SUPREME COURT CLARIFIED THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FINALITY, IN LEGAL PROCEEDINGS, FOR ENSURING JUSTICE IN PROPERTY DISPUTES
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia passed a Judgment dated 30-10-2023 in the matter of Pradeep Mehra Vs. Harijivan J. Jethwa (Since Deceased Thr. Lrs.) & Ors, Civil Appeal No. 6375 / 2023 and observed that the Higher Courts have the responsibility to rectify errors and ensure efficient administration of justice, as Executing Courts have limited authority to revisit settled matters, particularly those that have attained finality.
i) That the aforesaid Appeal was filed before the Apex Court by one, Pradeep Mehra (Appellant) against the Harijivan J. Jethwa (since Deceased through ), Jagdish Jethwa, Dhanlaxmi Co-Operative Credit Society Ltd. and M/S Laxmi Auto Globe Pvt. Ltd. (Respondents), who challenged the decision of the Hon’ble High Court Of Judicature at Bombay, Maharashtra (High Court) which dismissed the Writ Petition (W.P.) NO. 8475 / 2018 filed by the Appellant / Landlord against the Order of the Appellate Court vide Order dated 08.01.2021.
ii) In this case, the Appellant is the landlord, and the Respondents are the tenants of a premises located in Mumbai, bearing C.T.S. No(s). 691/2, 691/3, 691/6, 691/7, and 691/8, situated at Mehra Industrial Compound, Andheri-Kurla Road, Sakinaka, Mumbai (referred to as the ‘suit property’). The Appellant, who is over 70 years of age, initiated a suit for eviction. Further, the lawsuit resulted in a Consent Decree on 11.06.2005. That the Consent Decree stipulated that if the Judgment Debtors (i.e., tenants) failed to pay rent for two consecutive months, they shall be evicted because the decree would become enforceable.
iii) Thereafter, the tenants did, in fact, default on rent payments. Consequently, the Appellant applied to execute the Decree, and on 12.02.2013, the Court granted permission for execution. However, the execution proceedings faced delays, and nearly four years later, on 19.01.2017, the Judgment Debtors (tenants) filed an Application challenging the Order of 12.02.2013, which had allowed the execution of the decree.
iv) Subsequently, the Appellant objected to the maintainability of this Application, arguing that the Judgment Debtors were essentially challenging the final Order of 12.02.2013, under the facade of Section 47 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 (CPC) (Questions to be determined by the Court Executing Decree). The Executing Court, on 28.09.2017, sided with the Appellant, upholding that the Judgment Debtors were indeed challenging the Order from 2013, which had attained finality.
v) The Judgment Debtors then filed a Revision against the Order, which was set aside on 22.12.2017. The Appellant, dissatisfied with this outcome, filed a writ petition before the Bombay High Court. However, the High Court dismissed the Appellant’s writ petition on 08.01.2021.
vi) The Appellate Court and the High Court, in exercising its powers under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, held that Section 47 of the CPC allows the Executing Court to determine whether the decree can be executed or not. Consequently, the Appellant is now seeking a remedy before the appropriate judicial authority.
HIGH COURT FINDINGS:
Aggrieved by the Appellate Court Order dated 22-12-2017, the Appellant filed Writ Petition (Civil) (WP) No. 8475/2018 before Bombay High Court. The High Court, vide Order dated 08-01-2021, dismissed the Petition and made the following observations:
I) The statement made by the Hon’ble High Court highlights an important fact that the issue of res judicata, which is a legal principle that prohibits a matter that has already been decided by a competent court from being re-litigated, was not considered in the lower courts.
II) Further, both the Parties and the Executing Court failed to address this issue while dealing with (Exhibit-18 or Exhibit-19). Even the Appellate Bench did not have an opportunity to examine this issue. As a result, it is crucial to examine this issue while dealing with the issues raised in Applications-Exhibits-18 and 19 to ensure a fair and just resolution.
SUPREME COURT OBSERVATIONS:
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 08-01-2021, the Appellant filed Civil Appeal No. 6375 of 2023 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court vide Order dated 30-10-2023 held as follows:
A) The issue before the Hon’ble Supreme Court appeared to be whether the Executing Court had correctly dismissed the Application filed by the Judgment Debtors on the grounds of maintainability.
