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Report No. 14

13. Courts of Small Causes

1. History.-

The courts now known as the presidency small cause courts were first established by a Charter of George II dated 8th January, 1753, and appear to be the oldest courts existing in India. Courts of small causes in the mofussil were first created in or about 1860 with the object of providing a speedy and cheap means of settling claims of a comparatively simple nature and of small pecuniary value.

2. Laws establishing small cause courts.-

The law relating to the courts of small causes in the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay is the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act of 1882 while the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act of 1887 extends to the whole of India except the three presidency towns and the areas that formed part of the erstwhile Part B States which had corresponding laws of their own. The following are the three types of courts created by the above statutes:

(1) Presidency small cause courts in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay established under section 5 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act (XV of 1882).

(2) Provincial courts of small causes outside the presidency towns established under section 5 of the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act of 1887 or corresponding laws in the erstwhile Part B States.

(3) Ordinary civil Courts invested with powers of courts of small causes under the relevant provisions of the States Civil Courts Acts read with the relevant provisions of the law relating to courts of small causes.

3. Summary procedure in these courts.-

Except for certain special provisions relating to practice and procedure applicable to courts in the presidency towns, the principles embodied in the two Acts are identical. They prescribe a summary procedure for the speedy disposal of disputes wherein the pecuniary stakes are of small value and are suitable for summary disposal. The judges exercising small causes powers are not obliged to record the evidence in full, the examination or cross-examination of witnesses is not elaborate, issues are not framed; and the judgment simply states the points for decision with the court's findings thereon but not the reasons therefor.

4. Jurisdiction of small cause courts.-

We shall deal in the first instance with the question of increasing the powers of the small cause courts outside the presidency towns. The provisions of the law which define the jurisdiction of these courts prescribe the upper limit of the pecuniary value of suits cognizable by them and enumerate the classes of suits excluded from their jurisdiction. Section 15 of the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act bars the court from taking cognizance of all suits specified in the second schedule thereof and empowers the court to take cognizance of all other suits of a civil nature the value of which does not exceed Rs. 500. The section further empowers the State Government to invest a court of small causes with jurisdiction to try suits the value of which does not exceed Rs. 1,000 subject, again, to the exceptions specified in schedule II.

5. Enlargement of jurisdiction.-

We invited opinion whether the jurisdiction of the small cause courts should be extended both as regards the maximum pecuniary limit as also the classes of suits cognizable by such courts as we felt the need for relieving pressure upon the regular court of first instance as also on the lower appellate courts. As we have already seen, a very large volume of civil litigation in the mofussil consists of suits the pecuniary value of which is below Rs. 2,000. Except a few stray suggestions for amendment and deletion of some of the articles of the second schedule which will be dealt with hereafter, we have not received in the replies to the Questionnaire or in the course of evidence recorded by us in the various States any proposals for a large increase in the jurisdiction of these courts either as regards money value or subject-matter.

Maximum Powers in small cause suits

Name of the State

Subordinate judges or officers of corresponding designation

Munsifs or officers or corresponding designation

Laws defining jurisdiction

1

2

3

4

Rs.

Rs.

Rs.

Andhra Pradesh*

2000

500

Central Act III of 1873 and Madras Act XVI of 1951an adapted by the Andhra Adaption of Laws Order, 1953.

Assam

500

100

The Bengal, Agra and Assam Civil Court Act (XII of 1887).

Bihar

500

250

Do.

Bombay

1500

500

The bombay Civil Courts Act (XIX of 1869)

Kerala

1000

..

The C.P. Civil Courts Act of 1957.

Madya Pradesh+

1000

..

The C.P. and Berar Courts Act (I of 1917). The Madhya Pradesh Courts Act (II of 1956).

Madras

2000

500

Central Act III of 1873. Madras Act XVI of 1951.

Mysore

500

300

The Mysore Civil Courts Act, 1956

Orissa

500

250

The Bengal, Agra and Assam Civil Courts Act (XII of 1887).

Punjab

500

500

The Punjab Courts Act (IV of 1918)

Rajasthan

500

100

The Rajasthan Civil Courts Ordiance, 1950

Uttar Pradesh

500

250

The Bengal, Agra and Assam Civil Courts Act (XII of 1887).

West Bengal

750

300

Do.

