India has two types of courts for addressing trivial civil matters: Presidency Small Causes Courts, established under the Presidency Small Cause Court Act of 1882, and the Provincial Small Cause Court, established under the Provincial Small Causes Act in 1887.
Pre-independent India had princely states, which consisted of provinces and presidency towns of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. These towns were administrative centres for the British, and they had territorially exclusive laws about various matters.
The small causes courts in presidency towns deal with petty civil disputes within their territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction. They have been instituted to reduce the burden on the higher courts by ensuring that the higher courts do not waste time dealing with trivial matters. These courts simplify the court proceedings and, thus, encourage parties to approach the justice system. This article explores the various aspects of the Presidency small causes court from jurisdiction to procedure.
Table of Contents
Presidency small Cause Courts Act, 1882
The Charter of King George II established small-cause courts in presidencies in 1753. The British government passed several acts and orders consolidated in 1882 and finally passed the Presidency small Cause Courts Act of 1882. The Act has explicit provisions that lay down court procedure in Presidency small-cause courts. Hence, the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) only covers the procedural aspects like summons.
Powers of the High Courts
- Section 9 of the Act outlines the procedure and practice norms for small-cause courts. They can also specify the practice rules and procedures for the small cause courts as a replacement or in addition to other stipulations laid down previously.
- Section 15 in Chapter 104 of 24th and 25th of Victoria provides the powers of the High Courts on lower courts under the appellate jurisdiction.
- The High Courts can change or cancel the rules and laws followed in the courts.
- The state government appoints a chief judge and additional judges.
- The state government designates a qualified individual who acts as the chief judge if the chief or acting chief judge is absent. They have the same powers and duties.
- If the judges have conflicting opinions on a case, then the opinion supported by the majority wins. If the Court is divided in a 1:2 ratio on an opinion, then the chief judge makes the final decision.
- The Act prohibits a judge of a small-claims court from pursuing other professions. However, they can become a company member under the Letters Patent Act or the Royal Charter.
Registrar and Deputy Registrar
- The chief judge makes rules on the duties and powers of the Registrar and other officials appointed for ministerial posts.
- The Presidency small Cause Courts Act of 1882 empowers a Registrar to deal with cases in the capacity of a judge under certain circumstances.
- The Registrar can hear undefended matters and interlocutory (interim) applications and dismiss or modify them.
- The Registrar can act as a judge if the subject matter in the case does not exceed Rs. 20. The judges can transfer their cases to the Registrar if they are competent.
Law Administered by the Court
The High Court exercises its ordinary civil jurisdiction and enables the Small Causes Court to hear and dispose of matters under the law in force administered by the High Court. However, this provision does not extend to questions arising on practice or procedure.
The High Court determines the jurisdiction of the small causes court. The small causes court is empowered to hear cases with a maximum pecuniary limit of Rs. 2000, and the matter should satisfy the following specific criteria:
- The cause of action for the suit must have arisen (wholly or otherwise) in the court’s territorial jurisdiction, and the court has given its permission to institute the suit.
- Defendants should live, conduct their business, or work within the court’s territory. If the defendants do not satisfy the above criteria, then the suit can be instituted after obtaining the defendants’ approval.
- The small-cause court cannot entertain certain matters like revenue disputes, performance of contracts, among others, under Section 19.
- If a suit involves court officers or a certain amount, the plaintiff can file it before the High Court.
- The court can decide suits in which the parties have agreed to let the small-cause court be the forum to decide even if the value exceeds Rs. 2000/-. If a plaintiff files a suit (Except under section 21) before the High Court when a Small Causes Court is competent to deal with it and obtains a decree for an amount:
- Not more than Rs. 1000 for contract matters;
- Not more than Rs. 300 for other cases,
The plaintiff is not entitled to recover costs. However, the defendants can recover costs for legal expenses incurred if they are decree holders.
In petty civil disputes, the defendant need not file a written statement unless;
- The case involves set-off or
- The Court demands it.
Return of a document
- Any person (party or not) who produced relevant documents to suit can take them back if the aggrieved person does not apply for rehearing or a new trial within limitation.
- The court can direct the return of a document.
- The court will only return submitted documents if they become useful or void due to a decree. The party receiving the document should give a receipt.
Cases when the plaintiff compensates the defendant
In cases in which the defendant appears before the court but denies the plaintiffs’ claim and subsequently does not receive a decree for the total claim amount, the court can direct the plaintiff to pay any amount to the defendant.
Cases when a third party compensates the parties to the suit
When a claim or objection under Section 278 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1882, is not allowed, the court can order such claimant or objector to pay some amount to the Judgement-Debtor, Decree Holder or both.
- If the court allows a claim or objection under Section 278 of the CPC, 1882, it can award damages to the claimant or objector.
