How to Determine the Jurisdiction of a Court in a Civil Case: Lawyers Advice
Jurisdiction of a court is its power/authority to hear the case and pass a decree. A court accepts all suits of civil nature unless expressly or impliedly it is barred as mentioned in section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Whenever a suit is instituted in a court, the opposite party can challenge the jurisdiction showing that passing a decree in this court will cause a miscarriage of justice.
Factors determining the Jurisdiction of a Court in a Civil Case or Civil Law Suit
The jurisdiction of the court can be challenged in four circumstances:
1) Court of the first instance: If the suit is not filed in the court of the lowest grade, meaning if the hierarchy of the courts is not followed, the suit can be challenged on this ground. As mentioned in section 15 of the code.
2) Subject matter: Although there is a wide ambit that the civil court will accept all the matters of civil nature, it does come with certain restrictions. The restrictions are provided within (expressly barred) the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and outside (impliedly barred) the code. A decree passed without the court having subject matter jurisdiction is considered to be a void decree. The opposite party can either request the honourable court to set aside the decree in the appellate stage or file a separate suit requesting the same.
If there is a special court situated for a particular matter, then the matter has to be filed in that special court situated as is provided expressly in code.
Sometimes although special courts are constituted for special matters the jurisdiction of the civil courts is not barred meaning the special courts will not have exclusive jurisdiction. In these circumstances, the civil court will look into various factors to take up the case. They are: (a) the actual purpose of the law (b) the terms of reference of that particular court (c) various provisions of the law (d) the actual intent of the legislation as to why exclusive jurisdiction was not provided to the special court.
3) Pecuniary jurisdiction: Pecuniary is the value of the money that can be awarded as damages. Every state has its pecuniary limit and it keeps changing from time to time. It is available in the courts’ act of each state. Section 6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 provides that no court shall have jurisdiction where the pecuniary value of the subject matter exceeds the limits. If the court passing the decree does not have pecuniary jurisdiction, the degree is considered to be illegal/irregular.
4) Territorial jurisdiction: Territorial jurisdiction is the place that determines where the suit has to be filed. If the court passing the decree does not have territorial jurisdiction, the degree is considered to be illegal/irregular. Section 16 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 provides that the suit has to be filed where the immovable property in the case is situated. Section 19 of the code mentions that the suit has to be filed where the tort has been committed. It can be either the wrong is done to a person or the movable property.
Section 20 provides for residuary cases where defendants reside or where the cause takes place. It can be either of the four places mentioned in this section. (a)where the defendant voluntarily resides or (b) where the defendant carries his business or (c) where the defendant works for his gain or (d) where the cause of action arises either wholly or partly. This is in case there is one defendant. In cases where there are multiple defendants, if all of the defendants have a commonplace suit can be instituted there. This is as per section 20(a) of the code. According to section 20(b) if there is no commonplace or if the plaintiff wishes to file a suit in a place where only one of the many defendants reside, then the non-residents of that place (remaining defendants) can give consent to the plaintiff or the plaintiff can obtain the permission of the court and proceed with the suit.
If the opposite party wishes to object to the jurisdiction, he may do so at the earliest possible situation and in the court of the lowest grade. If the defendant is objecting at the later stage when the issues have been framed or settled, then he has to prove that there is a miscarriage of justice. Section 21(1) of the code mentions about objecting to territorial jurisdiction and section 21(2) for pecuniary jurisdiction.
Delayed objection, although is frowned upon by the courts is accepted sometimes if the defendant can provide bonafide reasons for the delay in objecting.
Case Laws & Precedents:
In the case of Dhula Bhai v State of Bihar [AIR 1969 SC 78], the Honourable Supreme Court has discussed exceptional circumstances where the expressed and implied restrictions can be waived off. This can be allowed when (i) the statute has provided for remedies that are inadequate and/or (ii) the statute is itself unconstitutional and/or (iii) if the statute is constitutional but the special court/tribunal has violated the principles of natural justice or the provisions of the statute. In the case of RSRTC v Bal Mukund Bairwa  2 SCR 161, the court has discussed that not every dispute arising between an employer and an employee falls under the purview of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. It can be an infringement of the fundamental right of the employee etc. therefore every cause of action has to be carefully examined and every dispute between an employer-employee may not exclude the civil court’s jurisdiction. In the case of Portuguese v Borges [AIR 1959 Bom 275], the question of jurisdiction was raised. The lower court has not discussed the question of jurisdiction and has passed an injunction. The Bombay High Court has criticised this process and has stressed the importance of jurisdiction.
As a plaintiff, it is always important to check the jurisdiction of the court where the suit is intended to be filed. If this step is not followed diligently any decree passed by the court will be rendered void. It in turn increases the expenses and wastes time. As a defendant challenging the jurisdiction can be used as a defence mechanism and also an opportunity granted to him to raise an objection before the court and avoid a miscarriage of justice.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Sriya Sindhoor