Monday, March 09, 2009

A hundred years of the Civil Procedure Code


The Code of Civil Procedure [CPC], enacted in 1908, came into force on the first day of January, 1909. The CPC has been used for the past one hundred years by civil suitors to find their rights in India.

Do suitors find speedy justice? Is the code to be blamed for lakhs of cases pending for too long in our courts today? This would be a good time to ponder on these questions.

History of the CPC:

The first attempt to codify civil procedure into a uniform code was in 1859. After a quick succession of amendments, the code of 1908 was enacted. The code has been amended countless times over the past century, but the basic civil procedure has substantially remained the same.

A suit may be filed in a civil court to enforce any right. The scope of the code has considerably narrowed down over the decades by a plethora of leglislation providing for tribunals and other mechanisms to settle civil disputes. The major subjects that have gone out of original jurisdiction of the civil courts include the following:

Rent Control Disputes
Consumer Disputes
Motor Accident Claims
Taxation and disputes relating to government revenue
Family disputes
Administrative matters
Debt recovery involving banks

Even before tribunals, parts of the code or its general principles often come into play. The default method of raising a civil dispute is by filing a suit under the code, and the courts are to try all suits unless barred by law. The code remains central to administration of justice on the civil side.

Scheme of the Code:

The CPC has two parts.

The first part contains 158 sections and creates the jurisdiction of the courts, mechanisms to transfer cases from one court to another, give finality to decisions, and provide for execution of decrees passed. These lay down general principles to be followed while resolving civil disputes.

The second part has 51 orders, which relate to procedure and give the steps to be followed in detail. These rules along with the substantive sections, create the machinery to process civil disputes.

Several generations of suitors have now become well acquainted with the provisions of the code, that the modern trial process is well known to the humblest villager today, and should be ranked as the greatest success of the code.

Bringing efficiency to the Code:

The code could be executed with better efficiency and speed if some thought is given to the following matters followed up with suitable amendments to law:

  • The hierarchy of civil courts is far from satisfactory and this reflects on the code. We should do away with innumerable courts at multiple levels and simplify the hierarchy of courts in India. A single District court with unfettered and unlimited jurisdiction should be enough at the district level. Appeals could be preferred to the High Court at the state level. Cases involving questions of law may be taken to the Supreme Court at the national level. A case ought not to be kept pending at any level for more than three months. A division bench should be the norm at every level, and larger benches may be constituted if more wisdom is required to try a case.

  • Court fees should be abolished.

  • Brief pleadings that are short and crisp to the point are highly desirable. The appendices to the first schedule of the code give model forms, and each is no more than three to six paragraphs and would comfortably fit on two sides of a single sheet of paper, complete with cause titles and relief prayed. The Madras High Court museum displays plaints that are decades old, and those hand-written ones are hardly longer than two pages even in complicated suits. Short pleadings would reduce the time taken to prepare, read, try and dispose suits.

  • After service of summons, the case should be taken for hearing on a day to day basis. Dates should be fixed like the way it is done for weddings and trial should proceed as per the plan agreed.

  • Execution of a decree has become one of the most difficult bridges to cross. It should be welcome to modify the code to enforce decrees the way recoveries are made under the recent securitisation law.

  • The code needs to be ported across to computers, so that it could be executed with machine assistance, but this needs a far more serious approach and involvement from the legal fraternity.

Future of the Code:

Every trial tests the code and time and again it has passed with brilliance. The code may appear to have many draw backs, but it has become more refined with age. The acid test to judge the code, is a parable from our past:

"ONCE upon a time, when Brahma-datta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha returned to life as his son and heir. And when the day came for choosing a name, they called him Prince Brahma-datta. He grew up in due course; and when he was sixteen years old, went to Takkasila, and became accomplished in all arts. And after his father died he ascended the throne, and ruled the kingdom with righteousness and equity. He gave judgments without partiality, hatred, ignorance, or fear. Since he thus reigned with justice, with justice also his ministers administered the law. Law-suits being thus decided with justice, there were none who brought false cases. And as these ceased, the noise and tumult of litigation ceased in the king's court. Though the judges sat all day in the court, they had to leave without any one coming for justice. It came to this, that the Hall of Justice would have to be closed!" (source:

The code would certainly achive the fame of Brahma-datta some day in the far future!