Saturday, 14 October 2017

Whether exparte decree passed against minor can be set aside if he was represented by guardian?

The benefit of Sec. 6, in the normal circumstances, will apply only for filing of a suit or for the purpose of filing an application for execution. It cannot be extended to an application to set aside an ex parte decree when the minor is represented by the guardian. Even, in the case on hand, the applications are filed by the 1st respondent on behalf of the 2nd respondent, the minor. Order XXXII Rule 3A of the Code of Civil Procedure which was inserted by the 1976th amendment reads as under:

"3-A. Decree against minor not to be set aside unless prejudice has been caused to his interests.-(1) No decree passed against minor shall be set aside merely on the ground that the next friend or guardian for the suit of the minor had an interest in the subject matter of the suit adverse to that of the minor, but the fact that by reason of such adverse interest of the next friend or guardian for the suit, prejudice has been caused to the interests of the minor, shall be ground for setting aside the decree.

(2) Nothing in this rule shall preclude the minor from obtaining any relief available under any law by reason of the misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the next friend or guardian for the suit resulting in prejudice to the interest of the minor."

15. The above provision clearly indicates that a decree passed against the minor shall not be set aside merely on the reason that next friend or guardian for the suit of minor had an interest in the subject matter of the suit adverse to that of the minor. It is further to be proved that such adverse interest has caused prejudice to the interest of the minor.


IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM

OP (FC) No. 540 of 2016 (R)

Decided On: 31.03.2017

Abdul Salam Vs. Chalil Sajitha and Ors.

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
A.M. Shaffique and K. Ramakrishnan, JJ.

Citation: AIR 2017 Kerala 151


1. This original petition is filed challenging the common order dated 05/08/2016 in I.A. Nos. 979/15 and 979(A)/2015 in O.P. No. 403/2004 of the Family Court, Malappuram, by which the ex parte decree was set aside after condoning delay of 3690 days. The petitioner in O.P. No. 403/2004 of the Family Court, who is the respondent in the applications is the petitioner herein. The parties are referred to as shown in the present original petition.

2. O.P. No. 403/2004 was filed by the petitioner for a declaration that the marriage between the petitioner and the 1st respondent is null and void. He also sought for a declaration that he was not the father of the child Fathima Noora, who is the 2nd respondent herein. An ex parte decree came to be passed on 13/05/2005, since the respondents having filed their objection did not appear thereafter.

3. Later, applications were filed to set aside the ex parte decree and condone the delay of 10 years and 45 days. The Family Court allowed the applications, which are impugned in the original petition.

4. The short facts involved in the original petition would reveal that the petitioner married the 1st respondent on 01/11/1998. They lived together till 07/11/1998. According to the petitioner, the 1st respondent did not allow the petitioner to have physical relationship with her and she avoided sexual relationship alleging that she is undergoing menstrual period. When the petitioner insisted for the same on the sixth day of the marriage, the 1st respondent told him that she had physical relationship with someone else prior to the marriage and that she was pregnant in the said relationship The petitioner took the respondent to her house on the next day itself. According to him, there was no consummation of marriage between them. The 1st respondent delivered a fully grown child after 242 days of the marriage. So it was clear that the 1st respondent was pregnant at the time of marriage and she had suppressed it to the petitioner. She filed M.C. No. 95/2000 for claiming maintenance. The petitioner contended that he is not the father of the 2nd respondent. Parties had undergone DNA test. The said report revealed that the petitioner is not the father of the 2nd respondent. Ext. P4 is the DNA report. Maintenance was allowed by the Family Court in regard to the 1st respondent. Maintenance was denied to the 2nd respondent. Both parties approached this Court. Revision petition filed by the respondent was allowed and the revision petition filed by the petitioner was dismissed. Though the matter was taken up before the Apex court, it was dismissed. Therefore the petitioner became liable to pay maintenance to both the respondents. Thereafter he filed O.P. 403/2004 seeking for a declaration that there was no consummation of marriage and the marriage is null and void. It is based on the evidence adduced in the matter that the Family Court was pleased to allow O.P. No. 403/2004 by order dated 13/05/2005.

