2 Apr 2010

One much approach the Court with clean hands: Supreme Court

A well known maxim, having its origin in equity courts, comes to test the quality of litigants each time they pray for a particular relief in common law courts. The notion that one must approach the court with clean hands has been so indoctrinated in the common law system that all courts, right from the trial court upto the Supreme Court, are loath to entertain a vexatious claim before it. The latest pointer to this regard is a recent decision of the Supreme Court which reaffirms this time tested principle of civil litigation. 

In a recently pronounced decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the principle in the following terms;
14. It is quite intriguing and surprising that the lease agreement was not brought to the notice of the Additional Commissioner and the learned Single Judge of the High Court and neither of them was apprised of the fact that the appellant had taken 27.95 acres land on lease from the Government by unequivocally conceding that it had purchased excess land in violation of Section 154(1) of the Act and the same vested in the State Government. In the list of dates and the memo of special leave petition filed in this Court also there is no mention of lease agreement dated 15.10.1994. This shows that the appellant has not approached the Court with clean hands. The withholding of the lease agreement from the Additional Commissioner, the High Court and this Court appears to be a part of the strategy adopted by the appellant to keep the quasi-judicial and judicial forums including this Court in dark about the nature of its possession over the excess land and make them believe that it has been subjected to unfair treatment. If the factum of execution of lease agreement and its contents were disclosed to the Additional Commissioner, he would have definitely incorporated the same in order dated 30.5.2001. In that event, the High Court or for that reason this Court would have non suited the appellant at the threshold. However, by concealing a material fact, the appellant succeeded in persuading the High Court and this Court to entertain adventurous litigation instituted by it and pass interim orders. If either of the courts had been apprised of the fact that by virtue of lease deed dated 15.10.1994, the appellant has succeeded in securing temporary legitimacy for its possession over excess land, then there would have been no occasion for the High Court or this Court to entertain the writ petition or the special leave petition.
15. It is settled law that a person who approaches the Court for grant of relief, equitable or otherwise, is under a solemn obligation to candidly disclose all the material/important facts which have bearing on the adjudication of the issues raised in the case. In other words, he owes a duty to the court to bring out all the facts and refrain from concealing/suppressing any material fact within his knowledge or which he could have known by exercising diligence expected of a person of ordinary prudence. If he is found guilty of concealment of material facts or making an attempt to pollute the pure stream of justice, the court not only has the right but a duty to deny relief to such person. In one of the earliest decisions on the subject i.e., - R. v. Kensington Income Tax Commissioner (1917) 1 KB 486, Viscount Reading, Chief Justice of the Divisional Court observed: 
“Where an ex parte application has been made to this Court for a rule nisi or other process, if the Court comes to the conclusion that the affidavit in support of the applicant was not candid and did not fairly state the facts, the Court ought, for its own protection and to prevent an abuse of its process, to refuse to proceed any further with the examination of the merits. This is a power inherent in the Court, but one which should only be used in cases which bring conviction to the mind of the Court that it has been deceived. Before coming to this conclusion a careful examination will be made of the facts as they are and as they have been stated in the applicant’s affidavit, and everything will be heard that can be urged to influence the view of the Court when it reads the affidavit and knows the true facts. But if the result of this examination and hearing is to leave no doubt that this Court has been deceived, then it will refuse to hear anything further from the applicant in a proceeding which has only been set in motion by means of a misleading affidavit.”
16. The above extracted observations were approved by the Court of Appeal in the following words: “It is the duty of a party asking for an injunction to bring under the notice of the Court all facts material to the determination of his right to that injunction: and it is no excuse for him to say that he was not aware of the importance of any facts which he has omitted to bring forward. If an applicant does not act with uberrima fides and put every material fact before the Court it will not grant him an injunction, even though there might be facts upon which the injunction might be granted.” His Lordship rightly pronounced: “The Court, for its own protection, is entitled to say: We refuse this writ… without going into the merits of the case on the ground of the conduct of the applicant in bringing the case before us.” Warrington, L.J. was also of the same opinion. In a concurring judgment His Lordship observed: “It is perfectly well settled that a person who makes an ex parte application to the Court – that is to say, in absence of the person who will be affected by that which the Court is asked to do – is under an obligation to the Court to make the fullest possible disclosure of all material facts within his knowledge, and if he does not make that fullest possible disclosure, then he cannot obtain any advantage from the proceedings, and he will be deprived of any advantage he may have already obtained by means of the order which has thus wrongly been obtained by him.”