- If the damages are not paid, then the entitled party can enforce against the opposite party like a decree.
Arrest of Judgement-Debtor
If the court orders the arrest of the judgement-debtor for attachment of property, then decree-holder or anyone on their behalf can accompany the officer executing the warrant.
A judgement-debtor who is arrested or whose property is seized for executing a decree can pay some security amount for the actual amount and costs to be discharged or release their property.
If the judgement-debtor cannot pay the decretal amount because of sickness, poverty, or other appropriate reasons, then the court can suspend the execution of the decree.
Suppose the judgement-debtor has insufficient movable property within the court territory to fulfil the decree. In such a case, the decree-holder can apply to the court to send the decree to the High Court or any civil court with jurisdiction over the property outside the territory of the court.
A registrar or any appointed official can perform a judge or commissioner’s quasi-judicial and non-judicial acts. The High Court determines the scope of non-judicial and quasi-judicial acts.
New Trials and Appeals
- The orders or decrees passed by the court under the Act are final. The small-cause court can hear an application challenging a decree or an order if it is filed within 8 days of being passed.
- The defendant can file an ex-parte affidavit for moving a cause to the High Court within 8 days of receiving the summons or before the day of the appearance if the sum of the subject matter is more than Rs 1000.
- The judge can direct for the removal of the cause upon receiving the application if they think it is not filed to delay proceedings. The removal in such cases is usually conditional (the applicant has to provide security).
- If the applicant fails to pay security within the given time, then the removal order is discharged, and the proceedings continue before the small-cause court.
- A plaintiff who has left a part of his/her claim to bring the case under the jurisdiction of the small-cases court is allowed to revive it when the case is removed to the High Court.
- The High Court hears, exercises its powers, and disposes of the removed case as if it has original jurisdiction.
Recovery of possession of immovable property
- In cases where:
- An occupant had possession over an immovable property (with a rent value of up to Rs. 2000) and
- The owner revokes the tenancy or the permission, but
- They refuse to hand over the property;
The owner can apply to the small-causes court to issue a summons (as per CPC, 1882) to the occupant to show cause.
- If the occupant is absent on the hearing date, and the court thinks the applicant is entitled to apply under Section 41, then it can direct the bailiff to deliver the property to the applicant on a date fixed by the court.
- The bailiff can enter between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm along with assistants if necessary.
- If the applicants have the right to possess the property in dispute, then they are not considered trespassers because of an error when delivering the property.
- Any person aggrieved due to the error can file for damages.
- An applicant should be in actual possession of the property on the date of filing the suit.
- The Act mandates the court to stay the proceedings on an application until its disposal of the occupant.
- Produces two sureties and
- Pays a bond for an amount the court thinks is reasonable after considering property value and potential costs;
To file a suit against the applicant for trespass, compensation, and pay all expenses if they do not prosecute or if the judgement is in favour of the applicant.
The aggrieved party can challenge an order on recovering the possession of immovable property in the High Court.
- Distress is seizing property to satisfy a demand or performance of duty or redress an injury.
- Distresses do not apply to the following:
- Rent to be paid to the government (due)
- Rent due for over 12 months before applying Section 53.
- A claimant or their attorney of rent due on any property within the territorial limits of Chapter VIII of the act can file an application before a judge or Registrar of the small causes court to issue a distress warrant.
- The application for a distress warrant should be filed along with an affidavit.
- The Judge or the Registrar issues a distress warrant to a bailiff within 6 days of receiving the application.
- The Judge or Registrar has discretion over the issuance of distress warrants.
- The appointees can cause distress only after sunrise and before sunset.
- The bailiff can forcibly open any building, outhouse, or stable. They can enter a dwelling house to seize the property but cannot break into a room for the zenana or woman.
- The bailiff can seize the debtor’s movable property (from the place mentioned in the warrant) in proportion to the rent amount and the distress costs.
- The bailiff cannot seize movable property like tools and equipment not in use when they can seize other things like the debtor’s clothes, items in legal custody, etc.
- The bailiff can secure the seized property and make an inventory.
- Following this, notice is given to the debtor or any other individual on their behalf. The copies of the notice and inventory are filed in the small-causes court.
- A debtor (owner of movable property) or their attorney can apply to the court within 5 days of seizure requesting to discharge the warrant or release the seized property.
- The judge may admit the application and provide reasonable time for the debtor to pay off the due rent. They may also direct the payment of costs and warrant execution.
- When a third party claims the seized property or proceeds arising from it, the debtor can file an application based on which the Registrar issues summons to the claimant and the individual with the distress warrant.
- In such cases, a case filed before the High Court regarding that claim is stayed.
- After inspecting the seized property and the proof of summons issued, the High Court may direct the plaintiff to bear the costs of legal expenses arising after the summons was issued.
