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Tag: Evidence Act

[Video] Mathura: The rape that changed India

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Not many remember that 40 years before the horrific events of December 16, 2012, there was another incident, where a girl even younger than Jyoti Singh was raped.

Her name was Mathura and she was raped by police constables.

She survived and appealed to our courts but did not get justice.

Mathura’s journey through the criminal justice system however, gave rise to a women’s movement that spanned the whole of India and led in 1983, to groundbreaking change in the law on sexual violence against women.

It also inspired an extraordinary act of courage from four law professors who dared to raise their voices against the judiciary and pursue legal reform.

Join us to learn from Padma Shri Professor Upendra Baxi, Dean of the Delhi University Faculty of Law Professor Ved Kumari, and Senior Advocate Rebecca John, the story of Mathura’s rape, its transformation of our vocabulary on sexual violence, the changes it brought about in the law, and the inspiring personalities who made it happen.

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What’s the issue – Understand why and how courts frame issues in civil suits

JSaiDeepak_OnTrialIt helps to occasionally step back and seek the true meaning of an element of procedure. This is true about the framing of issues in a civil suit since the significance of this step in a trial is often taken for granted.

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What is an issue?

The title of Order 14 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (“CPC”) is “Settlement of Issues and Determination of Suit on Issues of Law or on Issues Agreed Upon”. Clearly, a suit is determined on the basis of issues of law or other issues agreed upon by the parties in a suit. But what is an “issue”? Although the CPC does not define the term, Sub-rule 1 of Rule 1 of Order 14 says that issues arise when a material proposition of fact or law is affirmed by one party and denied by the other. In other words, both parties must disagree on a material proposition of fact or law.

The Evidence Act, 1872 also defines “Facts in issue” to mean and include any fact which, either by itself or in connection with other facts, has a bearing on a right or liability asserted or denied in a suit. According to the explanation to this definition, when a court records an issue of fact under the CPC, the fact to be asserted or denied in response to such an issue would also be treated as a fact in issue.

What is a material proposition giving rise to an issue? Sub-rule 2 of Rule 1 states that material propositions are those propositions of law or facts which a plaintiff must allege in order to show a right to sue or a defendant must allege in order to constitute a defence. Simply put, a material proposition is one that advances a party’s case factually or legally.

Sub-rule 3 mandates that each material proposition on which the parties disagree shall be framed as a distinct issue. Could it be said therefore, that propositions of fact or law which do not further a party’s case are not material and therefore ought not to be framed as issues? What consequences follow when a proposition of fact or law, although material, is not framed as an issue despite the parties being at variance with each other?

On this, the Supreme Court has held that the non-framing of an issue does not vitiate the proceedings as long as the pleadings of parties bear out that the issue exists and both parties have led evidence at trial to prove their respective contentions on the issue. In other words, a court can rule on an issue even if it has not been specifically framed, so long as it is material to the determination of the suit.

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The process of framing

How does a court go about framing an issue? Sub-rule 5 of Rule 1 lays down the procedure for this. At the first hearing of a suit, the court shall, after reading the plaint and the written statement, and after examination under Order 10 Rule 2, and after hearing the parties or their counsel, ascertain upon what material propositions of fact or law the parties are at variance, and shall then proceed to frame and record the issues on which the right decision of the case appears to depend.

What does this mean? Simply, that a court has to understand the contentions of the parties from their written pleadings and oral submissions and distill only those propositions of fact and law on which the parties differ and which are “material” for the adjudication of the suit. The question of materiality in Sub-rule 5 has no bearing on the tenability of the contentions of parties on factual or legal propositions. It simply refers to testing an issue for its relevance to the determination of the case.

For instance, in a suit for patent infringement, if there is no dispute between the parties about the plaintiff’s ownership of the patent, there is no point in framing an issue on it. Even though the question of ownership is material, the parties do not disagree on it. Contrast this with a situation where the plaintiff claims to be an assignee of the erstwhile patent owner and the defendant disputes the fact of assignment. The question of ownership or assignment of the patent is material because under the Patents Act, only a patentee or the exclusive licensee may institute a suit for infringement. In other words, the maintainability of the plaintiff’s action is in question. Moreover, since the parties disagree on this material question, the court has to frame an issue on it.