17. This Court and different High Courts have repeatedly invoked and applied the rule that a person who does not disclose all material facts has no right to be heard on the merits of his grievance – State of Haryana v. Karnal Distillery Co. Ltd. (1977) 2 SCC 431, Vijay Kumar Kathuria v. State of Haryana (1983) 3 SCC 333, Welcome Hotel and others v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others etc. (1983) 4 SCC 575, G. Narayanaswamy Reddy (dead) by LRs. and another v. Government of Karnataka and another (1991) 3 SCC 261, S.P. Chengalvaraya Naidu (dead) by L.Rs. v. Jagannath (dead) by LRs. and others (1994) 1 SCC 1, Agricultural and Processed Food Products v. Oswal Agro Furane and others (1996) 4 SCC 297, Union of India and others v. Muneesh Suneja (2001) 3 SCC 92, Prestige Lights Ltd. v. State Bank of India (2007) 8 SCC 449, Sunil Poddar and others v. Union Bank of India (2008) 2 SCC 326, K.D. Sharma v. Steel Authority of India Ltd. and others (2008) 12 SCC 481, G. Jayshree and others v. Bhagwandas S. Patel and others (2009) 3 SCC 141 and C.A. No. 5239/2002 – Dalip Singh v. State of U.P. and others, decided on 3.12.2009.
18. In Hari Narain v. Badri Das AIR 1963 S.C. 1558, this Court revoked the leave granted to the appellant by making following observations: “It is of utmost importance that in making material statements and setting forth grounds in applications for special leave made under Article 136 of the Constitution, care must be taken not to make any statements which are inaccurate, untrue and misleading. In dealing with applications for special leave, the Court naturally takes statements of fact and grounds of fact contained in the petitions at their face value and it would be unfair to betray the confidence of the Court by making statements which are untrue and misleading. Thus, if at the hearing of the appeal the Supreme Court is satisfied that the material statements made by the appellant in his application for special leave are inaccurate and misleading, and the respondent is entitled to contend that the appellant may have obtained special leave from the Supreme Court on the strength of what he characterizes as misrepresentations of facts contained in the petition for special leave, the Supreme Court may come to the conclusion that in such a case special leave granted to the appellant ought to be revoked.”
19. In Dalip Singh’s case, the appellant’s grievance was that before finalizing the case under the U.P. Imposition of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1960, the prescribed authority did not give notice to the tenure holder Shri Praveen Singh (predecessor of the appellant). On a scrutiny of the records, this Court found that the prescribed authority had issued notice to Shri Praveen Singh, which was duly served upon him and held that the appellant is not entitled to relief because he did not approach the High Court with clean hands inasmuch as he made a misleading statement in the writ petition giving an impression that the tenure holder did not know of the proceedings initiated by the prescribed authority. The preface and para 21 of that judgment read as under:  
“For many centuries, Indian society cherished two basic values of life i.e., `Satya’ (truth) and `Ahimsa’ (non-violence). Mahavir, Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi guided the people to ingrain these values in their daily life. Truth constituted an integral part of justice delivery system which was in vogue in pre-independence era and the people used to feel proud to tell truth in the courts irrespective of the consequences. However, post-independence period has seen drastic changes in our value system. The materialism has over-shadowed the old ethos and the quest for personal gain has become so intense that those involved in litigation do not hesitate to take shelter of falsehood, misrepresentation and suppression of facts in the court proceedings. In last 40 years, a new creed of litigants has cropped up. Those who belong to this creed do not have any respect for truth. They shamelessly resort to falsehood and unethical means for achieving their goals. In order to meet the challenge posed by this new creed of litigants, the courts have, from time to time, evolved new rules and it is now well established that a litigant, who attempts to pollute the stream of justice or who touches the pure fountain of justice with tainted hands, is not entitled to any relief, interim or final.
