Critical Analysis of Supervisory Jurisdiction of the High Courts in India

As per the constitutional scheme, High Courts in the States have been conferred the Supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution. The High Courts exercise the power of superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction excepting any court or tribunal constituted by or under any law relating to the armed forces. It is well-settled that the power of superintendence so conferred on the High Court is administrative as well as judicial, and is capable of being invoked at the instance of any person aggrieved or may even be exercised suo motu. The objective/purpose behind vesting such wide power of superintendence in the High Court is to keep the subordinate Courts and Tribunals within the four corners of law and thereby securing the path of justice and removing any obstacles therein. In nutshell the basic idea, behind conferring the above power is to keep the subordinate Courts within its jurisdiction.The power under Article 227 is wider than the one conferred on the High Court by Article 226 in the sense that the power of superintendence is not subject to those technicalities of procedure or traditional fetters which are to be found in certiorari jurisdiction. Else the parameters invoking the exercise of power are almost similar.

Difference between a writ of certiorari under Article 226 and supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227.

The difference between Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution was well brought out in Umaji Keshao Meshram and Ors. Vs. Smt. Radhikabai and Anr., (1986) Supp. SCC 401. Proceedings under Article 226 are in exercise of the original jurisdiction of the High Court whileon the other hand, the  proceedings under Article 227 of the Constitution are not original but only supervisory. Though the power is akin to that of an ordinary court of appeal, yet the power under Article 227 is intended to be used sparingly and only in appropriate cases for the purpose of keeping the subordinate courts and tribunals within the bounds of their authority and not for correcting mere errors. The power may be exercised in cases occasioning grave injustice or failure of justice such as when (i) the court or tribunal has assumed a jurisdiction which it does not have, (ii) has failed to exercise a jurisdiction which it does have, such failure occasioning a failure of justice, and (iii) the jurisdiction though available is being exercised in a manner which tantamounts to overstepping the limits of jurisdiction.

Firstly, the writ of certiorari is an exercise of its original jurisdiction by the High Court; exercise of supervisory jurisdiction is not an original jurisdiction and in this sense it is akin to appellate revisional or corrective jurisdiction. Secondly, in a writ of certiorari, the record of the proceedings having been certified and sent up by the inferior court or tribunal to the High Court, the High Court if inclined to exercise its jurisdiction, may simply annul or quash the proceedings and then do no more. In exercise of supervisory jurisdiction the High Court may not only quash or set aside the impugned proceedings, judgment or order but it may also make such directions as the facts and circumstances of the case may warrant, may be by way of guiding the inferior court or tribunal as to the manner in which it would now proceed further or afresh as commended to or guided by the High Court. In appropriate cases the High Court, while exercising supervisory jurisdiction, may substitute such a decision of its own in place of the impugned decision, as the inferior court or tribunal should have made. Lastly, the jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution is capable of being exercised on a prayer made by or on behalf of the party aggrieved; the supervisory jurisdiction is capable of being exercised suo motu as well.

Supervisory jurisdiction may be refused to be exercised when an alternative efficacious remedy by way of appeal or revision is available to the person aggrieved. So long as an error is capable of being corrected by a superior court in exercise of appellate or revisional jurisdiction though available to be exercised only at the conclusion of the proceedings, it would be sound exercise of discretion on the part of the High Court to refuse to exercise power of superintendence during the pendency of the proceedings.

The scope and power of High Court under Art 226 was first time discussed in detail by the constitution bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the judgement titled as Syed Yakoob vs K.S. Radhakrishnan & Others 1964 AIR 477, 1964 SCR (5) 64

The question about the limits of the jurisdiction of High Courts in issuing a writ of certiorari under Art. 226 has been frequently considered by this Court and the true legal position in that behalf is no longer in doubt. A writ of certiorari can be issued for correcting errors of jurisdiction committed by inferior courts or tribunals; these are cases where orders are passed by inferior courts or tribunals without jurisdiction, or in excess of it, or as a result of failure to exercise jurisdictions. A writ can similarly be issued where in exercise of jurisdiction conferred on it, the Court or Tribunal acts illegally or improperly, as for instance, it decides a question without giving an opportunity to be heard to the party affected by the order, or where the procedure adopted in dealing with the dispute is opposed to principles of natural justice. There is, however, no doubt that the jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari is a supervisory jurisdiction and the Court exercising it is not entitled to act as an appellate Court. This limitation necessarily means that findings of fact reached by the inferior Court or Tribunal as a result of the appreciation of evidence cannot be reopened or questioned in writ proceedings. An error of law which is apparent on the face of the record can be corrected by a writ, but not an error of tact, however grave it may appear to be. In regard to a finding of fact recorded by the Tribunal, a writ of certiorari can be issued if it is shown that in recording the said finding, the. Tribunal had. erroneously refused to admit admissible and material evidence, or had erroneously admitted inadmissible evidence which has influenced the impugned finding. Similarly, if a finding of fact is based on no evidence, that would be regarded as an error of law which can be corrected by a writ of certiorari. In dealing with this category of cases, however, we must always bear in mind that a finding of fact recorded by the Tribunal cannot be challenged in proceedings for a writ of certiorari on the ground that the relevant and material evidence adduced before the Tribunal was' insufficient or inadequate to sustain the impugned finding. The adequacy or sufficiency of evidence led on a point and the inference of fact to be drawn from the said finding are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Tribunal, and the said points cannot be agitated before a writ court. It is within these limits that the jurisdiction conferred on the High Courts under Art. 226 to issue a writ of certiorari can be legitimately exercised

