the dissatisfaction arising from a palpable error in a decision by Gram Nyayalaya.
The Commission is of the opinion that a revision petition to correct errors of law which had affected the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya to the District Court of the district in which Gram Nyayalaya is functioning would meet the requirement. The revising court may correct the errors in a revision petition filed by a party against whom adverse decision is rendered. But if error of law has not substantially affected the decision of the case, the same shall not be interfered with. The errors of law are to be corrected to guard against future repetition. It would not be open to the court exercising revisional jurisdiction to interfere with the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya on the ground that if the revisional authority would have appreciated questions of fact, it would have come to a different conclusion.
Only errors of law can be corrected by this revisional forum. Even if it comes to the decision that another view is possible, it would have no jurisdiction to interfere with the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya. A decision by the peers should not be interfered with by a court presided over by a judge approaching the matter, from a purely technical legal approach. This limited revisional jurisdiction should be conferred to correct patent errors of law or to prevent miscarriage of justice. The Commission accordingly is of the view that a revision petition would lie against substantial question of law involved in the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya to the District Court within whose jurisdiction the Gram Nyayalaya is functioning.
To put the matter beyond the pale of controversy, no revision would lie against the decision of the revisional authority or against the decision of the Gram Nyayalaya to the High Court under section 115 of the Code of Civil Procedure or Article 227 of the Constitution. Both the jurisdictions will have to be extinguished by appropriate amendment. An appeal would lie to the Sessions Court against the decision by Gram Nyayalaya in a criminal case in which the Gram Nyayalaya has imposed substantive sentence of imprisonment. The appeal would lie both on questions of fact and of law. The appeal should be dealt with according to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure applicable to the appeals entertained against the decision of a Judicial Magistrate, First Class. Any other view is likely to infringe Article 21 of the Constitution.
1. Marwa Manghani v. Sanghram Sampat, AIR 1960 Punj 35.
2. Venktachair Naicker v. The Panchayat Board of Ethapur, AIR 1953 Mad 388.