21. From what we have mentioned above, it is clear that in this case efforts to mislead the authorities and the courts have transmitted through three generations and the conduct of the appellant and his son to mislead the High Court and this Court cannot, but be treated as reprehensible. They belong to the category of persons who not only attempt, but succeed in polluting the course of justice. Therefore, we do not find any justification to interfere with the order under challenge or entertain the appellant’s prayer for setting aside the orders passed by the Prescribed Authority and the Appellate Authority.”
Have a look at the decision.


Post-Script Rejoinder

After having written this post, we came across a later decision of the Supreme Court in Ramjas Foundation v. Union of India wherein similar ideals have been discussed. Towards maintaining continuity and for the benefit of our readers, we are updating this post with the later decision. Therein the Supreme Court has inter alia observed as under;
14. The principle that a person who does not come to the Court with clean hands is not entitled to be heard on the merits of his grievance and, in any case, such person is not entitled to any relief is applicable not only to the petitions filed under Articles 32, 226 and 136 of the Constitution but also to the cases instituted in others courts and judicial forums. The object underlying the principle is that every Court is not only entitled but is duty bound to protect itself from unscrupulous litigants who do not have any respect for truth and who try to pollute the stream of justice by resorting to falsehood or by making misstatement or by suppressing facts which have bearing on adjudication of the issue(s) arising in the case. In Dalglish v. Jarvie 2 Mac. & G. 231, 238, Lord Langdale and Rolfe B. observed:
“It is the duty of a party asking for an injunction to bring under the notice of the Court all facts material to the determination of his right to that injunction; and it is no excuse for him to say that he was not aware of the importance of any fact which he has omitted to bring forward.
In Castelli v. Cook (1849) 7 Hare, 89, 94 Wigram V.C. stated the rule in the following words:
“A plaintiff applying ex parte comes under a contract with the Court that he will state the whole case fully and fairly to the Court. If he fails to do that, and the Court finds, when other party applies to dissolve the injunction, that any material fact has been suppressed or not property brought forward, the plaintiff is told the Court will not decide on the merits, and that, as he has broken faith with the Court, the injunction must go.”
In Republic of Peru v. Dreyfus Brothers & Company 55 L.T. 802, 803, Kay J. held as under:
“I have always maintained, and I think it most important to maintain most strictly, the rule that, in ex parte applications to this Court, the utmost good faith must be observed. If there is an important misstatement, speaking for myself, I have never hesitated, and never shall hesitate until the rule is altered, to discharge the order at once, so as to impress upon all persons who are suitors in this Court the importance of dealing in good faith in the Court when ex parte applications are made.”
The same rule was restated by Scrutton L., J in R. v. Kensington Income Tax Commissioner (1917) 1 K.B. 486. The facts of that case were that in April, 1916, the General Commissioners for the Purposes of the Income Tax Acts for the district of Kensington made an additional assessment upon the applicant for the year ending April 5, 1913, in respect of profits arising from foreign possessions. On May 16, 1916, the applicant obtained a rule nisi directed to the Commissioners calling upon them to show cause why a writ of prohibition should not be awarded to prohibit them from proceeding upon the assessment upon the ground that the applicant was not a subject of the King nor resident within the United Kingdom and had not been in the United Kingdom, except for temporary purposes, nor with any view or intent of establishing her residence therein, nor for a period equal to six months in any one year. In the affidavit on which the rule was obtained the applicant stated that she was a French subject and resident in France and was not and had not been a subject of the United Kingdom nor a resident in the United Kingdom; that during the year ending April 5, 1913, she was in the United Kingdom for temporary purposes on visits for sixty-eight days; that she spent about twenty of these days in London at her brother’s house, 213, King’s Road, Chelsea, generally in company with other guests of her brother; that she was also in the United Kingdom during the year ending April 5, 1914, for temporary purposes on visits, and spent part of the time at 213, King’s