Question of Law: Substantial or not?

Dec 14, 2020

An appeal is a legal proceeding, by which a case is brought before a higher court for review of the decision of a lower court. It is not considered as an inherent right, but it is a substantive right provided by legislators to every person. When an order, decree or judgment is based on human error, ignorance of any facts or provisions of law, whereby the rights or law have infringed, the aggrieved party based on grounds and backed with shreds of evidence file an appeal. The discretion has been given to the Judges regarding whether an appeal shall be allowed or dismissed based on issues. Chapter VII of Civil Procedure Code (CPC) deals with civil appeals and also laid down with ruling and process. The Supreme Court (S.C.), in the case of Nazir Mohamed vs J Kamla&Ors., has broadly interpreted the concept of the Second Appeal under Section 100 of CPC.

The case of Nazir Mohamed vs J Kamla&Ors,.was a property suit bearing no. O.S. No.169/1994, having the issues regarding title, ownership, possession of the disputed property and tenancy dispute, filed by J Kamala (Respondent herein) in the Court of the District Munsif, Valaingaiman in 1994. The Learned Trial Court, after framing the vital issues and hearing arguments & counter-arguments for claims, arrears of rent and income arose from the disputed property, has passed judgment on 22.01.1998 by deciding all issues against J Kamala, because of failure to produce rent receipts and any documentary evidence. Aggrieved with the impugned judgment, J Kamala filed an appeal in the Subordinate Court at Kumbhakonam, whereby, an appeal is allowed on the ground of documentary and oral evidence like a registered deed, conveyance, etc. for claiming the ownership of half portion the disputed property. The Court further observed that, since J Kamala failed to prove landlord-tenancy relation, is not entitled to recover the possession of the half portion of the disputed property. The Court also directed Nazir Mohamed to pay arrears of income generated from the J Kamala's portion of the property.

The wordings of Section 100 of CPC, among other things, stated, "an appeal shall lie to the High Court from every decree passed in appeal by any Court subordinate to the High Court if the High Court is satisfied that the case involves a substantial question of law." The SC observed that the parties to the dispute should not come before Court in the second appeal for mere re-agitating facts or reanalyzing of evidence. The SC to interpret the 'Substantial Question of Law' relied on several decisions passed by itself. Cases as follows:

Sir Chunilal vs Mehta & Sons Ltd. v. Century Spg. & Mfg. Co. Ltd.: In this case, the Apex court held that the question would become substantial if it is of general importance or affects the parties' rights or not resolved or settled by the Highest Court. Missing of the above elements would not make the question substantive.

Hero Vinoth vs Seshammal: The SC observed the meaning of the word substantial as something having substance, essential, real, of sound worth, important or considerable and further held that Substantial question of law need not be of general importance.

RimmalapudiSubba Rao vs NoonyVeeraju: The question of law, which is arguable, which consists room for difference of opinion or where Court thought to deal with it by alternative views, is called as substantial.

GuranDitta vs Ram Ditta:  His Lordships, among other things, observed that the question involved in the case would be substantial.  

Santosh Hazari vs Purushottam Tiwari: Judicial balance is paramount when the question is substantial but not involved in the case.

Ramchandra vs Ramalingam: In S.A. appreciation of facts or evidence would not be substantial.

In addition to above, S.C. has summarized Section 100 of CPC, as faulty construction of document and application of the law would be substantial. Further, the question already settled by higher courts, but lower courts ignored it or acting contrary to it, is substantial. In the case of concurrent proceedings, if the lower Court has ignored material evidence or wrongly cast the burden of proof, then it would be substantial.

The SC observed in the current case, none of the issues before H.C. was substantial, as they would not satisfy the elements for being substantive and set aside its order on following grounds:

No controversy in respect of interpretation and documents, error in the findings of mesne profits as there was no wrongful possession by Nazir Mohamed, non-inclusion of defence of adverse possession does not amount as evidence to the contrary, rule of the maxim "possession follows title" where "the presumption that possession must be deemed to follow the title arises only where there is no definite proof of possession by anyone else.", and formulation of a substantial question of law is necessary, a mere reference to the ground may not satisfy Section 100.

Justify on the above ground the S.C. set-aside H.C. order and restored the judgment of the First Appellate Court.