Sections 15 to 20 of the Code contain detailed provisions relating to jurisdiction of courts. They regulate forum for institution of suits. They deal with the matters of domestic concern and provide for the multitude of suits which can be brought in different courts.

  • Section 15 requires the suitor to institute a suit in the court of the lowest grade competent to try it.
  • Section 16 enacts that the suits for recovery of immovable property, or for partition of immovable property, or for foreclosure, sale or redemption of mortgage property, or for determination of any other right or interest in immovable property, or for compensation for wrong to immovable property shall be instituted in the court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the property is situate.

Proviso to Section 16 declares that where the relief sought can be obtained through the personal obedience of the defendant, the suit can be instituted either in the court within whose jurisdiction the property is situate or in the court where the defendant actually or voluntarily resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain.

  • Section 17 supplements Section 16 and is virtually another proviso to that section. It deals with those cases where immovable property is situate within the jurisdiction of different courts.
  • Section 18 applies where local limits of jurisdiction of different courts is uncertain.
  • Section 19 is a special provision and applies to suits for compensation for wrongs to a person or to movable property.
  • Section 20 is a residuary section and covers all those cases not dealt with or covered by Sections 15 to 19.

Section 16

Section 16 thus recognizes a well-established principle that actions against res or property should be brought in the forum where such res is situate. A court within whose territorial jurisdiction the property is not situate has no power to deal with and decide the rights or interests in such property. In other words, a court has no jurisdiction over a dispute in which it cannot give an effective judgment.

Proviso to Section 16, no doubt, states that though the court cannot, in case of immovable property situate beyond jurisdiction, grant a relief in rem still it can entertain a suit where relief sought can be obtained through the personal obedience of the defendant. The proviso is based on well-known maxim “equity acts in personam”, recognized by Chancery Courts in England. Equity Courts had jurisdiction to entertain certain suits respecting immovable properties situated abroad through personal obedience of the defendant. The principle on which the maxim was based was that courts could grant relief in suits respecting immovable property situate abroad by enforcing their judgments by process in personam, i.e. by arrest of defendant or by attachment of his property.

In Ewing v. Ewing, (1883) 9 AC 34: 53 LJ Ch 435, Lord Selborne observed:

“The Courts of Equity in England are, and always have been, courts of conscience operating in personam and not in rem; and in the exercise of this personal jurisdiction they have always been accustomed to compel the performance of contracts in trusts as to subjects which were not either locally or ratione domicilli within their jurisdiction. They have done so, as to land, in Scotland, in Ireland, in the Colonies, in foreign countries.”

In Harshad Chiman Lal Modi vs Dlf Universal, (2005), the court held,

“The proviso is thus an exception to the main part of the section which in our considered opinion, cannot be interpreted or construed to enlarge the scope of the principal provision. It would apply only if the suit falls within one of the categories specified in the main part of the section and the relief sought could entirely be obtained by personal obedience of the defendant.”

Consent or waiver can cure defect of jurisdiction but cannot cure inherent lack of jurisdiction

In Halsbury’s Laws of England, (4th edn.), Reissue, Vol. 10; para 317; it is stated;

“317. Consent and waiver. Where, by reason of any limitation imposed by statute, charter or commission, a court is without jurisdiction to entertain any particular claim or matter, neither the acquiescence nor the express consent of the parties can confer jurisdiction upon the court, nor can consent give a court jurisdiction if a condition which goes to the jurisdiction has not been performed or fulfilled.

Where the court has jurisdiction over the particular subject matter of the claim or the particular parties and the only objection is whether, in the circumstances of the case, the court ought to exercise jurisdiction, the parties may agree to give jurisdiction in their particular case; or a defendant by entering an appearance without protest, or by taking steps in the proceedings, may waive his right to object to the court taking cognizance of the proceedings.

No appearance or answer, however, can give jurisdiction to a limited court, nor can a private individual impose on a judge the jurisdiction or duty to adjudicate on a matter. A statute limiting the jurisdiction of a court may contain provisions enabling the parties to extend the jurisdiction by consent.”

The decision of the Privy Council in the case of Ledgard vs. Bull ((1886) L.R. 13A. 134) is an authority for the proposition that consent or waiver can cure defect of jurisdiction but cannot cure inherent lack of jurisdiction.

In that case, the suit had been instituted in the Court of the Subordinate Judge, who was incompetent to try it. By consent of’ the parties, the case was transferred to the Court of the, district Judge for convenience of trial. It was laid down by the Privy Council that as the Court in the suit had been originally instituted was entirely lacking in jurisdiction, in the sense that it was incompetent to try it, whatever happened subsequently was null and void because consent of parties could not operate to confer jurisdiction on a Court which was incompetent to try the suit.

