The Kerala High Court recently reiterated that when a suitor approaches the Court with a genuine grievance, the matter should be heard on merits rather than being disallowed on technical grounds.
Justice N Anil Kumar while allowing a second appeal challenging the order of a district court refusing to condone the delay in preferring the first appeal and thereby dismissing the matter, remarked as such:
"When it comes to delay, it is not necessary on the part of the appellant to explain each and every day's delay. The plaintiff offered a reasonable explanation to condone the delay...When a suitor alleges before the court that he has a genuine grievance to be addressed before the court, it is always desirable to hear the matter on merits rather than disallowing the application for condoning the delay on technical grounds. The courts are functioning for the dispensation of justice and not to shut the mouth of a party."
The Appellant (original plaintiff) had filed a suit before the Sub Court for the return of money against the Respondents (original defendants) pursuant to an agreement for sale in 2018.
The main allegation was that the respondents herein are landowners who entered into a sale agreement with the Appellant, but refused to execute the sale deed after payment of an advance amounting to Rs. 10 lakh.
However, the suit was rejected at the trial court due to the failure of the Appellant to pay the balance court fee.
Accordingly, he moved the trial court again seeking to review the order along with an application to condone the delay involved. The balance court fee was also remitted duly.
Nevertheless, the review application was dismissed by the trial court on the ground that the proper remedy for the same was to file an appeal challenging the order rejecting the suit.
Thereafter, the Appellant approached the Additional District Court in 2020 challenging the trial court's order. An application of condonation of delay was also filed with the appeal.
But the first appellate court dismissed the appeal solely for the reason that reasons stated for condonation of delay were vague and unacceptable.
Hence, the Appellant approached the High Court.
Advocate Shanavas Khan appeared for the appellant while the respondents were represented by Advocate Hariharaputhran.
Three substantial questions of law were posed before the Court:
1. When sufficient cause is shown to condone the delay, is it proper on the part of the first appellate court to dismiss the application for condonation of delay in filing the appeal?
2. When the plaint was rejected for non-payment of balance court fee, is it not proper on the part of the appellate court to exercise its discretion in condoning the delay instead of dismissing the appeal itself on technical reasons?
3. Instead of filing an appeal instantly, the plaintiff preferred a review petition by mistake before the trial court rejected the plaint. In the circumstances, is it proper on the part of the first appellate court to dismiss the application for condonation of delay?
The appellant argued that the non-payment of the balance court fee was not willful or deliberate, but due to financial stringency. It was also submitted that during the pendency of the proceedings, he had remitted the said fee.
Further, the appellant contended that the delay occurred due to the reason that instead of filing an appeal after rejection of the suit, a review petition was filed by mistake.
The Court observed that when the first appeal was preferred with an application to condone the delay against the judgment and decree of the trial court, the first appellate court ought to have considered the application liberally rather than dismissing the same on technical grounds.
It was reiterated that when it comes to delay, it is not necessary on the part of the appellant to explain each and every day's delay.
The Court further noted that the plaintiff had offered a reasonable explanation to condone the delay. To prove his bona fides, he had paid the balance court fee as well.
"Under the circumstances, the first appellate court was not right in dismissing the application for condoning the delay. Since the application for condoning the delay was dismissed, the appeal was also dismissed. Resultantly, the decree and judgment of the trial court merged with the decree and judgment of the first appellate court," noted the Court.
It hence found it just and proper to allow the appeal remarking as such:
"When a suitor alleges before the court that he has a genuine grievance to be addressed before the court, it is always desirable to hear the matter on merits rather than disallowing the application for condoning the delay on technical grounds."
Case Title: Thahakunju v. Chandra Sekhara Pillai & Ors.