Section 151 of the CPC provides for Civil Courts to invoke their inherent jurisdiction and utilize the same to meet the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of process. Although such a provision is worded broadly, the Supreme Court has tempered the provision to limit its ambit to only those circumstances where certain procedural gaps exist, to ensure that substantive justice is not obliterated by hyper technicalities
Section 151 of the CPC provides for Civil Courts to invoke their inherent jurisdiction and utilize the same to meet the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of process. Although such a provision is worded broadly, the Supreme Court has tempered the provision to limit its ambit to only those circumstances where certain procedural gaps exist, to ensure that substantive justice is not obliterated by hyper technicalities.
The leading judgement on the point is Padam Sen v. State of U.P., AIR 1961 SC 218 where the Supreme Court held as under:
“8. …The inherent powers of the Court are in addition to the powers specifically conferred on the Court by the Code . They are complementary to those powers and therefore it must be held that the Court is free to exercise them for the purposes mentioned in Section 151 of the Code when the exercise of those powers is not in any way in conflict with what has been expressly provided in the Code or against the intentions of the Legislature. It is also well recognized that the inherent power is not to be exercised in a manner which will be contrary to or different from the procedure expressly provided in the Code.”
It should be noted that in exercising powers under Section 151 of the CPC, civil courts cannot exercise substantive jurisdiction to unsettle already decided issues. A Court having jurisdiction over the relevant subject matter has the power to decide and may come either to a right or a wrong conclusion. Even if a wrong conclusion is arrived at or an incorrect decree is passed by the jurisdictional court, the same is binding on the parties until it is set aside by an appellate court or through other remedies provided in law.
It is also worth noting that Section 151 of the CPC can only be applicable if there is no alternate remedy available in accordance with the existing provisions of law. Such inherent power cannot override statutory prohibitions or create remedies which are not contemplated under the Code. Section 151 cannot be invoked as an alternative to filing fresh suits, appeals, revisions, or reviews. A party cannot find solace in Section 151 to allege and rectify historic wrongs and bypass procedural safeguards inbuilt in the CPC.
For example, Section 151 cannot be invoked if the litigants have access to recourse under Section 96 of the CPC, which allows for appeals from an original decree. Even persons, who are not parties to a suit, can file an appeal with the leave of the Court as an affected party.
Section 96 of the CPC reads as under:
96. Appeal from original decree .-(1) Save where otherwise expressly provided in the body of this Code or by any other law for the time being in force, an appeal shall lie from every decree passed by any Court exercising original jurisdiction to the Court authorized to hear appeals from the decisions of such Court.
(2) An appeal may lie from an original decree passed ex parte.
(3) No appeal shall lie from a decree passed by the Court with the consent of parties.
(4) No appeal shall lie, except on a question of law, from a decree in any suit of the nature cognizable by Courts of Small Causes, when the amount or value of the subjectmatter of the original suit does not exceed [ten thousand rupees.
Sections 96 to 100 of CPC deals with the procedure for filing appeals from original decrees. A perusal of the above provision makes it clear that the provisions are silent about the category of persons who can prefer an appeal. But it is well settled legal position that a person who is affected by a judgment but is not a party to the suit, can prefer an appeal with the leave of the Court. The sine qua non for filing an appeal by a third party is that he must have been affected by reason of the judgment and decree which is sought to be impugned.
In the light of the above, it can be safely concluded any aggrieved party can prefer an appeal with the leave of the Court.
In Indian Bank vs Satyam Fibres (India) Pvt. Ltd., (1996) 5 SCC 550, the Supreme Court acknowledged the possibility of maintaining a recall application against a judgement if it is obtained by fraud on the Court. However, it went on to hold that in cases of fraud, the Court may direct the affected party to file a separate suit for setting aside the decree obtained by fraud. The Court held as follows:
“22. The judiciary in India also possesses inherent power, specially under Section 151 CPC, to recall its judgment or order if it is obtained by fraud on court. In the case of fraud on a party to the suit or proceedings, the court may direct the affected party to file a separate suit for setting aside the decree obtained by fraud…”
The Supreme Court subsequently in Ram Prakash Agarwal v. Gopi Krishan (2013) 11 SCC 296 further clarified the law on the use of the power under Section 151 of the CPC by the Court in cases of fraud and holds as follows:
“13. Section 151 CPC is not a substantive provision that confers the right to get any relief of any kind. It is a mere procedural provision which enables a party to have the proceedings of a pending suit conducted in a manner that is consistent with justice and equity. The court can do justice between the parties before it. Similarly, inherent powers cannot be used to reopen settled matters.
The inherent powers of the Court must, to that extent, be regarded as abrogated by the legislature. A provision barring the exercise of inherent power need not be express, it may even be implied. Inherent power cannot be used to restrain the execution of a decree at the instance of one who was not a party to suit. Such power is absolutely essential for securing the ends of justice, and to overcome the failure of justice. The Court under Section 151 CPC may adopt any procedure to do justice, unless the same is expressly prohibited.
The Court held that the law on the issue stood crystallised to the effect that the inherent powers enshrined under Section 151 CPC can be exercised only where no remedy has been provided for in any other provision of CPC. In the event that a party has obtained a decree or order by playing a fraud upon the court, or where an order has been passed by a mistake of the court, the court may be justified in rectifying such mistake, either by recalling the said order, or by passing any other appropriate order. However, inherent powers cannot be used in conflict of any other existing provision, or in case a remedy has been provided for by any other provision of CPC. Moreover, in the event that a fraud has been played upon a party, the same may not be a case where inherent powers can be exercised.
These fundamental principles were reiterated by the Supreme Court in My Palace Mutually Aided Co-Operative Society Vs. B. Mahesh & Ors. The Court emphasized that the power to recall under Section 151 of the CPC is permissible only in circumstances where alternate remedies do not exist.
The Court held that recalling a final decree in other circumstances cannot be countenanced under Section 151 of the CPC. It, however, clarified the proposition of law that fraud nullifies all proceedings and that the Court has power to recall an order which was passed due to a fraud played on the Court.