The question of jurisdiction by consent came up for consideration before this Court in Hakam Singh v. Gamon (India) Ltd., (1971) 3 SCR 314. It was the first leading decision of this Court on the point. There, a contract was entered into by the parties for construction of work. An agreement provided that notwithstanding where the work was to be executed, the contract ‘shall be deemed to have been entered into at Bombay’ and Bombay Court ‘alone shall have jurisdiction to adjudicate’ the dispute between the parties. The question before this Court was whether the court at Bombay alone had jurisdiction to resolve such dispute.

Upholding the contention and considering the provisions of the Code as also of the Contract Act, this Court stated:

“By Clause 13 of the agreement it was expressly stipulated between the parties that the contract shall be deemed to have been entered into by the parties concerned in the city of Bombay. In any event the respondents have their principal office in Bombay and they were liable in respect of a cause of action arising under the terms of the tender to be sued in the courts of Bombay.

It is not open to the parties by agreement to confer by their agreement jurisdiction on a court which it does not possess under the Code. But where two courts or more have under the Code of Civil Procedure jurisdiction to try a suit or proceeding on agreement between the parties that the dispute between them shall be tried in one of such courts is not contrary to public policy. Such an agreement does not contravene Section 28 of the Contract Act.”

Categories of Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of a court may be classified into several categories. The important categories are,

(i) Territorial or local jurisdiction;

(ii) Pecuniary jurisdiction; and

(iii) Jurisdiction over the subject matter.

So far as territorial and pecuniary jurisdictions are concerned, objection to such jurisdiction has to be taken at the earliest possible opportunity and in any case at or before settlement of issues. The law is well settled on the point that if such objection is not taken at the earliest, it cannot be allowed to be taken at a subsequent stage.

Jurisdiction as to subject matter, however, is totally distinct and stands on a different footing. Where a court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit by reason of any limitation imposed by statute, charter or commission, it cannot take up the cause or matter. An order passed by a court having no jurisdiction is nullity.

In Bahrein Petroleum Co. v. Pappu, 1966 (1) SCR 461  Supreme Court held that neither consent nor waiver nor acquiescence can confer jurisdiction upon a court, otherwise incompetent to try the suit. It is well-settled and needs no authority that ‘where a court takes upon itself to exercise a jurisdiction it does not possess, its decision amounts to nothing.’

A decree passed by a court having no jurisdiction is non-est and its validity can be set up whenever it is sought to be enforced as a foundation for a right, even at the stage of execution or in collateral proceedings. A decree passed by a court without jurisdiction is a coram non judice.

In Kiran Singh v. Chaman Paswan, (1955) 1 SCR 117: AIR 1954 SC 340, Supreme Court declared;

“It is a fundamental principle well established that a decree passed by a court without jurisdiction is a nullity and that its invalidity could be set up whenever and it is sought to be enforced or relied upon, even at the stage of execution and even in collateral proceedings. A defect of jurisdiction strikes at the very authority of the court to pass any decree, and such a defect cannot be cured even by consent of parties.”

In Setrucharlu v. Maharaja of Jeypore, 46 IA 151 : AIR 1919 PC 150, a suit was instituted in subordinate court for possession of mortgage property partly situated in Vizagapatam and partly in a Schedule District to which the provisions of the Code did not apply. No objection as to jurisdiction of the court was taken by the defendant and the decree was passed.

In appeal, however, such objection was taken by the defendant. Relying on Section 21 of the Code, the High Court overruled the objection. The defendant approached the Privy Council. Upholding the contention and partly reversing the decree, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council stated;

“The learned Judges of the Court of Appeal thought that the matter was met by Section 21 of the Code, which provides that no objection as to the place of suing shall be allowed by any appellate court unless the objection was taken in the court of First Instance, which in this case had admittedly not been done. Their Lordships cannot agree with this view. This is not an objection as to the place of suing; it is an objection going to the nullity of the order on the ground of want of jurisdiction.”

In New Mofussil Co. Ltd. & Another v. Shankerlal Narayandas Mundade, AIR 1941 Bom 247: ILR 1941 Bom 361, almost a similar question came up for consideration before the High Court of Bombay. In that case, a suit for specific performance of contract and possession of immovable property situated at Dhulia was filed in the Court of First Class Subordinate Judge, Dhulia against defendant No. 1 Company in liquidation. The registered office of the Company was in Bombay and the agreement was finally concluded in Bombay. It was, therefore, contended that Dhulia Court had no jurisdiction to try the suit.

It was, however, held by the High Court that the case was covered by Clause (d) of Section 16 of the Code, the Proviso had no application and since the property was situated at Dhulia, Subordinate Judge, Dhulia had jurisdiction to entertain and try the suit. (See also Anand Bazar Patrika Ltd. v. Biswanath Prasad, AIR 1986 Pat 57)


Seth Hira lal patni v. Shri Kali Nath (1961)

Harshad chiman lal modi .v DLF Universal (2005)