5. In the application to condone the delay and set aside the ex parte decree, it was contended that they received a notice from the Family Court in M.C. No. 513/2014 filed by the petitioner seeking cancellation of the order of maintenance. According to them, they were not aware of the ex parte order in M.C. No. 403/2004 and came to know about it only when they received notice in M.C. No. 513/2014. The petitioner filed objections to I.A. No. 979/2015 denying the allegations. It is contended that there is no explanation for the delay of 10 years and 40 days.

6. The Court below, while considering the question whether there was sufficient reason for condoning the delay and to set aside the ex parte decree, observed that there is material to indicate that the 1st respondent was aware of the ex parte order on 29/03/2012 when she filed Crl. M.P. No. 1267/2011. But, in regard to the 2nd petitioner, it was noticed that she was a minor at the time when O.P. No. 403/2004 was filed and she still remains to be a minor. It is observed that the period of limitation for filing an application to set aside the ex parte decree has not started to run against the 2nd respondent herein since she remains to be a minor. Therefore, the Family Court observed that the application is not time barred and the absence of showing sufficient cause by the 1st respondent is not of much consequence. It was further observed that the mother was not appointed as guardian of the minor at any point of time and no steps were taken for appointing her as guardian. Even after the order of ex parte, none was appointed as guardian of the 2nd respondent and in the said circumstances, it is necessary that the applications are to be allowed.

7. Learned counsel for the petitioner places strong reliance on the test report, Ext. P4, which is a DNA profile report. It is argued that, when there is a clear finding that the petitioner is not the biological father, there is no reason why the matter should be re-agitated again in the same proceedings. It is also contended that such a gross delay in filing the application to set aside the ex parte decree could not have been entertained merely for the reason that one of the applicants is a minor. When the Family Court had come to the conclusion that the mother had knowledge about the decree, apparently, the minor also has knowledge about the same. When the mother has not taken any steps to set aside the ex parte decree, why should such a benefit be granted to the minor. Further, it is contended that the minor was represented by guardian and they have appeared before Court, filed their objections and later did not prosecute the matter.

8. After having heard the learned counsel on either side and after having perused the records, the short question to be considered is whether there is any reason to interfere with the impugned order passed by the Court below in a petition under Article 227 of the Constitution of India.

9. Learned counsel for the petitioner submits that the Apex court in Nandlal Wasudeo v. Lata Nandlal Badwaik and Another [MANU/SC/0006/2014 : 2014 (1) GLH 203] held that the result of a genuine DNA test is said to be scientifically accurate. Sec. 112 of the Evidence Act was enacted at a time when the modern scientific advancements with DNA as well as RNA tests were not even in contemplation of the legislature. It was held that the husband's plea that he had no access to the wife when the child was begotten stands proved by the DNA report and in the face of it, the Court cannot compel the husband to bear the fatherhood of a child, when the scientific reports prove to the contrary. The Apex Court further held that "We are conscious that an innocent child may not be bastardized as the marriage between her father and mother was subsisting at the time of her birth, but in view of the DNA test report and what we have observed above, we cannot forestall the consequence. It is denying the truth. Truth must triumph is the hallmark of justice."

10. On the other hand, learned counsel for the respondents, while supporting the view taken by the Family Court, contended that the respondents should be given an opportunity to prove their contentions with reference to the allegations made. Reliance on Ext. P4, the DNA report will not suffice. A presumption could be raised under Section 112 of the Evidence Act, 1872. Even inter parties there is a judgment directing the petitioner to give maintenance to the wife and child despite the existence of the DNA report. Reliance is placed on the judgment in Sajitha v. State of Kerala [MANU/KE/0451/2002 : 2002 (3) KLT 762].

11. Before proceeding further, since the parties have argued on the merits of the DNA test, and the learned counsel has relied upon the judgment in Sajitha (supra), it is worthwhile to consider the correctness of the said judgment. In that case a learned single Judge of this Court held that the DNA test conducted in the case excluding the husband from possible paternity is of no consequence in view of conclusive presumption available under Section 112 of the Evidence Act, which is not displaced by husband by proving non-access. However it was observed that proceeding under Section 125 Cr.P.C. being of a summary in nature, it will not operate as decisive in any civil proceedings between the parties regarding the paternity of the child. The legal principles underlying section 112 of the Evidence Act has changed considerably in view of the law laid down by the Apex Court in Nandlal Wasudeo (supra) and therefore it is no longer good law.