In Chandrasekhar Singh & Ors. Vs. Siva Ram Singh & Ors., (1979) 3 SCC 118, the scope of jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution came up for the consideration of this Court in the context of Sections 435 and 439 of the Criminal Procedure Code which prohibits a second revision to the High Court against decision in first revision rendered by the Sessions Judge. On a review of earlier decisions, the three-Judges Bench summed up the position of law as under :-

(i) that the powers conferred on the High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution cannot, in any way, be curtailed by the provisions of the Code of Criminal procedure;

(ii) the scope of interference by the High Court under Article 227 is restricted. The power of superintendence conferred by Article 227 is to be exercised sparingly and only in appropriate cases in order to keep the subordinate Courts within the bounds of their authority and not for correcting mere errors;

(iii) that the power of judicial interference under Article 227 of the Constitution is not greater than the power under Article 226 of the Constitution;

(iv) that the power of superintendence under Article 227 of the Constitution cannot be invoked to correct an error of fact which only a superior Court can do in exercise of its statutory power as the Court of Appeal; the High Court cannot, in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 227, convert itself into a Court of Appeal.

Does the amendment in Section 115 of C.P.C have any impact on jurisdiction under Articles 226 and 227?

Amendment by Act No.46 of 1999 with effect from 01.07.2002 in Section 115 of Code of Civil Procedure cannot and does not affect in any manner the jurisdiction of the High Court under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution.

Interlocutory orders, passed by the courts subordinate to the High Court, against which remedy of revision has been excluded by the CPC Amendment Act No. 46 of 1999 are nevertheless open to challenge in, and continue to be subject to, certiorari and supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court.

In Surya Dev Rai vs Ram Chander Rai & Ors on 7 August, 2003, the Apex Court laid down the broader principles the parameters for exercise of jurisdiction under Articles 226 or 227 of the Constitution which cannot be tied down in a straitjacket formula or rigid rules.

 Such like matters frequently arise before the High Courts. We sum up our conclusions in a nutshell, as hereunder:-

(1) Certiorari, under Article 226 of the Constitution, is issued for correcting gross errors of jurisdiction, i.e., when a subordinate court is found to have acted (i) without jurisdiction - by assuming jurisdiction where there exists none, or (ii) in excess of its jurisdiction – by overstepping or crossing the limits of jurisdiction, or (iii) acting in flagrant disregard of law or the rules of procedure or acting in violation of principles of natural justice where there is no procedure specified, and thereby occasioning failure of justice.

(2) Supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution is exercised for keeping the subordinate courts within the bounds of their jurisdiction. When the subordinate Court has assumed a jurisdiction which it does not have or has failed to exercise a jurisdiction which it does have or the jurisdiction though available is being exercised by the Court in a manner not permitted by law and failure of justice or grave injustice has occasioned thereby, the High Court may step in to exercise its supervisory jurisdiction.

(3) Be it a writ of certiorari or the exercise of supervisory jurisdiction, none is available to correct mere errors of fact or of law unless the following requirements are satisfied : (i) the error is manifest and apparent on the face of the proceedings such as when it is based on clear ignorance or utter disregard of the provisions of law, and (iii) a grave injustice or gross failure of justice has occasioned thereby.

(4) A patent error is an error which is self-evident, i.e., which can be perceived or demonstrated without involving into any lengthy or complicated argument or a long-drawn process of reasoning. Where two inferences are reasonably possible and the subordinate court has chosen to take one view the error cannot be called gross or patent.

(5) The power to issue a writ of certiorari and the supervisory jurisdiction are to be exercised sparingly and only in appropriate cases where the judicial conscience of the High Court dictates it to act lest a gross failure of justice or grave injustice should occasion. Care, caution and circumspection need to be exercised, when any of the abovesaid two jurisdictions is sought to be invoked during the pendency of any suit or proceedings in a subordinate court and the error though calling for correction is yet capable of being corrected at the conclusion of the proceedings in an appeal or revision preferred there against and entertaining a petition invoking certiorari or supervisory jurisdiction of High Court would obstruct the smooth flow and/or early disposal of the suit or proceedings. The High Court may feel inclined to intervene where the error is such, as, if not corrected at that very moment, may become incapable of correction at a later stage and refusal to intervene would result in travesty of justice or where such refusal itself would result in prolonging of the lis.

(6) The High Court in exercise of certiorari or supervisory jurisdiction will not covert itself into a Court of Appeal and indulge in re-appreciation or evaluation of evidence or correct errors in drawing inferences or correct errors of mere formal or technical character.

(7) In practice, the parameters for exercising jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari and those calling for exercise of supervisory jurisdiction are almost similar and the width of jurisdiction exercised by the High Courts in India unlike English courts has almost obliterated the distinction between the two jurisdictions. While exercising jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari the High Court may annul or set aside the act, order or proceedings of the subordinate courts but cannot substitute its own decision in place thereof. In exercise of supervisory jurisdiction the High Court may not only give suitable directions so as to guide the subordinate court as to the manner in which it would act or proceed thereafter or afresh, the High Court may in appropriate cases itself make an order in supersession or substitution of the order of the subordinate court as the court should have made in the facts and circumstances of the case.

Conclusion

The High Courts being a Court of record has been given the highest authority as per constitutional scheme and has been afforded the power of supervision over the Subordinate Courts and Tribunals falling in its jurisdiction. But often the Hon’ble High Courts in some cases travel beyond the supervisory jurisdiction and dwelling into the fact finding. That is beyond the scope of the High court in its supervisory jurisdiction. In its supervisory jurisdiction, the role of the High court is limited to see as if there is an error apparent on the face por record. Error apparent on the face of record mean that either the Subordinate Courts have not followed principle of natural justice or fail to take into account the evidence. How the evidence has been appreciated is not within the scope of the supervisory jurisdiction.

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