NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court has told high courts not to let too many appeal cases pile up in their quest for ‘absolute truth’.
High courts around the country routinely ignore the statute whenever they feel an injustice has been committed. But in a recent judgement, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Harjeet Singh Bedi advised high courts to show ‘reasonable restraint’ before admitting appeals.
Section 100 of India’s Civil Procedure Code says that if the judgement by an appeal court is similar to the judgement by a lower court, a second appeal should be admitted only if a ’substantial question of law’ is involved.
In a recent verdict, the apex court bench told the high courts that they are not supposed to entertain a second appeal and launch a fresh fact-finding exercise, even if the two similar rulings of the lower courts happen to be erroneous on facts.
‘A search for absolute truth in the administration of justice, however laudable, must be put under some reasonable restraint. A search for truth has to be reconciled with the doctrine of finality. In judicial hierarchy finality is absolutely important because that gives certainty to the law,’ said the bench.
Maintaining that ‘reaching a stage of finality in a litigation is in interest of litigants themselves’, the bench said: ‘This is also in the larger interest of the administration of justice and a juristically sound and pragmatically wise’ principle.
The obvious question that would arise is why a litigant should be denied an opportunity to have justice from a higher court, at least where he thinks there is a flaw in the conclusion on facts reached by the trial court or by the court of first appeal.
Answering this, the apex court bench said: ‘The answer is that even litigants have to be protected against too persistent a pursuit of their goal of perfectly satisfactory justice.’
Justices Bhandari and Bedi said: ‘A class of judges honestly believe that it is their duty to interfere and set the things right, if in any second appeal brought before them, the evidence has been grossly mis-appreciated either by the lower appellate court or by both the courts below.
‘The high court judges believe that it is their duty to interfere because they seem to feel that a decree based upon a gross misappreciation of evidence involves injustice and it is the duty of the high court to redress such injustice.
‘But we would like to reiterate that the justice has to be administered in accordance with law and not in accordance with their own notion of justice.’
The two judges pointed out that this practice by high courts to entertain a second appeal ‘is one of the main reasons of delay in the administration of justice in civil matters’.
The judgement came on a lawsuit challenging an Andhra Pradesh High Court ruling on a civil dispute between two parties who had entered into a bilateral contract but had ended up fighting a protracted legal battle following alleged violations of the agreement by one of the parties.
The high court, while adjudicating an appeal by one of the parties, had reversed an appeals court ruling. The appeals court had endorsed the verdict of the court below it on the facts of the dispute.
(Rana Ajit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )