Executing Court Has No Jurisdiction To Decide Whether The Court Which Decreed The Suit Had Territorial Jurisdiction: SC [Read Judgment]

Executing Court Has No Jurisdiction To Decide Whether The Court Which Decreed The Suit Had Territorial Jurisdiction: SC [Read Judgment]

“The High Court has manifestly acted in excess of jurisdiction in reversing the judgment of the executing court which had correctly declined to entertain the objection to the execution of the decree on the ground of a want of territorial jurisdiction on the part of the court which passed the decree.”

The Supreme Court has observed that an executing court has no jurisdiction to decide whether the court which passed the decree had territorial jurisdiction.

The bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta observed that an objection to the want of territorial jurisdiction does not travel to the root of or to the inherent lack of jurisdiction of a civil court to entertain the suit.

The bench in Sneh Lata Goel vs. Pushplata was considering an appeal against a Jharkhand High Court order that had set aside an executing court order which dismissed the objection as to territorial jurisdiction of the court which passed the decree in a partition suit. The High Court observed that the plea that the decree could not be executed on the ground that it had been passed by a court which had no territorial jurisdiction to entertain the partition suit could have been raised under Section 47 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the appellants before the Apex Court and contended that an objection to territorial jurisdiction does not relate to the inherent jurisdiction of the civil court and thus the executing court lacks jurisdiction to decide on that aspect. He further contended that such an objection has to be addressed before that court and in the event that the court rejects such an objection, it must be raised before the competent court in appeal.

On the other hand, the counsel who appeared for the respondent, placed reliance on 4 judge bench decision in Kiran Singh v Chaman Paswan to contend that objection to the lack of territorial jurisdiction is an objection to the subject matter of the suit and hence of a nature that can be raised before the executing court.

The bench, referring to Section 21 of CPC, observed: "This provision which the legislature has designedly adopted would make it abundantly clear that an objection to the want of territorial jurisdiction does not travel to the root of or to the inherent lack of jurisdiction of a civil court to entertain the suit. Hence, it has to be raised before the court of first instance at the earliest opportunity, and in all cases where issues are settled, on or before such settlement. Moreover, it is only where there is a consequent failure of justice that an objection as to the place of suing can be entertained. Both these conditions have to be satisfied."

On Kiran Singh, the bench said that the said judgment apparently holds that an objection to territorial jurisdiction and pecuniary jurisdiction is different from an objection to jurisdiction over the subject matter, and that an objection to the want of territorial jurisdiction does not travel to the root of or to the inherent lack of jurisdiction of a civil court to entertain the suit.

Explaining the background of Kiran Singh case, the bench said: "In that case, there was a dispute in regard to the valuation of the suit. The issue would ultimately determine the forum to which the appeal from the judgment of the trial court would lie. If the valuation of the suit as set out in the plaint was to be accepted, the appeal would lie to the district court. On the other hand, if the valuation as determined by the High Court was to be accepted, the appeal would lie before the High Court and not the District Court. It was in this background that this Court held that as a fundamental principle, a decree passed by a court without jurisdiction is a nullity and that its validity could be set up wherever it is sought to be enforced or relied upon, even at the stage of execution in a collateral proceeding. Moreover, it was held that a defect of jurisdiction, whether pecuniary or territorial or whether it is in respect of the subject matter of the action, strikes at the very authority of the court to pass the decree and cannot be cured even by the consent of the parties."

The bench referred to a few other judgments as well and observed thus: "The objection which was raised in execution in the present case did not relate to the subject matter of the suit. It was an objection to territorial jurisdiction which does not travel to the root of or to the inherent lack of jurisdiction of a civil court to entertain the suit. An executing court cannot go behind the decree and must execute the decree as it stands"

Finally, the court held that the High Court was manifestly in error in coming to the conclusion that it was within the jurisdiction of the executing court to decide whether the decree in the suit for partition was passed in the absence of territorial jurisdiction.

"The High Court has manifestly acted in excess of jurisdiction in reversing the judgment of the executing court which had correctly declined to entertain the objection to the execution of the decree on the ground of a want of territorial jurisdiction on the part of the court which passed the decree", the bench said while allowing the appeal.

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