Road aforesaid; and that since the month of November, 1914, she had not been in the United Kingdom. From the affidavits filed on behalf of the Commissioners and of the surveyor of taxes, who showed cause against the rule nisi, and from the affidavit of the applicant in reply, it appeared that in February, 1909, a leasehold house, 213, King’s Road, Chelsea, had been taken in the name of the applicant’s brother. The purchase-money for the lease of the house and the furniture amounted to 4000l., and this was paid by the applicant out of her own money. The accounts of household expenses were paid by the brother and subsequently adjusted between him and the applicant. The Divisional Court without dealing with the merits of the case discharged the rule on the ground that the applicant had suppressed or misrepresented the facts material to her application. The Divisional Court observed that the Court, for its own protection is entitled to say “we refuse this writ of prohibition without going into the merits of the case on the ground of the conduct of the applicant in bringing the case before us”. On appeal, Lord Cozens-Hardy M.R. and Warrington L.J. approved the view taken by the Divisional Court. Scrutton L.,J. who agreed that the appeal should be dismissed observed: 
“and it has been for many years the rule of the Court, and one which it is of the greatest importance to maintain, that when an applicant comes to the Court to obtain relief on an ex parte statement he should make a full and fair disclosure of all the material facts – facts, not law. He must not misstate the law if he can help it – the court is supposed to know the law. But it knows nothing about the facts, and the applicant must state fully and fairly the facts, and the penalty by which the Court enforces that obligation is that if it finds out that the facts have not been fully and fairly stated to it, the Court will set aside any action which it has taken on the faith of the imperfect statement.”
15. The above noted rules have been applied by this Court in large number of cases for declining relief to a party whose conduct is blameworthy and who has not approached the Court with clean hands – Hari Narain v. Badri Das AIR 1963 SC 1558, Welcome Hotel v. State of A.P. (1983) 4 SCC 575, G. Narayanaswamy Reddy v. Government of Karnataka (1991) 3 SCC 261, S.P. Chengalvaraya Naidu v. Jagannath (1994) 1 SCC 1, A.V. Papayya Sastry v. Government of A.P. (2007) 4 SCC 221, Prestige Lights Limited v. SBI (2007) 8 SCC 449, Sunil Poddar v. Union Bank of India (2008) 2 SCC 326, K.D. Sharma v. SAIL (2008) 12 SCC 481, G. Jayashree v. Bhagwandas S. Patel (2009) 3 SCC 141 and Dalip Singh v. State of U.P. (2010) 2 SCC 114. In the last mentioned judgment, the Court lamented on the increase in the number of cases in which the parties have tried to misuse the process of Court by making false and/or misleading statements or by suppressing the relevant facts or by trying to mislead the Court in passing order in their favour and observed:
“For many centuries Indian society cherished two basic values of life i.e. “satya” (truth) and “ahimsa” (non-violence). Mahavir, Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi guided the people to ingrain these values in their daily life. Truth constituted an integral part of the justice-delivery system which was in vogue in the pre-Independence era and the people used to feel proud to tell truth in the courts irrespective of the consequences. However, post-Independence period has seen drastic changes in our value system. The materialism has overshadowed the old ethos and the quest for personal gain has become so intense that those involved in litigation do not hesitate to take shelter of falsehood, misrepresentation and suppression of facts in the court proceedings. In the last 40 years, a new creed of litigants has cropped up. Those who belong to this creed do not have any respect for truth. They shamelessly resort to falsehood and unethical means for achieving their goals. In order to meet the challenge posed by this new creed of litigants, the courts have, from time to time, evolved new rules and it is now well established that a litigant, who attempts to pollute the stream of justice or who touches the pure fountain of justice with tainted hands, is not entitled to any relief, interim or final.”
16. In our view, the appellants are not entitled to any relief because despite strong indictment by this Court in Ramjas Foundation v. Union of India, they deliberately refrained from mentioning details of the cases instituted by them in respect of the land situated at Sadhora Khurd and rejection of their claim for exemption under clause (d) of notification dated 13.11.1959 by the High Court and this Court.

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