12. At any rate, it has to be considered whether there is justification on the part of the Family Court to have condoned the delay of 3690 days. Apparently, when the parties have appeared and filed their objections, they were aware of a possible decree being passed and if at all an ex parte decree had to be set aside, application could have been filed within a reasonable time. When the parties have appeared in the case through Counsel and filed their objections, it cannot be stated that they were unaware of the proceedings. Therefore, it has to be presumed that there is knowledge about the decree passed and the contrary contentions urged is not believable and cannot be accepted by a Court of law.

13. Then the only question to be considered is whether the bar of limitation will apply to a minor. Law of limitation applies to a minor as well unless a specific provision is available under the Limitation Act, prescribing any exemption as far as a minor is concerned. Section 6 of the Limitation Act, contemplates that where a person entitled to institute a suit or make an application for the execution of the decree is, at the time from which the prescribed period is to be reckoned, a minor, insane, or an idiot, he may institute the suit or make the application within the same period after the disability has ceased, as would otherwise have been allowed from the time specified for the same in the third column of the Schedule. It is held in M.P. Steel Corpn. v. CCE, [MANU/SC/0484/2015 : (2015) 7 SCC 58] that Sec. 6 of the Limitation Act, 1963 is a pointer to the fact that courts always lean in favour of advancing the cause of justice where a clear case is made out for so doing.

14. In the objection filed to O.P. No. 403/2004, the 1st respondent had signed on behalf of the minor as guardian. Sec. 6(1) and the explanation of the Limitation Act reads as under:

"6. Legal disability - (1) Where a person entitled to institute a suit or make an application for the execution of a decree is, at the time from which the prescribed period is to be reckoned, a minor or insane, or an idiot, he may institute the suit or make the application within the same period after the disability has ceases, as would otherwise have been allowed from the time specified therefor in the third column of the Schedule."

"Explanation - For the purposes of this section 'minor' includes a child in the womb."

The benefit of Sec. 6, in the normal circumstances, will apply only for filing of a suit or for the purpose of filing an application for execution. It cannot be extended to an application to set aside an ex parte decree when the minor is represented by the guardian. Even, in the case on hand, the applications are filed by the 1st respondent on behalf of the 2nd respondent, the minor. Order XXXII Rule 3A of the Code of Civil Procedure which was inserted by the 1976th amendment reads as under:

"3-A. Decree against minor not to be set aside unless prejudice has been caused to his interests.-(1) No decree passed against minor shall be set aside merely on the ground that the next friend or guardian for the suit of the minor had an interest in the subject matter of the suit adverse to that of the minor, but the fact that by reason of such adverse interest of the next friend or guardian for the suit, prejudice has been caused to the interests of the minor, shall be ground for setting aside the decree.

(2) Nothing in this rule shall preclude the minor from obtaining any relief available under any law by reason of the misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the next friend or guardian for the suit resulting in prejudice to the interest of the minor."

15. The above provision clearly indicates that a decree passed against the minor shall not be set aside merely on the reason that next friend or guardian for the suit of minor had an interest in the subject matter of the suit adverse to that of the minor. It is further to be proved that such adverse interest has caused prejudice to the interest of the minor.

16. Order XXXII relates to suits by or against minors and persons of unsound mind. Rule 1 indicates that every suit by a minor shall be instituted by a person who in such suit shall be called the next friend of the minor. Where the defendant is a minor, the position is controlled by Rule 3 of Order XXXII in which event the Court, on being satisfied of the fact of his minority shall appoint a proper person to be guardian for the suit for such minor. Appointment of guardian for a suit shall be obtained upon application in the name and on behalf of the minor or by the plaintiff. If a person is appointed as guardian for the suit for a minor, he/she shall continue as such throughout the proceedings arising out of the suit. The question is whether, if a guardian is not appointed in terms of Order XXXII Rule 3, the decree is binding on the minor or not.

17. In a case where there is no representation on behalf of the minor and without the court appointing a guardian, it has been held that the decree so passed amounts to a nullity. But in a case where the minor is substantially represented by mother, it has been held by the Privy Council in Walien v. Banke Behari [(1903) ILR 30 Cal 1021], that the Court in which the former suit was instituted had by its action given sanction to the appearance of the mother as a Guardian ad litem, and that, the absence of a formal order of appointment was not fatal to the suit, unless it was shown that the defect in procedure has prejudiced the minor. This judgment had been followed in Saradamane v. Rajendran (MANU/TN/0244/1981 : AIR 1981 Madras 217). In Tirumalacharyalu alias Ramanuj acharyulu & Ors. v. Ammisetti Venkiah [MANU/TN/0901/1924 : AIR 1924 Madras 763] Wallace, J held as follows: "No irregularity by way of omission to send notice as required by O. 32 r. 3, shall operate to render void the presumed representation of the minors in a suit, unless such an omission has in fact prejudiced their defence, and such prejudice is not a matter of an assumption or presumption but of proof."

