The Definition of Court in Indian Evidence Act

The definition of Court in section 3, Evidence Act, is very wide indeed as it reads: “‘Court’ includes all Judges and Magistrate and all persons, except arbitrators, legally authorised to take evidence”. The learned Judges there relied upon the definition of Court given in section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act which, as has already been noted, is framed only for the purposes of the Act and is not to be extended where such an extension is not warranted. This definition does not help in the determination of the question whether the Commissioners appointed under the Act constitute a Court and the attention of the learned Judges was not drawn to the position that finality and authoritativeness are the essential tests of a judicial pronouncement. We are of the opinion that the decision reached by the learned Judges of the Punjab High Court in that case was wrong and cannot help the respondent. Our attention was also drawn to another decision of the Nagpur High Court in M. V. Rajwade v. Dr. S. M. Hassan(1).

The question which came to be considered by the Court in that case was whether a commission appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 was a, Court within the meaning of section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952, and, while considering the provisions of that Act, the learned Judges of the Nagpur High Court incidentally considered the provisions of the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850. They rightly observed that “the term ‘Court’ has not been defined in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952. The Act, however, does contemplate a ‘Court of Justice’ which as defined in section 20, Indian Penal Code, 1860, denotes ‘a judge who is empowered by law to act judicially’. The least that is required of a Court is the capacity to deliver a “definitive judgment” and unless this power vests in a tribunal in any particular case, the mere fact that the procedure adopted by it is of a legal character and it has the power to administer an oath will not impart to it the status of a Court”, and came to the conclusion that the commission appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 is not a Court within the meaning of the Contempt of ‘Courts Act, 1952.

The learned Judges were merely considering the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 and were not concerned with the construction of the provisions of the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850 and whatever observations they made in regard to the provisions of the latter Act by way of comparing the same with the provisions of the former which they were there considering would not have the effect of putting on the provisions of the latter Act a construction which would be any avail to the respondent before us. The ratio which was adopted by the learned Judges was quite correct but it appears that they digressed into a consideration of the provisions of the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1850 in order to emphasize the character and position of the commission appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 even though it was not strictly necessary for the purpose of arriving at their decision, though it must be mentioned that while discussing the nature and function of the commission they expressed themselves correctly as under:-

“The Commission governed by the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 is appointed by the State Government “for the information of its own mind”, in order that it should not act, in exercise of its executive power, “otherwise than in accordance with the dictates of justice & equity” in ordering a departmental enquiry against its officers. It is, therefore, a fact finding body meant only to instruct the mind of the Government without producing any document of a judicial nature”[Brajnandan Sinha vs Jyoti Narain 1956 AIR 66, 1955 SCR (2) 955]