14 Jul 2010

Effect of SLP dismissal in limine: The law revisited

The Constitution of India, vide Article 136, vests extraordinary jurisdiction in the Supreme Court. It vests with the Supreme Court the discretion to entertain an appeal against any decision or order of any court or tribunal. It thus also provides a limited relief against all such orders in respect of which no appeal has been provided. However in as much as the jurisdiction in this respect is discretion-bound, there is every change that the Court may not exercise it, thereby implying that no appeal can be preferred against such orders. This has been a cause for problem in as much as the doctrine of precedent in concerned.

Once a matter forms the subject-matter of consideration of the Supreme Court, in view of Article 141 of the Constitution, the opinion expressed by the Court forms a binding precedent and demands follow-up by all courts in the country. When it comes to filing of a petition seeking special leave to appeal in terms of Article 136 and where the Court is no inclined to grant leave, there is hardly an expression of opinion by the Supreme Court in as much as the order does not record any reason for such dismissal of petition. Such dismissals, called as in limine dismissals, whether constitute binding precedent and thus require to be followed by other courts forms the subject-matter of discussion in this post.

The law to this effect was culled out by Justice R.C. Lahoti in Kunhayammed case which forms the leading case in this regard. In a recent decision the Supreme Court revisited the law on this issue and explained the effect of an in limine dismissal of the SLP, while also discussing the relationship in respect of the doctrine of merger in the following terms;
7. The questions do arise as to whether such an order of withdrawal passed by this Court amounts to confirmation/approval of the judgment and order of the High Court and as to whether appellant could be treated differently. 
8. There is no dispute to the settled proposition of law that dismissal of the Special Leave Petition in limine by this Court does not mean that the reasoning of the judgment of the High Court against which the Special Leave Petition has been filed before this Court stands affirmed or the judgment and order impugned merges with such order of this Court on dismissal of the petition. It simply means that this Court did not consider the case worth examining for the reason, which may be other than merit of the case. Nor such an order of this Court operates as res judicata. An order rejecting the Special Leave Petition at the threshold without detailed reasons therefore does not constitute any declaration of law or a binding precedent. [Vide The Workmen of Cochin Port Trust Vs. The Board of Trustees of the Cochin Port Trust & Anr. AIR 1978 SC 1283; Ahmedabad Manufacturing & Calico Printing Co. Ltd. Vs. The Workmen & Anr. AIR 1981 SC 960; Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. Vs. State of Bihar & Ors. AIR 1986 SC 1780; Supreme Court Employees’ Welfare Association Vs. Union of India & Ors. AIR 1990 SC 334; Yogendra Narayan Chowdhury & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors. AIR 1996 SC 751; Union of India & Anr. Vs. Sher Singh & Ors. AIR 1997 SC 1796; V.M. Salgaocar & Bros. (P) Ltd. Vs. Commissioner of Income Tax AIR 2000 SC 1623; Saurashtra Oil Mills Assn., Gujrat Vs. State of Gujrat & Anr. AIR 2002 SC 1130; Union of India & Ors. Vs. Jaipal Singh (2004) 1 SCC 121; and Y. Satyanarayan Reddy Vs. Mandal Revenue Officer, Andhra Pradesh (2009) 9 SCC 447].
9. In State of Maharashtra Vs. Digambar AIR 1995 SC 1991, this Court considered a case wherein against the judgment and order of the High Court, special leave petition was not filed but when other matters were disposed of by the High Court in terms of its earlier judgment, the Authorities approached this Court challenging the correctness of the same. It was submitted in that case that if the State Authorities had accepted the earlier judgment and given effect to it, it was not permissible for the Authority to challenge the subsequent judgments/orders passed in terms of the earlier judgment which had attained finality. This Court repealed the contention observing that the circumstances for non-filing the appeals in some other or similar matters or rejection of the SLP against such Judgment in limine by this Court, in some other similar matters by itself, would not preclude the State Authorities to challenge the other orders for the reason that non-filing of such SLP and pursuing them may seriously jeopardize the interest of the State or public interest.
10. In Kunhayammed & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr. AIR 2000 SC 2587, this Court reconsidered the issue and some of the above referred judgments and came to the conclusion that dismissal of special leave petition in limine by a non-speaking order may not be a bar for further reconsideration of the case for the reason that this Court might not have been inclined to exercise its discretion under Article 136 of the Constitution. The declaration of law will be governed by Article 141 where the matter has been decided on merit by a speaking judgment as in that case doctrine of merger would come into play. This Court laid down the following principles:-
“(i) Where an appeal or revision is provided against an order passed by a court, tribunal or any other authority before superior forum and such superior forum modifies, reverses or affirms the decision put in issue before it, the decision by the subordinate forum merges in the decision by the superior forum and it is the latter which subsists, remains operative and is capable of enforcement in the eye of law.
(ii) The jurisdiction conferred by Article 136 of the Constitution is divisible into two stages. The first stage is upto the disposal of prayer for special leave to file an appeal. The second stage commences if and when the leave to appeal is granted and the special leave petition is converted into an appeal.
(iii) Doctrine of merger is not a doctrine of universal or unlimited application. It will depend on the nature of jurisdiction exercised by the superior forum and the content or subject-matter of challenge laid or capable of being laid shall be determinative of the applicability of merger. The superior jurisdiction should be capable of reversing, modifying or affirming the order put in issue before it. Under Article 136 of the Constitution the Supreme Court may reverse, modify or affirm the judgment-decree or order appealed against while exercising its appellate jurisdiction and not while exercising the discretionary jurisdiction disposing of petition for special leave to appeal. The doctrine of merger can therefore be applied to the former and not to the latter.
(iv) An order refusing special leave to appeal may be a non-speaking order or a speaking one. In either case it does not attract the doctrine of merger. An order refusing special leave to appeal does not stand substituted in place of the order under challenge. All that it means is that the Court was not inclined to exercise its discretion so as to allow the appeal being filed.
(v) If the order refusing leave to appeal is a speaking order, i.e., gives reasons for refusing the grant of leave, then the order has two implications. Firstly, the statement of law contained in the order is a declaration of law by the Supreme Court within the meaning of Article 141 of the Constitution. Secondly, other than the declaration of law, whatever is stated in the order are the findings recorded by the Supreme Court which would bind the parties thereto and also the court, tribunal or authority in any proceedings subsequent thereto by way of judicial discipline, the Supreme Court being the Apex Court of the country. But, this does not amount to saying that the order of the court, tribunal or authority below has stood merged in the order of the Supreme Court rejecting the special leave petition or that the order of the Supreme Court is the only order binding as res judicata in subsequent proceedings between the parties.”
11. The Court came to the conclusion that where the matter has been decided by a non-speaking order in limine the party may approach the Court for reconsideration of the case in exceptional circumstances. 

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