Judicial Dictionary

Jurisdiction: The meaning of

This question is answered by Mukherjee, Acting C. J. speaking for the Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court in Hirday Nath Roy v. Ramachandra Barna Sarma, (1) L.L. R.68 Cal. 138 of the report the learned judge explained what exactly is meant by jurisdiction. We can do no better than to quote his words :

“In the order of Reference to a Full Bench in the case of Sukhlal v. Tara Chand, I.L.R.[1905] 33 Cal. 68. it was stated that jurisdiction may be defined to be the power of a Court to hear and determine a cause, to adjudicate and exercise any judicial power in relation to it : in other words, by jurisdiction is meant the authority which a Court has to decide matters that are litigated before it or to take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision. An examination of the cases in the books discloses numerous attempts to define the term ‘jurisdiction’, which has been stated to be ‘the power to hear and determine issues of law and fact’, ‘the authority by which the judicial officer take cognizance of and decide causes’; ‘the authority to hear and decide a legal controversy’, ‘the power to hear and determine the subject matter in controversy between parties to a suit and to adjudicate or exercise any judicial power over them;’ ‘the power to hear, determine and pronounce judgment on the issues before the Court’; ‘the power or authority which is conferred upon a Court by the Legislature to hear and determine causes between parties and to carry the judgments into effect’; ‘the power to enquire into the facts, to apply the law, to pronounce the judgment and to carry it into execution’.

16. Proceeding further the learned judge observed :

“This jurisdiction of the Court may be qualified or restricted by a variety of circumstances. Thus, the jurisdiction may have to be considered with reference to place, value and nature of the subject matter. The power of a tribunal may be exercised within defined territorial limits. Its cognizance may be restricted to subject-matters of prescribed value. It may be competent to deal with controversies of a specified character, for instance, testamentary or matrimonial causes, acquisition of lands for public purposes, record of rights as between landlords and tenants. This classification into territorial jurisdiction, pecuniary jurisdiction and jurisdiction of the subject matter is obviously of a fundamental character. Given such jurisdiction, we must be careful to distinguish exercise of jurisdiction from existence of jurisdiction: for fundamentally different are the consequences of failure to comply with statutory requirements in the assumption and in the exercise of jurisdiction. The authority to decide a cause at all and not the decision rendered therein is what makes up jurisdiction; and when there is jurisdiction of the person and subject matter, the decision of all other questions arising in the case is but an exercise of that jurisdiction. The extent to which the conditions essential for creating and raising the jurisdiction of a Court or the restraints attaching to the mode of exercise of that jurisdiction, should be included in the conception of jurisdiction itself, is sometimes a question of great nicety, as is illustrated by the decisions reviewed in the order of reference in Sukhlal v. Tara Chand and Khosh Mahomed v. Nazir Mahomed, I.L.R.(1905) 33 Cal. 352 see also the observation of Lord Parkar in Raghunath v. Sundar Das, ILR [1914]42Cal.72. …. We must not thus overlook the cardinal position that in order that jurisdiction may be exercised, there must be a case legally before the Court and a hearing , as well as a determination. A judgment pronounced by a court without jurisdiction is void, subject to the well-known reservation that, when the jurisdiction of a Court is challenged, the Court is competent to determine the question of jurisdiction, though the result of the enquiry may be that it has no jurisdiction to deal with the matter brought before it : Rashmoni v. Ganada,[1914] 20 C.L.J. 213.”

17. Finally the learned judge quoted with approval the decision of Srinivas Aiyangar, J. in Tuljaram v. Gopala, (1916) 32 M.L.J434 wherein Aiyangar, J. laid down that “if a Court has jurisdiction to try a suit and has authority to pass orders of a particular kind, the fact that it has passed an order which it should not have made in the circumstances of the litigation, does not indicate total want or loss of jurisdiction so as to render the order a nullity”.


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