Updated: Nov 22, 2021
The quintessence of any democracy lies in the system of separation of powers. It creates three branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary, and divides this power amongst them to ensure justice. Law and justice are inseparable and are the two sides of the same coin. Without law, justice cannot be guaranteed, and without justice, the law is meaningless. Therefore, to ensure justice in a democracy, special powers are accorded to each branch to keep each other in check. In the judiciary’s case, these special powers are the inherent powers of the courts that they use to ensure complete justice. But, what do inherent powers mean, and why is there a need for such powers? The Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “An authority possessed [by someone] without its being derived from another. A right, ability, or faculty of doing a thing, without receiving that right, ability, or faculty from another.” It implies something inextricable or an essential element recognized as a privilege. Moreover, this ‘privilege’ emerges from the Latin maxim Ubi jus, ibi remedium, which means to ensure a right, there must exist a remedy.
However, in this regard, the civil courts and criminal courts differ. While civil law recognizes this power and confers the same to the civil courts under Section 151 of CPC, the criminal law ensures such powers to the High courts only. This distinction has been made because, while criminal law is exhaustive, civil law is not. These powers help the courts to tackle any unfortunate situations that may occur in the future for which no remedy is available under other provisions. Furthermore, these powers cannot be used retrospectively or work in contravention to any existing provision under the CPC. The latter was upheld by the Supreme court in Ram Chand and Sons Sugar Mills v. Kanhaiyalal Bhargava.
EXERCISE OF INHERENT POWERS BY THE COURT
Though the heading of Section 151 of CPC reads as “Saving of inherent powers of the court,” these powers are not limited to one Section only. The inherent powers are hinted at in one form or the other from Section 148 to Section 153A to deal with different situations. However, looking specifically under Section 151, there exist two principles that are expected by the court to be upheld when exercising such powers. Firstly, to protect the ends of justice, and secondly, to prevent the abuse of process of the court. In Manohar Lal v. Seth Hira Lal, the court held that these powers must only be exercised under exceptional conditions to ensure justice. Moreover, such powers must not contradict the established rule of law instead aid them in providing relief. The courts use the following ways to exercise these powers:
· To Protect the ends of justice: The inherent powers under Section 151 enable the court to pass orders to prevent failure of justice. The crux of this principle is to achieve justice by granting or not granting relief in a petition. The High Court defined “ends of justice” in Debendranath v. Satya Bala Dass as “solemn words and not mere polite expression in juristic methodology, and justice is the pursuit and end of all law. But these words do not mean vague and indeterminate notions of justice according to statutes and laws of the land.” Moreover, under Section 115, a higher court can abstain from proceedings of a lower court to ensure justice even if the lower court does not have any jurisdiction to pass such an order. The discretion to interfere is with the higher court and should only be used when required. The Patna High Court upheld the same regarding the passing of injunctions in cases not included by Order 39.
· Abuse of process of the court: Another use of Section 151 is to prevent the abuse of process of the court. This principle exhibits the duality of this provision. On the one hand, the power is meant to protect the integrity of the law. On the other hand, the same power can be used by the court to provide an unfair advantage to one of the parties. This principle is based on the Latin maxim Actus Curiae Neminem Gravabit (the court shall not act prejudiced). Such abuse of power occurs when the facts of the issue are either forged or not disclosed in earnest. However, it is imperative to note that such inaccurate facts should directly impact the outcome of the case. If it gives an edge to the plaintiff, the cause will be dismissed, otherwise not.
LIMITATIONS OF THE POWER
As mentioned earlier, the inherent powers of the court can sometimes act as a double-edged sword. Therefore, it becomes crucial to limit its power and regulate it to prevent abuse of power. If not, then there would be an imbalance between the three branches. This inherent power is available to all civil courts, be it a trial judge or the Supreme Court. Section 151 merely gives recognition to this power that the court already has. This discretionary power is subjected to certain restrictions because discretion should never be arbitrary or unlimited. That is why the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts have over the years drawn certain boundaries to the use of this power. The following are the situations where inherent powers are limited to that extent:
The court can only use such powers only if there is a lack of provision relating to that particular scenario.
In exceptional cases where regular use of power is not sufficient to ensure justice.
The basic structure of the legislature is not violated.
The court does not infringe the substantive rights.
The powers are not used retrospectively.
To prevent a party from exercising their rights.
The inherent powers of the court form a crucial part of the judiciary. It enables the court to ensure justice even in the most unimaginable situations. Various judgments have only reinforced the need for such power and evolved the law to where it stands now. From Manohar Lal’s case where the Supreme Court laid down the groundwork by observing inherent powers imperative for unforeseen circumstances, to State of West Bengal v. Indra Devi in which Justice Reghubar observed “power inherent in the court under its duty.” At the same time, there have been various judgments that have regulated the use of such power. In Vinod Seth v. Devinder Baja, the Supreme Court ruled Section 151 cannot be used to create rights or liabilities not contemplated by the law. Similarly, in Abdul Rahim Attar v. Atul Ambalal Barot, the court held that if something is expressly provided for in the civil procedure code, then Section 151 cannot be used to nullify that provision or pass any order which conflicts with that provision. In another landmark judgment of K.K. Velusamy v. N. Palanisamy, the court has categorically stated that this inherent power has to be used by the courts with great care and caution. It is to be used only when it is necessary and no provision of law is available. In Lalit Kishore v. Meeru Sharma & Anr., the husband had filed an application before the family court seeking medical examination of his wife to ascertain her mental condition. However, the application was rejected by the family court. Subsequently, the case was heard by the Supreme Court. The court observed that even though there is no provision in the Hindu Marriage Act or any other law by which a party in matrimonial proceedings can be compelled to undergo a medical examination. Nevertheless, the court has complete inherent powers under Section 151 to pass such an order to ensure complete justice. The court set aside the impugned orders and allowed the applications made by the husband.
Inherent Powers under Section 151 of CPC are a crucial part of our judiciary system. It helps in maintaining a balance between the three branches of democracy by giving special powers to the judiciary. Moreover, the principle of equity is supported by ensuring no abuse of power by the courts. Meanwhile, such powers must be regulated from time to time to maintain the status quo. Exploring these legislatures shows us that there may exist some contingencies. Hence, provisions like Section 151 substantiates the point that such powers are needed for the smooth functioning of law.
Black Law Dictionary, https://thelawdictionary.org/inherent-power/ (last visited July 3, 2021).  The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, § 151, NO. 5, Acts of Parliament, 1908 (INDIA).  The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 482, NO. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (INDIA).  Ram Chand and Sons Sugar Mills v. Kanhaiyalal Bhargava, (1966) ILR 1 PUNJAB 617.  Manohar Lal v. Seth Hira Lal, AIR 1962 SC 527.  Debendranath v. Satya Bala Dass, AIR 1950 Cal 217 273.  State of West Bengal v. Indra Devi, 2006 (2) CHN 227.  Vinod Seth v. Devinder Baja, 2010 (8) SCC 1.  Abdul Rahim Attar v. Atul Ambalal Barot, AIR 2005 Bom. 120.  K.K. Velusamy v. N. Palanisamy, 2011 (11) SCC 275.  Lalit Kishore v. Meeru Sharma & Anr., 2009 (9) SCC 433.