B) The specific issue of fact before the Supreme Court seems to revolve around whether the Judgment Debtors’ Application to set aside the execution was legally permissible and whether the Executing Court’s decision was correct.
C) The Supreme Court had to determine whether the Executing Court had the authority to reconsider the matter after the order had attained finality and whether the Judgment Debtors had valid grounds for reopening the issue.
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court’s role in this case was to review and decide on the legal aspects of the matter, including the interpretation and application of Section 47 of the CPC, 1908 the facts of the case.
1) The Hon’ble Supreme Court while deciding the case emphasized the principle of finality and res judicata in legal proceedings. Further, the Bench noted that if a matter has been decided or deemed to have been decided in an earlier stage of the same proceedings, the same court will be precluded from re-examining the same question. This means that parties cannot raise objections in later stages of a legal proceeding that they failed to raise in earlier stages, as long as the matter has moved forward and there has been no challenge to the previous decision.
2) Further, the Apex Court expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in the legal process. Thereafter, the Bench noted that the case had been dragging on for nearly two decades, which the Hon’ble Court considered to be excessive. Subsequently, the Court stressed the need for expeditious resolution of legal matters and efficient execution of decrees.
3) Subsequently, the Bench found that the lower courts, including the High Court, had erred in not interfering with the matter. The Hon’ble Supreme Court emphasized the need for the higher courts to rectify errors and ensure that justice is served promptly.
Based on the aforementioned observation, the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s Judgment in this case emphasized the significance of finality and res judicata in legal proceedings, while addressing concerns about undue delays. The Supreme Court explained that the Executing Court’s had limited authority to revisit previously settled matters, especially when they have attained finality. The principle of res judicata was highlighted as a key element in achieving legal closure. Further, the Supreme Court also criticized the unnecessary continuation of legal cases, noting that this specific case had spanned nearly two decades. Subsequently, the Bench emphasized the responsibility of higher courts to rectify errors and ensure the efficient administration of justice.
Therefore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court allowed the appeal filed by the Appellant and revoked the impugned Order passed by the High Court on 08.01.2021. Furthermore, the Supreme Court supported the Order passed by the Executing Court and ordered to proceed with the execution as quickly as possible and further directed that execution must be completed within six months.
The Indian Lawyer
 Section 47. Questions to be determined by the Court executing decree.
(1) All questions arising between the parties to the suit in which the decree was passed, or their representatives, and relating to the execution, discharge or satisfaction of the decree, shall be determined by the Court executing the decree and not by a separate suit.
1* * * * *
(3) Where a question arises as to whether any person is or is not the representative of a party, such question shall, for the purposes of this section, be determined by the Court.
2[Explanation 1.– For the purposes of this section, a plaintiff whose suit has been dismissed and a defendant against whom a suit has been dismissed are parties to the suit.
Explanation II.– (a) For the purposes of this section, a purchaser of property at a sale in execution of a decree shall be deemed to be a party to the suit in which the decree is passed; and
(b) all questions relating to the delivery of possession of such property to such purchaser or his representative shall be deemed to be questions relating to the execution, discharge or satisfaction of the decree within the meaning of this section.]
 Exhibit 18:
Exhibit 18 is an application filed by the judgment debtors (the respondents) in the legal case.
Its purpose is to set aside or challenge a previous court order dated 12/2/2013, which allowed the execution of a consent decree.
The judgment debtors likely had objections or reasons for wanting to set aside the order, and they presented them in this application.
The application might have been filed to prevent the execution of the consent decree or to seek a modification of the order allowing execution.
Exhibit 19 is an application filed by the decree holder (the petitioner) in response to Exhibit 18.
It is an objection or a counter-application raised by the decree holder to challenge the maintainability or validity of Exhibit 18.
Exhibit 19 could have been filed to defend the previous order that allowed the execution of the consent decree.
The decree holder’s position was that Exhibit 18 should not be granted, and this application may have provided reasons or legal arguments for that position.
These exhibits are part of the legal process where the judgment debtors (respondents) were trying to challenge the earlier order that allowed the execution of a consent decree, and the decree holder (petitioner) was responding to these challenges. The court would have considered these exhibits and made decisions based on the arguments presented by both parties.