Forum of Appeal Where Value of Suit in Plaint is Changed by Court

Forum of Appeal Where Value of Suit in Plaint is Changed by Court Case Laws Civil Law Court Fee Forum of Appeal Knowledge - Civil Law Litigation & Arbitration Solutions - Civil Law Supreme Court Mr. Justice Mian Saqib Nisar in his judgment has decided the issue regarding forum of appeal where value of suit in plaint is changed by court in Civil Appeal No. 1471 of 2015.

1. In this appeal with the leave of the court we are required to resolve the primary question as to what should be the forum of appeal where the value of the suit as fixed in the plaint has been changed by the court? Ancillary to the above, there are some other connected questions which are duly reflected in the leave granting order (LGO) and shall be accordingly addressed.

2. In this context, the brief facts of the case are that the appellants filed a suit (bearing No.167/1 of 2007) for declaration to the effect that they are the owners in possession of the suit land with further relief seeking protection of their possession. Respondent No.1 (the respondent) also filed a suit (bearing No.166/1 of 2007) qua the same land for declaration, possession and permanent injunction etc. against the appellants on the basis of his entitlement to the property. It is pertinent to mention that the appellants had valued their suit for the purposes of court fee and jurisdiction at Rs.200/- whilst the respondent valued his suit at Rs.900/-. The learned Trial Judge consolidated the suits on 26.4.2008. An additional issue was framed in the suit of the respondent qua the valuation of that suit for the purposes of court fee and jurisdiction. Vide single judgment dated 31.1.2012 the Trial court dismissed the suit of the appellants and decreed that of the respondent. With respect to the additional issue about the valuation, the court held:

“To prove the facts mentioned in the additional issue, plaintiffs produced eight witnesses and according to their statements the market value of the suit property is approximately 30 Lac rupees and as the defendant No.1 in his connected suit also sought the relief of possession in alternate, therefore, he is directed to affix the proper court fee within thirty days. Hence, the issue is decided accordingly”.

Consequently, the respondent paid an amount of Rs.15,000/- (fifteen thousand) as court fee and the said valuation of the suit for the purposes of jurisdiction, as determined by the court, was also reflected in the decree passed in favour of the respondent.

3. The appellants filed one regular first appeal (RFA No.30-A/2012) before the learned Peshawar High Court challenging the judgment and both the decrees. The respondent raised a preliminary objection to the effect that for the purposes of determining the forum of appeal the valuation given in the plaint would be relevant and not the one determined by the learned Trial Court, and since the value of the suits fixed by both the plaintiffs (appellants and respondent No.1) was below the pecuniary jurisdiction of the High Court, therefore, the appeal was not competent before the High Court. The respondent relied on a judgment of the learned Peshawar High Court dated 24.4.2015 passed in RFA No.41/2002. The learned High Court allowed this objection vide impugned judgment, holding:

“I am of the view that the preliminary objection raised by the learned counsel for the respondents holds the field. Therefore, the instant appeal is held not competent before this Court. Consequently, office is directed to return the appeal to the appellants for its presentation before the proper forum by retaining photocopies thereof”.

4. Hence the present appeal (with leave of the court). Leave in this case was granted on 4.11.2015 to consider the following propositions:

i. Where the value of the suit for the purposes of jurisdiction fixed in the plaint has been altered (increased) by the civil court (trial court), what shall be the forum of appeal in view of the provisions of Section 18(1)(a)(b) of the Civil Courts Ordinance, 1962;

ii. Whether in the suits which are consolidated the trial court is obliged to pass separate decrees in each of the suits or a single decree shall be sufficient pursuant to a common judgment disposing of such suits; and

iii. If two (or more) consolidated suits have different jurisdictional valuation and are decided through a common judgment but separate decrees have been drawn, what shall be the forum of appeal in relation to such suits/decrees; whether in such a situation the aggrieved party is obliged to file separate (RFA) appeals before District Court and the High Court as per the valuation of the suits, but the High Court where the appeal is competently filed against the common judgment and a decree which is pending can, in order to avoid conflict of judgments, withdraw the appeal filed/pending in the District Court and decide the same.

5. In answering the first question, we need to see whether the trial court has the authority in law to change the valuation of the suit for the purposes of court fee and jurisdiction and to direct the plaintiff to pay the court fee according to the valuation so determined by the court. In this context two situations may arise; firstly where a suit’s valuation by the plaintiff is challenged by the defendant on the basis of the relevant law, i.e. the Court Fees Act, 1870 (the Court Fees Act) and Suit Valuation Act 1887 (the Suit Valuation Act), an issue is framed and evidence recorded. The court is obliged to determine and fix the correct valuation for the purposes of court fees and jurisdiction (see 1980 CLC 589) and direct the plaintiff to make good the deficiency of the court fee. The plaintiff is bound to do so and failure to so do would entail the consequences under Order VII Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC). In the event that the value of the suit so determined exceeds the pecuniary jurisdiction of the court, it (the court) shall send the matter to the District Judge for its transfer and entrustment to the court of competent jurisdiction. Secondly, in the cases where the defendant(s) is proceeded against ex-parte and there is no challenge to the valuation fixed in the plaint but where the court forms an impression that the suit is seemingly collusive and might have been filed to affect third party rights and/or is ostensibly undervalued, the Court is duty bound to determine and fix the value after holding such inquiry and collecting such material as may be deemed expedient by the court. It would then direct the plaintiff to make good the deficiency of the court fee. It may emphatically be stated that the law enjoins a duty upon the Court to settle questions about its jurisdiction, because subject to certain exceptions, any decision rendered by the court having no jurisdiction stands vitiated on that account alone. We are fortified in our view by a judgment reported as Ch. Nazir Ahmed Vs. Abdul Karim and another (PLD 1990 SC 42), the relevant portion reads as under:

“It is well settled that the Court is bound to ascertain the deficiency in the court-fee affixed on the plaint and then give time to the plaintiffs to make up the deficiency and if he complies with the order within time, the defect in the plaint is deemed to have been removed from the date it had originally filed in Court.”

Adverting now to the proposition itself, for the purposes of determining the forum of appeal the provisions of Section 18(1) of the Civil Courts Ordinance, 1962 (the Ordinance) are relevant.

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