Presidency Small Causes Courts

Presidency Small Causes Courts

The Presidency Small Causes Courts Act, 1882 (Act XV of 1882) came into force with effect from 1st July, 1882. The object of the Act was to consolidate and amend the law relating to the Courts of Small Causes established in the Presidency towns. In the beginning, it was applicable to the Presidency Town of Bombay but after the creation of the State of Gujarat, it was also applied to the City of Ahmedabad with effect from November 4, 1961. It was submitted that Small Causes Courts had a special history. There was initially only one Supreme Court at Calcutta established under the Act of 1753 (Regulating Act of 1753). The decisions of the Supreme Court could be challenged only before the Privy Council. At that time, Presidency Towns of Bombay and Madras had only ‘Recorder’s Courts’. The Small Causes Courts worked in the form of ‘Courts of Requests’. In or around 1850, the ‘Courts of Requests’ were replaced by Courts of Small Causes. Jurisdiction of Supreme Court was conferred on the Court of Small Causes in the Presidency Towns. They were ‘Courts of Record’ having power to punish for contempt. Later on, a need was felt to bring Small Causes Courts in conformity with the legal system prevailing in India and that is how the Presidency Small Causes Courts Act, 1882 came to be enacted.

“Our attention in this connection was also invited to M.P. Jain’s “Outlines of Indian Legal History”, (5th Edition) in which it has been observed that the Courts of Requests were facing difficulties in practical working. Pecuniary limits of their jurisdiction had created problems. Moreover, cases outside the jurisdiction of Courts of Requests had to go to Supreme Courts where the proceedings were very expensive and dilatory and amounted to denial of justice. There was thus great need and necessity for alternative mechanism to dispense cheap and speedy justice in comparatively small matters. Accordingly, an Act was passed in 1850 by the Indian Legislature abolishing Courts of Requests and establishing Courts of Small Causes in their place. They were to follow practice and procedure subject to the approval of the respective Supreme Court. A Judge of the Supreme Court was to act as a Judge of Small Causes Court. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was concurrent with the Court of Small Causes in the Presidency Towns. By the Presidency Towns Small Causes Courts Act, 1864, the jurisdiction of Presidency Small Causes Courts was extended. The Presidency Small Causes Courts were “in the immediate vicinity of the High Courts, and are practically much influenced by that vicinity, that they are attended by a fairly competent class of advocates and that they are carefully watched both by press and public.”

The learned author then stated;

“In each of the towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay there is Court of Small Causes which is subject to the superintendence of, and is subordinate to, the High Court. The local limits of the jurisdiction of each of the Small Causes Court corresponds with the local limits of the ordinary original Civil Jurisdiction of the High Court concerned. It has jurisdiction to try cases of civil nature when the amount or value of subject-matter does not exceed two thousands rupees. With the consent of the parties to suit, however, the Court may try a suit involving subject- matter of a higher value. Not all civil cases are triable by the Court. It is ineligible to try, inter alia, suits relating to revenue, recovery of immovable property, partition of immovable property, restitution of conjugal rights, acts of the government, specific performance of contracts, injunctions, dissolution of partnership, etc. If two judges of the Small Causes Court sitting together in any suit differ in their opinion as to any question of law or usage, they may refer the question to the High Court for opinion. Similarly, if the Court entertains reasonable doubt on any point of law or usage in suit involving over Rs.500 and either of the parties to the suit so requires, the question is to be referred to the High Court for opinion. Subject to the superintendence of the High Court, every decree or order of a Small Causes Court is final and conclusive.” (emphasis supplied) It was, therefore, submitted that the jurisdiction conferred with the creation of Small Causes Courts was a unique feature and the Courts were of a special class and category. The local limits of the jurisdiction of each of the Small Causes Court corresponded with the local limits of ordinary original civil jurisdiction of the High Court concerned. Our attention was also invited by the learned counsel to the relevant provisions of the Act of 1882. It was stated that Section 8 expressly enacts that the Chief Judge is ‘first’ among equals and as such all Judges of the Small Causes Court are of equal status. It was also submitted that subject to the superintendence of the High Court, every decree or order passed by the Small Causes Court is final and conclusive. The counsel also submitted that the order passed by a Small Causes Court is not subject to appeal to the High Court. Only a revision lies in the High Court in certain circumstances. It was urged that an intra court appeal lies in certain cases against an order passed by one Judge of Small Causes Court to a Division Bench of two Judges of the same Court (Section 42). In several cases, such orders are passed by Additional Chief Judge of Small Causes Court, Bombay and appeals are heard by a Bench of two Judges of that Court. In many cases, such appeals are allowed and the orders passed by the Additional Chief Judges are set aside. A provision that in case of difference of opinion in two Judges, the opinion of the Senior Judge would be preferred was held to be arbitrary and ultra vires [vide Sobhna Shanker Patil v. Ram Chandra Shirodkar, (1996) 1 Mah LJ 751] on the ground that “Judges who are equal in rank enjoyed equal powers and jurisdiction as far as judicial work is concerned”. In view of the above provisions and case-law, it must be held that Judges of Small Causes Court are equal in status with Additional Judges of that Court in Category I and they are not subordinate to Chief Judges or Additional Chief Judges of Small Causes Court”.