It may be noticed that separate courts of small causes under section 5 of the Provincial Act have been constituted only in a few large towns like Delhi, Amritsar, Sealdah, Poona, Ahmedabad and Kanpur; elsewhere the ordinary courts are invested with the powers of the small cause court. The Table on page 14.242 sets out the small cause jurisdiction of subordinate judges and munsifs or of corresponding officers in the different States.

6. Primary jurisdiction; present position.-

The proposals for the extension of small cause jurisdiction is not a new one. As far back as 1925, the Civil .Justice Committee advocated that the maximum limit of Rs. 1,000 contemplated in section 15 of the Provincial Act should be reached in as many States as possible. It will be seen from the Table on page 14.242 that the maximum limit of Rs. 1,000 with which subordinate courts can be invested without resort to legislation has not yet been reached except in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Madhya Pradesh and Madras.

In some of the areas which, before the passing of the States Reorganization Act of 1956, were Part B States, pecuniary jurisdiction of small cause courts is below Rs. 500. On the other hand, in Bombay and Madras, the maximum limit has been increased to Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 2,000 respectively by local amendments to the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act. This is also true of a part of the present State of Andhra Pradesh which before the formation of the Andhra State was part of the Madras State.

We are conscious that owing to the special local conditions in each State, including the standards of efficiency and experience of its judicial personnel, progress in this direction must vary in different parts of the country. The statutes define the maximum limits of the powers of small cause courts in each State and, subject to those limits, the courts are invested with such powers having regard to the seniority, experience and capacity of the presiding officers, the nature and volume of the litigation, and local conditions.

7. Enhancement recommended.-

For the reasons which we have given in support of our proposal for extending the pecuniary limits of the ordinary civil jurisdiction of the subordinate courts, we recommend that the maximum pecuniary limits of small cause powers should also be increased to Rs. 2,000 in the case of senior judges and Rs. 500 in the case of junior judges and wherever local conditions and circumstances permit, the High Courts should increase the powers of the different courts of small causes upto the maximum limit allowed by law. The disposal of a larger number of suits than hitherto in exercise of the small cause jurisdiction will give much needed relief to the civil courts and, at the same time, substantially reduce the number of first appeals to the district appellate courts.

8. Jurisdiction relating to certain suits '(Recommendations of the Rankin Committee).-

The next question is whether the small cause courts' jurisdiction can be further extended by bringing within the ambit of the small cause court procedure some of the cases now exempted by the second schedule to the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act. Addressing themselves to this question the Rankin Committee observed:

"It is difficult to say why the suits referred to in some of the articles of the Schedule should not now be tried on the small cause side, whatever may have been the reasons which nearly forty years ago induced the framers of the Act to exclude them. ** ** ** there is nothing inherently complicated in the character of the classes of suits hereunder dealt with justifying their exclusion from the category of simple causes of small value. We have carefully examined the various suggestions made by witnesses in this matter in all the Provinces and have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when the following classes of suits may be tried by this procedure".1

1. Civil Justice Committee Report, p. 98, para. 1.

The Committee then went on to make detailed recommendations for amendment of the schedule so as to bring a much wider class of suits within the purview of the courts of small causes. These proposals will be presently referred to wherever necessary. The Government of India accepted in principle most of the proposals of the Rankin Committee subject to certain modifications. Their tentative conclusions were embodied in a draft Bill to amend the Provincial Small Cause Courts Act of 1887 which was circulated to the provincial Governments for their opinion. The replies received from the Government disclosed a wide divergence of views. In view of the criticism received, the Government of India did not proceed further with the draft Bill.

9. We have examined the articles in schedule II in the light of the suggestions received by us from numerous witnesses and the conclusions of the Civil Justice Committee. Our conclusions and recommendations with respect to each article are given below.

10. Articles 1, 2 and 3.-

These articles relate to suits concerning acts done or purporting to have been done by or by order of the Government or pursuant to an order of a court or by any Government officer in his official capacity and the like. These suits are of a special category and cannot be tried under the small cause court procedure.

11. Article 4.-

This Article relates to suits for possession of immovable property or for the recovery of an interest in such property. The Civil Justice Committee observed that this article should be amended so as to enable a small cause court (which under Article 8 can entertain a suit for house rent) to try and decide ejectment suits as even in this category of suits there will be some where title to the property is not denied. (Chapter VII of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act also provides for issue of summons against a person in occupation of property without leave and for orders directing him to give possession thereof to the applicant).