This procedure of framing of an issue needs to be clearly understood. Some people tend to read more into the mere framing of an issue under Order 14 than is warranted. The framing of an issue does not amount to a court taking a position on the contentions of the parties on a material question of fact or law. The court is merely etching the contours of the trial so that the progress of the trial is not waylaid by a slugfest on immaterial issues that have no bearing on the adjudication of the rights and liabilities of the parties. Reading the Supreme Court’s decision in Makhanlal Bangal v. Manas Bhunia (2001), delivered in the context of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, but relevant since the procedure under the CPC applies to the statute, will help clear the fog around the framing of issues.

In the next post, I will deal with the commencement of trial.

Sai Deepak is an engineer-turned-law firm partner-turned-arguing counsel. Sai is the founder of Law Chambers of J. Sai Deepak and appears primarily before the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India. He is @jsaideepak on Twitter and is the founder of the blawg “The Demanding Mistress” where he writes on economic laws, litigation, and policy. All opinions expressed here are academic and personal.

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Photostat copies as proof: Secondary evidence and notice

Can a photocopy of a contract allegedly breached be produced as evidence of it by the plaintiff? Image above is from Aashim Tyagi's photostream on Flickr.

Can a photocopy of a contract allegedly breached be produced as evidence of it by the plaintiff?
Image above is from Aashim Tyagi’s photostream on Flickr.

The Gauhati High Court was recently posed a question pertaining to secondary evidence in a matter relating to the claim of damages for breach of contract. In Pranab Kumar Saha v. Tripura Truck Owners Syndicate, the plaintiff had a contract with the Food Corporation of India (“the Corporation”) as a sub-contractor, and alleged that the disputes before the Court arose from the same contract. He claimed that he did not have a copy of the original contract, and only produced its photocopy to prove his case. The plaintiff alleged that he was never provided with the ‘general copy’ or a ‘true copy’ of the contract.

The question before the Division Bench of Chief Justice R.S. Garg and Justice A.C. Upadhyay was a technical one. The respondents’ argued that the plaintiff could not lead secondary evidence as proof of the contract that was breached, as he had failed to serve notice to the Corporation to provide an original copy of the contract to the Court, under Section 66 of the Indian Evidence Act. It was not in dispute whether secondary evidence could be used in court to prove the facts alleged by the plaintiff.

Section 66 of the Indian Evidence Act provides:

Rules as to notice to produce. Secondary evidence of the contents of the documents referred to in section 65, clause (a), shall not be given unless the party proposing to give such secondary evidence has previously given to the party in whose possession or power the document is, [or to his attorney or pleader,] such notice to produce it as is prescribed by law; and if no notice is prescribed by law, then such notice as the Court considers reasonable under the circumstances of the case:

Provided that such notice shall not be required in order to render secondary evidence admissible in any of the following cases, or in any other case in which the Court thinks fit to dispense with it:

(1) when the document to be proved is itself a notice;

(2) when, from the nature of the case, the adverse party must know that he will be required to produce it;

(3) when it appears or is proved that the adverse party has obtained possession of the original by fraud or force;

(4) when the adverse party or his agent has the original in Court;

(5) when the adverse party or his agent has admitted the loss of the document;

(6) when the person in possession of the document is out of reach of, or not subject to, the process of the Court.”

The Gauhati High Court strangely upheld this technical objection and ruled that the plaintiff could use no secondary evidence, as the technical requirements of Section 66 of the Indian Evidence Act had not been met. The Court held that the ordinary photocopy of the contract, which the plaintiff had produced, could not be taken into consideration.

I disagree with the ruling on two counts. Firstly, I feel that the Court completely overlooked the Clause 2 of the Proviso to Section 66. The Clause states that the notice requirement shall be waived where “from the nature of the case, the adverse party must know that he will be required to produce it”. In this case, the defendant knew of the dispute, and the fact that the entire matter hinged on the agreement that the plaintiff and defendant had entered into, the original copy of which was in the possession of the defendant. This is a fit case for application of the Proviso and it was not necessary to serve a notice to the defendant, who had tendered appearance in all the proceedings, to produce the contract in original.

Secondly, the Supreme Court has recognised – for instance, in Shakti Bhog Foods Ltd. v. Kola Shipping Ltd., AIR 2009 SC 12 – that even photocopies of agreements containing an arbitration clause would be sufficient. The mood of the judiciary has shift significantly towards the acceptance of photocopies of documents as genuine, largely due to technological advancements. In light of this, the Gauhati High Court erred in restricting the plaintiff from adducing secondary evidence, solely because of that technical defect.

(Anubhav Sinha is an advocate in Kolkata.)

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