- The Small Causes Court judge can also order compensation to the applicant or claimant, for which they can inquire if they think it necessary.
- If the subject matter value is more than Rs. 1000, then the High Court can transfer the case to itself upon receiving an application from the applicant. The application for transfer must be filed within 7 days of the seizure of the property in dispute.
- If the High Court is satisfied, then it can set aside an order passed by the small-cases court and make an order it thinks is fit.
- In case of a default in following the order of the small-causes court or the High Court, one among the two bailiffs can appraise the seized property after 5 days of such seizure and send a notice of sale to the debtor.
- This notice is filed with the small causes court.
- If the party does not comply with the court order, then
- The seized property is sold on a fixed date (specified in the notice under section 64) and paid to the Registrar of the court.
- The distress costs are recovered first, followed by the due amount on rent.
- If more money is left after paying off distress costs and rent due, then it is returned to the debtor.
- The debtor can pay security and sell the seized property in any way they wish.
- The Registrar maintains a book in which all payments received as distress costs, bailiffs’ remuneration, and other costs are entered.
- If anyone other than a bailiff levies or tries to levy distress, he/she is punished with a fine of up to Rs. 500, imprisonment extending up to 3 months, and other liabilities, if any, if found guilty by the presiding magistrate.
Reference Under the Act
- When two or more court judges are deciding a matter involving the recovery of possession and have different opinions on the interpretation or question of law or the structure of a document that impacts the merits of the case, the court must refer it to the High Court.
- When a question of law or a reasonable doubt arises in a suit in which the value of subject-matter is more than Rs.500, and any party to the case refers to the High Court;
If the court passes a judgement according to the reference, then the losing party must furnish security for the reference and judgement costs.
The security payment is optional if the judge has ordered the judgement-debtor to pay the amount to the court, and it has been paid.
Fees and Costs
- If the cost of the suit (subject matter) is not more than Rs. 500, then the suit institution fee is 2 annas from the rupee on the total suit value.
- If the cost of the suit (subject matter) is more than Rs. 500, then the suit institution fee is Rs. 62 and 8 annas and 1 anna from the rupee, on the surplus of the amount.
- For filing each agreement, parties must pay an additional Rs. 10 per agreement.
- If the parties settle and draw an agreement before the hearing date, then the court will refund half of the fees paid until then.
- The court can accept applications and suits of poor individuals and issue processes free of cost or on part payment of the fee.
- The state government can change the fee but only within the prescribed limit.
- In cases in which the value of the subject matter is Rs. 20 or less, a party hiring an advocate, vakil, or legal practitioner is allowed costs only if the court thinks it is rational due to the circumstances.
Misconduct of inferior ministerial officers
- The chief judge can order a bailiff, clerk, or other officer of inferior post in the court to pay compensatory costs to the aggrieved party (not more than the sum mentioned in the warrant or order) if they fail to execute the warrant or order because of negligence, conniving acts or omission.
- When an inferior officer is charged with wrongdoing or extortion under the pretence of the process, the court can order an investigation and order the accused to repay or pay any extorted amount or amount levied by them in the name of authority along with costs.
- If the accused does not pay the money as per court order, the aggrieved party can act upon it as if it were a decree passed by the small-claims court in their favour.
The Act thus lays down extensive provisions for the practice and procedure norms in the small causes courts. The Act explicitly shows the role of the High Court, judges, and Registrar in performing various functions of the court and establishes penal provisions for the inferior officers of the court.
Although the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act was enacted several years ago, it is still relevant today, as reflected by the number of cases before small causes courts. The Act is a futuristic legislation due to its speedy disposal of petty matters.
This Act separated the forums for addressing civil disputes based on their gravity, thus making a huge leap in the process of delivering speedy justice. However, the punishment provisions in the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act could be modified in minor ways to fit the current society and move towards a more transparent system of delivering justice.
FAQs on Presidency small Cause Courts Act, 1882
Is the Act still in force?
Yes. The CPC, 1908 gives force to the Presidency small causes court, implying that the act is still in force.
Does the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act of 1882 have all the necessary provisions to deal with petty civil disputes?
Although the Act is well-rounded and has comprehensive provisions to address petty civil disputes in presidencies, it follows the CPC for procedural aspects such as the recovery of property, sale of seized property, among others.
Does the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act of 1882 apply to the entire Indian territory?
No, the Act only applies to the erstwhile presidency towns of Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay.
What is distress under the Presidency small Cause Courts Act of 1882?
Distress is seizing property to satisfy a demand or performance of duty or redressal of injury.
Can a minor file a suit before the Presidency small Causes Court under the Presidency small Cause Courts Act 1882?
Yes. A minor can file a suit before the small causes court if they are owed any amount not more than Rs. 500.