There is, therefore, no reason why a small cause court outside the Presidency towns should not be entrusted with powers to decide suits for ejectment based on written leases where the term has expired and which do not fall under any special or local law. In the draft Bill of 1926 the Government of India accepted this recommendation and sought to confer upon the court of small causes powers to try suits for ejectment where:-

(a) the property has been let under a lease made by a written instrument and,

(b) the court of small causes would be competent to take cognizance of a suit for the rent of the property and,

(c) the only issue arising for decision is as to whether the lease is determined by efflux of time limited thereby.

The proposed amendment evoked favourable response from a majority of the Judges of the various High Courts. The amendment, however, was dropped with the rest of the Bill. Subsequently, in Bombay, Article 4 was amended on the above lines by Bombay Act VI of 1930. By a subsequent amendment in 1932 the small cause Courts' jurisdiction was extended to suits for ejectment where the property had been let under an oral lease as well. Further, in recent years, suits for ejectment arising under the Rent Control Acts are in certain States triable by courts of small causes.

For instance, in Calcutta, all suits under the West Bengal Premises Rent Control Act of 1950 are cognizable by the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act. Similar jurisdiction is conferred in Bombay upon the Presidency and Provincial Courts of Small Causes by the Bombay Rent, Hotels and Lodging Houses Rates Control Act of 1947. As jurisdiction of this kind has been satisfactorily exercised by small cause courts in at least two States, we recommend an amendment of Article 4 on the lines of the Bombay Amendments of 1930 and 1932.

12. Article 5.-

A suit for partition of immovable property cannot obviously be entertained by a small cause court.

13. Article 6 (Mortgage suits).-

The Bill of 1926 also sought to incorporate the Civil Justice Committee's recommendation for amending Article 6 by adding the following:

"But not including any suit by a simple mortgagee as defined in clause (b) of section 58 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, where-

(a) the property mortgaged is free of all other encumbrances, and

(b) the only issue arising for decision is as to the amount, if any, due on the mortgage, with the further proviso that only a preliminary decree shall be passed by a small cause court."

The Civil Justice Committee said: "It may be difficult sometimes for the plaintiff when he files the plaint to find out whether the suit is going to be contested or what the defence will be and this might cause confusion and inconvenience in the actual working of the rule suggested. Similar difficulties, however, do exist in cases in which the plaintiff's title is in question and resort has to be had to section 23 of the Act. But they do not prevent a large number of suits being tried on the small cause side in which the defendant raises incidentally a question relating to title to immovable property or an interest therein.

A similar proviso might be devised to meet the case of mortgages. No doubt some defendants may put in frivolous pleas in order to oust the jurisdiction of the small cause court. But the Court has power to reject any plea which is not bona fides and is put forward simply to oust jurisdiction and such power is often exercised in cases in which unnecessary declarations or taking of accounts are prayed for. The advantage of the inclusion of simple mortgage suits of the kind described in small causes is that a large number of suits now held up for a along time as ordinary suits will be speedily and finally disposed of on the small cause side."1

1. Report, p. 99, para. 3.

In making these observations the Committee does not seem to have taken into account the difficulties that might result if at a later date subsequent encumbrances were brought to light. Under the proposed amendment, the existence of another encumbrance, prior or subsequent, known or unknown, would bar that court's jurisdiction, and the decree of the small cause court would be a nullity if subsequent encumbrances came to light.

Further, the inclusion of the condition in clause (a) would lead to other difficulties such as creating a jurisdiction which depended for its exercise upon the defendant's plea in his written statement and it was neither fair nor convenient to the parties to let one court pass a preliminary decree and another court deal with the matter at the stage of the final decree.

One possible solution of the difficulty which may arise in consequence of the existence of other encumbrances is to confer upon a small cause court, jurisdiction to try all suits on a simple mortgage, provided the only issue for decision relates to the amount. But even in such cases difficult questions not suitable for trial by a small cause court, such as priorities and the validity of the mortgage may arise, if there are other encumbrances.

14. Amendment not desirable.-

Having regard to these considerations, we agree with the view then expressed by the Government of India that the proposed amendment was a dangerous innovation, and the best course would be to drop it.

15. Article 7.-

This relates to suit for the assessment, enhancement, abatement or apportionment of rent of immovable property. The determination of issues in such cases requires the examination of evidence in a more elaborate manner than under the summary procedure. This article must, therefore, remain.



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