18. In Rangamnip v. Appasami (MANU/TN/0227/1973 : AIR 1973 Madras 12), it is held that where the natural father of the minor has represented the minor and participated in the suit, absence of a formal order of appointing him as a Guardian ad litem does not vitiate the decree.

19. However the position may be different in a case where the fraud or negligence is alleged against the guardian. What amounts to negligence must depend on the facts of each case. What has to be considered is whether by reason of the conduct of the guardian the minor has been prejudiced and lost a valuable right. It was held by this court in Gangadharan v. Narayanan (MANU/KE/0058/1959 : AIR 1959 Kerala 169), that the mere fact that the guardian remained ex parte is not sufficient to establish negligence. It must further be shown that there was a real defence to the action. Once it is held that the minor was represented by the Guardian/mother and had become ex parte, and it is found that there is negligence on the part of the mother in prosecuting the case, the question is whether such a decree against the minor requires to be set aside. As already indicated, Order XXXII Rule 3A clearly indicates that no decree passed against a minor shall be set aside merely on the ground that the Guardian had an interest in the subject matter of the suit whereas it has to be shown that prejudice has been caused to the interest of the minor. Though in the case on hand, guardian ad litem has not been appointed by the Court, the mother represented the minor and had appeared, contested and filed objection on her behalf and on behalf of the minor, opposing the claim of the petitioner in the case. She had no interest adverse to that of the minor. But she did not prosecute the case and remained ex parte. She did not take any steps to set aside the ex parte decree on behalf of the minor within a reasonable period. Materials placed on record would show that the petitioner does not have a valid defence in that case especially in the light of the DNA report. What purpose will be served in reopening the matter is also not explained. Under such circumstances, we are of the view that condoning the delay of such a long period and setting aside the ex parte decree was unwarranted.

20. No doubt, the minor after attaining majority, and if she is still aggrieved, can take appropriate steps in the matter to challenge the decree, and this judgment shall not preclude the minor from taking such action.



With the above observation, the original petition is allowed and the impugned order Ext. P1 is set aside.

18. In Rangamnip v. Appasami (MANU/TN/0227/1973 : AIR 1973 Madras 12), it is held that where the natural father of the minor has represented the minor and participated in the suit, absence of a formal order of appointing him as a Guardian ad litem does not vitiate the decree.

19. However the position may be different in a case where the fraud or negligence is alleged against the guardian. What amounts to negligence must depend on the facts of each case. What has to be considered is whether by reason of the conduct of the guardian the minor has been prejudiced and lost a valuable right. It was held by this court in Gangadharan v. Narayanan (MANU/KE/0058/1959 : AIR 1959 Kerala 169), that the mere fact that the guardian remained ex parte is not sufficient to establish negligence. It must further be shown that there was a real defence to the action. Once it is held that the minor was represented by the Guardian/mother and had become ex parte, and it is found that there is negligence on the part of the mother in prosecuting the case, the question is whether such a decree against the minor requires to be set aside. As already indicated, Order XXXII Rule 3A clearly indicates that no decree passed against a minor shall be set aside merely on the ground that the Guardian had an interest in the subject matter of the suit whereas it has to be shown that prejudice has been caused to the interest of the minor. Though in the case on hand, guardian ad litem has not been appointed by the Court, the mother represented the minor and had appeared, contested and filed objection on her behalf and on behalf of the minor, opposing the claim of the petitioner in the case. She had no interest adverse to that of the minor. But she did not prosecute the case and remained ex parte. She did not take any steps to set aside the ex parte decree on behalf of the minor within a reasonable period. Materials placed on record would show that the petitioner does not have a valid defence in that case especially in the light of the DNA report. What purpose will be served in reopening the matter is also not explained. Under such circumstances, we are of the view that condoning the delay of such a long period and setting aside the ex parte decree was unwarranted.


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