The Kerala High Court has held that recovery proceedings instituted under Section 20 of the Domestic Violence Act would not operate as a bar on a Family Court adjudication of the matter.
The Court ruled that proceedings under the Domestic Violence Act were ancillary to the main inquiry of whether the woman faced domestic violence in the home.
Therefore, a bench of Justices A Muhamed Mustaque and Dr Kauser Edappagath said,
"The substantial issue in a proceedings under Section 20 must be domestic violence. The relief of monetary claims under Section 20 is ancillary relief. Therefore, the outcome in ancillary proceedings, that too in the proceedings in the nature of inquiry itself will not bar the Family Court or any other competent court having power to adjudicate such dispute."
The Court emphasized that the principle of res judicata "barred a court from adjudicating the same issue which has been conclusively decided by the competent forum or court between the same parties."
The Court underscored that any adjudication necessarily involved deciding the rights and obligations of the parties before it. Because there was no adjudication of rights or obligations under the Domestic Violence Act, there was no adjudication.
"If no right of the parties is decided conclusively in the proceedings, then outcome, if any, of such proceedings cannot be treated as an outcome of adjudication," the judgment states
What was envisaged under the Act was an inquiry, an inquisitorial procedure, rather than another platform for the adjudication of disputes, the bench additionally points out in the judgment.
Laying stress on the fact that the Domestic Violence Act was beneficial and intended to protect women from domestic violence, the Court said,
"The very objective of the Act is to protect the women as against the violence that occurs within the family and for matters connected therewith. The Act, therefore, conceives a scheme of protective measures with an object to protect women. The scheme of the Act on a close scrutiny, would reflect the intention of the parliament, that it was not enacted to create another platform for adjudication of disputes arising out of any matrimonial dispute, but to take measures to protect the women. The proceedings are therefore, understood as supplemental provisions besides the right to adjudicate any dispute arising out of a matrimonial relationship as conferred under law before the competent civil court or Family Court or criminal court. The protective measures as required to be passed may include residential orders, monetary reliefs, custody orders etc. The objective criteria in such proceedings is to protect the women and not to adjudicate upon the dispute."
After these findings, the Court proceeded to dismiss the appeal before it.
The Court's observations were in response to an appeal filed by a husband whose wife had filed a petition before a Judicial First Class Magistrate's Court for the recovery of her money and gold ornaments under Section 20 of the Domestic Violence Act. After the Section 20 petition was rejected, she filed a petition seeking the same relief in a Family Court. The husband's preliminary objection to the Family Court's competence to decide the case was dismissed. Aggrieved, he moved the High Court.
Taking the stance that the proceedings before the Magistrate were supplemental to the larger inquiry of whether there was domestic violence, the Court dismissed the appeal.
The Court pointed out that the outcome of the inquiry proceedings would be relevant while deciding the dispute in subsequent proceedings before the Family Court, which was empowered to decide upon matters relating to the home and family. "The Apex Court in Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sheha Ahuja [AIR (2020) SC 5397] opined that such order under the Act is a relevant evidence as contemplated under Sections 40 to 43 of the Evidence Act", the Court observed.
With these observations, the appeal was dismissed.
CASE: Mahin Kutty v. Anshida
COUNSEL: Advocate Mathew John, Domson Vattakuzhy for the husband. Advocate Vipin Narayan for the wife.