District courts in Delhi have got greater powers now, here’s how

Parliament this week raised from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 2 crore the ceiling to which district courts in the capital can hear civil suits and proceedings.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | Published: August 7, 2015 2:47 am
Monsoon session, Parliament session, Delhi High Court (Amendment) Bill, district court jurisdiction, pecuniary jurisdiction district courts, Delhi news, India news, Judiciary and law news, latest news, top stories Lower court lawyers had been agitating for increase in pecuniary jurisdiction.

What is pecuniary jurisdiction?
It refers to the jurisdiction of a court over a civil suit, based on the value of its subject matter. Delhi’s district courts could so far try civil suits valued only up to Rs 20 lakh. Suits amounting to over Rs 20 lakh would lie before the High Court. With the passage of the Delhi High Court (Amendment), Bill 2014, district courts have jurisdiction over suits valued up to Rs 2 crore.

Which Acts have been amended to enhance the pecuniary jurisdiction?
Section 5 of the Delhi High Court Act, 1966, and Section 25 of the Punjab Courts Act, 1918, have been amended to change the original pecuniary jurisdiction of the High Court of Delhi and eleven district courts in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

How does changing the law help?
The amendment to the Delhi High Court Act, 1966, will reduce the workload and pendency of cases at the High Court. It will bring the judiciary closer to the litigant public and cut the cost of litigation, because the cost of hiring a district court lawyer is much less than that of engaging a High Court counsel.

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What happens to civil suits and proceedings valued under Rs 2 crore that are pending in the High Court?
As per information submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee by the Registrar General of the High Court, there are 12,211 such cases. They will be transferred to the concerned district courts. Eight judicial officers who are on deputation as Joint Registrar (Judicial) to the High Court will be repatriated to district courts to deal with the cases.

What is the current position on pecuniary jurisdiction related to civil ligation in the HC?
Six of the 60 judges of the High Court are entrusted with the duty to adjudicate civil suits on the original side. The original pecuniary jurisdiction of the HC was initially above Rs 25,000, which was subsequently raised to Rs 50,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 5 lakh and finally to Rs 20 lakh in 1970, 1980, 1992 and 2003 respectively.

What is the situation in other states?
The pecuniary jurisdiction of Bombay High Court was revised to Rs 1 crore in 2012; however, the court retains jurisdiction over certain matters such as those connected with Intellectual Property Rights, Letters of Patent, Parsi Marriage and Divorce, etc., even if the valuation of suits is less than Rs 1 crore. The jurisdiction of Calcutta High Court was revised in 2013 to Rs 1 crore from Rs 10 lakh; however, the HC has concurrent jurisdiction with Kolkata city civil courts on civil suits whose valuation exceeds Rs 10 lakh but is under Rs 1 crore. The pecuniary jurisdiction of Madras High Court was enhanced to Rs 25 lakh in 2010.

How many High Courts have original civil jurisdiction?
Only four out of the 24 HCs in the country: the HCs of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Delhi. In these four cities, a ceiling has been placed on the pecuniary jurisdiction of the district courts. The origin of the original civil jurisdiction goes back to 1908, and Section 6 of Code of Civil Procedure. One of the arguments presented to the Parliamentary Standing Committee by the district courts bar association was that while NCR towns like Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad have unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction, Delhi, even with higher circle rates, has a limit of Rs 20 lakh.

What did the Standing Committee say?
It agreed: “It is high time for the government to realise that the legacy of original jurisdiction of Chartered High Courts of colonial era needs a review… all the City Civil Courts in the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi need to be given unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction.” In its recommendations, the Committee said that since 2003, the circle rate of property had been enhanced “several times”, and the enhancement of pecuniary jurisdiction of both the High Court and district courts was “overdue in view of devaluation of currency”. It observed that there would be no additional burden on account of court fees on the parties, nor would the government lose revenue as a result.

Why is the Delhi High Court Bar Association opposing the move?
It argues that the Commercial Division of High Court Bill, 2009, if passed by Parliament, will provide original jurisdiction to every High Court to hear commercial cases valued at more than Rs 1 crore. To give away the original side of Delhi High Court to the District and Civil Courts under the garb of enhancement of jurisdiction will be antithetical to the proposed law.

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