“Reliance was also placed on the Bombay Judicial Service Recruitment Rules, 1956. In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 234 as also under the proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution, Recruitment Rules have been framed. Rule 4(3) provides for appointment of Judges of Small Causes Court at Bombay. Under clause (a)(i) of sub-rule (3) of Rule 4, Judges of Small Causes Court can be appointed by promotion from Civil Judges (Senior Division). It was, therefore, submitted that the post of Judges of Small Causes Court is a promotional post and cannot be equated with the cadre of Civil Judges (Senior Division). The impugned action taken by the respondents, therefore, deserves to be quashed and set aside by issuing appropriate directions as prayed by the petitioners”.

“It was also submitted that Small Causes Courts were constituted to create a forum which was ‘to ease the burden of higher judiciary in the Presidency Towns’. Because of that fact, the Judges of Small Causes Courts were placed higher than Civil Judges (Senior Division). It was admitted that technically speaking, Judges of Small Causes Court were exercising jurisdiction of Civil Judges (Junior Division) or Civil Judges (Senior Division) in certain fields, such as money suits, Rent cases, etc. But their workload is higher and much more difficult than the workload of Civil Judges. For instance, under the Rent Legislation, the litigation in mofussil towns under Rent Legislation cannot be compared with litigation in the Metropolis of Bombay. Apart from the fact that the stakes are very high, complex civil rights and complicated questions of law are raised in the City of Bombay. Unfortunately, however, the said fact has been totally ignored and overlooked by the Administrative Side of the High Court. Similar is the position of the Judges of Small Causes Court in Gujarat. Rent cases in Ahmedabad or Rajkot cannot be compared with similar cases at other places. Again, the jurisdiction under the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, 1949 in the matters of assessment of Municipal Tax are difficult and complicated and considering the work undertaken by Judges of Small Causes Courts, they ought to have been placed in Category 1 along with Additional Chief Judges, Small Causes Court”.

“On behalf of the High Courts of Bombay and Gujarat, however, it was submitted that the petitions/applications are not maintainable and they deserve to be dismissed. As far as High Court of Bombay is concerned, it was submitted that a Committee was constituted of four Senior Judges of the High Court to consider the amalgamation of different cadres and fixation of seniority in the light of observations made by the Shetty Commission. Several sittings were held by the Committee. It considered the placement of Judges of Small Causes Court taking into account the functions performed by them. Personal hearing was also afforded to the Judges of the Small Causes Court and on overall consideration, it was decided that they should be placed in Category 2 but above Civil Judges (Senior Division). It was also stated that though in several States, there are Small Causes Courts, such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, etc., in none of the States, the post of Judge of the Court of Small Causes was equated with the District Judge in Category 1. It was stated that when several cadres were to be reduced into three cadres, all Judicial Officers had to be placed in one of the three cadres. Considering the special status and position of Judges of Small Causes Court, the Shetty Commission rightly left the question to be determined by each High Court and accordingly the exercise was undertaken by the High Court of Bombay. Taking note of administrative and supervisory powers of the Chief Judge and Additional Chief Judge, they were placed in Category 1 along with District Judges and Additional District Judges but below them. Since Judges of Small Causes Court are promoted from the post of Civil Judges (Senior Division) as also Civil Judges (Junior Division), they were rightly placed in Category 2 above Civil Judge (Senior Division). The said action can neither be said to be arbitrary or illegal nor unlawful or unreasonable”.

Under the scheme of our Constitution, High Courts have been invested with the power of superintendence and control over Subordinate Judiciary. Bare reading of Articles 227 and 233 to 237 makes it explicitly clear that the High Courts take care of and exercise control over District Courts and Courts subordinate thereto. This power of superintendence and control include inter alia to guide, advice and encourage Judges of subordinate courts to exercise their powers, discharge their duties and perform their functions independently, fearlessly and objectively. In the leading decision in Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab, (1974) 2 SCC 831 : AIR 1974 SC 2192, speaking for the majority, A.N. Ray, C.J. observed that the members of the subordinate judiciary are ‘not only under the control of the High Court but are also under the care and custody’ of the High Court. The members of the subordinate judiciary look up to the High Court ‘not only for discipline but also for dignity’.

Quoted from: Anil Kumar Vitthal Shete & Ors vs State Of Maharashtra & Anr- AIR 2006 SC 2018 : (2006) 1 Suppl. SCR 553 : (2006) 12 SCC 148 : JT 2006 (6) SC 24 : (2006) 5 SCALE 84

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