The magistrate passing the ex parte residence orders under section 19 of the Domestic Violence Act is equally competent under section 23 (1) of the Act to enforce its order vacating the ex parte order and necessary directions can be issued to the jurisdictional SHO to enforce its order.
The Kerala High Court, in Ansari v Shiji, has held that when ex parte residence order is vacated, the Magistrate shall invariably direct the ‘aggrieved person’ to vacate the disputed house within a specified time to be fixed by the Magistrate and in case of failure to comply with that direction, the Magistrate can pass such orders under Section 23 (1) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act to implement it.
A ‘wife’ obtains ex parte residence order against her husband and in-laws. The wife and her parents, on the strength of the order, occupy the house and the in-laws are forced to leave the house. The in-laws appear before the court and manage to convince the court that the house in question is not a shared household and it belongs to them exclusively. Though the court vacates the residence order, it says it cannot enforce the order vacating the ex parte residence order, purportedly in the absence of any specific enabling provision. That means, the court says it cannot force the wife, who on the strength of its ex parte residence order, occupied the house to vacate it.
The Curious Question
This curious question of law reaches the high court as the in-laws assail the order of Magistrate before it. The question is: Whether an order vacating ex parte residence order granted in favour of the aggrieved person, can also be enforced against the aggrieved person?
No one can take advantage of a vacated ex parte order
Justice Sunil Thomas observed that it is incongruous and contrary to every legal principle to hold that the statute authorizes for enforcement of orders in favour of one party and not orders passed against that party.
“It also does not stand to reason to hold that the court is empowered only to implement its ex parte order, but is powerless to restore the parties to their original position, when that ex parte order is vacated, modified or set aside. Evidently, no party to the proceeding can continue to take advantage of an ex parte order which was later vacated on merits. That will be against the very basis of the Rule of Law,” the court said.
It was further observed: “Generally, a statute cannot be expected to protect a person who gets the benefit of an order and continue to protect, even after the order is reversed or modified, on a premise that law does not provide for restitution of parties. Such an interpretation will only make the entire legal system mockery. Evidently, when a person takes the benefit of an order passed by a competent court, which is later held to be not sustainable on merits, it cannot be held that law is powerless to restore the person against whom that ex parte order was enforced, to the position status quo ante. Definitely, if the court is authorised to enforce an ex parte order, it must be deemed to have all such implied powers, even in the absence of a specific statutory provision, to enforce its own order vacating the order. The court cannot be held to be helpless in such a situation, otherwise, that may be a lop sided imparting of justice.”
Section 23(1) is the Key
Carefully examining the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act to see whether there is any provision to implement an order against the aggrieved person, the court pinpoints to Section 23(1). “Section 23 (1) does not make any distinction between the aggrieved person or the respondent in the proceeding. It empowers the Magistrate to “pass any interim order as he deems just and proper”. This confers wide powers on the Magistrate to pass any order, if the situation so demands, and if it is “just and proper”, in favour of any party, irrespective of whether it is sought by the aggrieved person or the respondent, This seems to be the only provision in the statute which does not prescribe the party in whose favour or against whom, the relief is to be granted. On the other hand, section 23 (2) specifically provides that ex parte orders therein are to be granted against the respondent therein and hence necessarily in favour of the aggrieved person. The significance of section 23(1) is so clear from the statute. Though all the other provisions provided in the statute, except section 23(1) are specifically made applicable to the aggrieved person and against the respondent, section 23 (1) does not make any distinction between the aggrieved person or the respondent in the DV Act proceedings,” the court said.
The court also observed that the Magistrate is competent to invoke Section 23(1) and to direct the aggrieved person to vacate the premises and in case of breach, to direct the SHO to implement its order invoking Section 23 (1) and Section 28, to ensure that the parties are restored to the position which they held prior to the granting of the ex parte order.