30 Dec 2010

Discretion of Court: The concept examined

Discretion of a judge is what the swings the pendulum in favour of the right and against the wrong. It is the discretion and the reason of the person which makes him fit for public office. The ability of decide and also the power to decide are the essential ingredients of discretion vested in a judge. In a recent reported order [Harish Vithal Kulkarni v. Pradeep Mahadev Sabnis, AIR 2010 Bom 178] the then Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court Justice Swatanter Kumar (now a judge of the Supreme Court) has, sitting in a Full Bench of the High Court, explained the concept in the following terms;
19. Discretion is power of the Court or Arbitrators to decide as they may think fit. In the Second Edition of The Supreme Court on Words and Phrases [(19502008) edited by Justice R.P. Singh, Ashoka Law House, New Delhi (India)], the word “discretion” is explained as follows:“
Discretion” – Power of the court or arbitrators to decide as they think fit. The word ‘discretion’ connotes necessarily an act of a judicial character, and, as used with reference to discretion exercised judicially, it implies the absence of a hard and fast rule, and it requires an actual exercise of judgment and a consideration of the facts and circumstances which are necessary to make a sound, fair and just determination, and a knowledge of the facts upon which the discretion may properly operate. [ Corpus Juris Secundum, Vol. 27, p. 289 as referred in Aero Trader [P] Ltd. V. Ravinder Kumar Suri, [2004]8 SCC 307: [2004]6 SLT 428, SCC p. 311, para 6 : SLT at p. 430 para 6.] 
‘A discretion’, said Lord Wrenbury, ‘does not empower a man to do what he likes merely because he is minded to do so, he must in the exercise of his discretion do not what in the exercise of his discretion do not what he likes but what he ought. In other words, he must, by the use of his reason, ascertain and follow the course which reason dictates.’ [Roberts v. Hopwood 1925 AC 578 : 1925 All ER Rep 24 [HL].] This approach to construction has two consequences: the statutory discretion must be truly exercised, and when exercised it must be exercised reasonably. [Maxwell] ‘Discretion’, said Lord Mansfield in R.v. Wilkes, [1970] 4 Burr 2527 : [15581774] All ER Rep 570 :98 ER 327 [HL], ‘when applied to a court of justice, means sound discretion guided by law. It must be governed by rule, not by humour, it must not be arbitrary, vague, and fanciful, but legal and regular.’ [ See Craies on Statute Law, 6th Edn., p. 273.]
Discretion means when it is said that something is to be done within the discretion of the authorities that that something is to be done according to the rules of reason and justice, not according to private opinion : Rooe’s case [1598] 5 Co Rep 99b, 100a : 77 ER 209 according to law, and not humour. It is to be not arbitrary, vague and fanciful, but legal and regular. Lord Hulsbury, L.C. in Susannah Sharpe v. Wakefield, 1891 AC 173 : [1886 90] All ER Rep 651 [HL], at p. 179 referred to in Siben Kumar ‘Mondal v. Hindusthan Petroleum Corpn. Ltd., AIR 1995 Cal 327 [AIR at pp. 33335]. 
When anything is left to any person, Judge or Magistrate to be done according to his discretion, the law intends that it must be done with sound discretion, and according to law [Tomlin]. In its ordinary meaning, the word signifies unrestrained exercise of choice or will; freedom to act according to one’s own judgment; unrestrained exercise of will; the liberty of power of acting without other control than one’s own judgment. But, when applied to public functionaries, it means a power or right conferred upon them by law, of acting officially in certain circumstances according to the dictates of their own judgment and conscience, uncontrolled by the judgment or conscience of others. Discretion is to discern between right and wrong; and therefore whoever hath power to act at discretion, is bound by the rule of reason and law. 2 Inst. 56, 298; Tomlin.
Discretion, in general, is the discernment of what is right and proper. It denotes knowledge and prudence, that discernment which enables a person to judge critically of what is correct and proper united with caution; nice discernment, and judgment directed by circumspection; deliberate judgment; soundness of judgment; a science or understanding to discern between falsity and truth between wrong and right, between shadow and substance, between equity and colourable glosses and pretenses, and not to do according to the will and private affections of persons.
The very word discretion standing single and unsupported by circumstances signifies exercise  of judgment, skill or wisdom as distinguished from folly, unthinking or haste; evidently therefore a discretion cannot be arbitrary but must be a result of judicial thinking. Lalbhai Tricamlal v. Municipal Commr., Bombay, ILR [1909] 33 Bom 334; 10 Bom LR 821. The word ‘discretion’ in itself implies vigilant circumspection and care; therefore where the legislature concedes wide discretion it also imposes a heavy responsibility. Ibrahim v. Emperor, AIR 1933 Sind 49 : 34 Cr LJ 591.”
20. The discretion of a Court is called judicial discretion and is regulated by well settled principles of law. The court has to examine the facts and circumstances of the case and keeping  in view the provisions of Order 18 Rule 4 as a whole has to pass an appropriate order and direction whether cross examination of a witness is to be conducted before the Court or Commissioner appointed by it. Discretion of the Court cannot be taken away by any interpretative process particularly when it is unambiguously provided for by the legislature itself. There is inbuilt element of judicial discretion and deprivement of such a power is impermissible in light of the scheme of the Code of Civil Procedure and settled canons of law. In terms of Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, inherent powers are vested in Court by the legislature which necessarily imply exercise of judicial discretion appropriately and in consonance with the settled precepts .

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