2 Feb 2011

Falsehood in pleadings intolerable: High Court

Holding that the case before it was an "instance of how litigants make false averments of facts in the pleadings and raise untenable contentions with impunity" whereafter "litigation, on controversies supposedly arising out of these false averments are dragged on for years in the hope that the other side will succumb to buy peace" and "if the other side does not so settle, in the end, he is hardly compensated and remains a loser", in a recently reported decision [SANJEEV KUMAR MITTAL v. STATE 2010 (174) DLT 214], Justice J.R. Midha of the Delhi High Court took survey of the rueful position of litigation standards in the country.

The High Court inter alia observed as under;
6.1. Inasmuch as the facts of this case are demonstrative and this Court cannot be oblivious to the problems afflicting the judicial system, I shall now examine certain general issues on how litigation with false claims is filed, or false defences are put forward, and then continues to remain pending, consuming the Court‘s time and resources. The result is that courts are overloaded and there is delay in disposal. 
6.2. In Dalip Singh v. State of U.P., (2010) 2 SCC 114, the Hon‘ble Supreme Court noted:
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 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 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.
6.3. In Padmawati and Ors v. Harijan Sewak Sangh, 154 (2008) DLT 411, the learned Single Judge of this Court (S.N. Dhingra, J.) noted as under: 
6. The case at hand shows that frivolous defences and frivolous litigation is a calculated venture involving no risks situation. You have only to engage professionals to prolong the litigation so as to deprive the rights of a person and enjoy the fruits of illegalities. I consider that in such cases where Court finds that using the Courts as a tool, a litigant has perpetuated illegalities or has perpetuated an illegal possession, the Court must impose costs on such litigants which should be equal to the benefits derived by the litigant and harm and deprivation suffered by the rightful person so as to check the frivolous litigation and prevent the people from reaping a rich harvest of illegal acts through the Courts. One of the aim of every judicial system has to be to discourage unjust enrichment using Courts as a tool. The costs imposed by the Courts must in all cases should be the real costs equal to deprivation suffered by the rightful person.
9. Before parting with this case, I consider it necessary to pen down that one of the reasons for over-flowing of court dockets is the frivolous litigation in which the Courts are engaged by the litigants and which is dragged as long as possible. Even if these litigants ultimately loose the lis, they become the real victors and have the last laugh. This class of people who perpetuate illegal acts by obtaining stays and injunctions from the Courts must be made to pay the sufferer not only the entire illegal gains made by them as costs to the person deprived of his right and also must be burdened with exemplary costs. Faith of people in judiciary can only be sustained if the persons on the right side of the law do not feel that even if they keep fighting for justice in the Court and ultimately win, they would turn out to be a fool since winning a case after 20 or 30 years would make wrong doer as real gainer, who had reaped the benefits for all those years. Thus, it becomes the duty of the Courts to see that such wrong doers are discouraged at every step and even if they succeed in prolonging the litigation due to their money power, ultimately they must suffer the costs of all these years long litigation. Despite settled legal positions, the obvious wrong doers, use one after another tier of judicial review mechanism as a gamble, knowing fully well that dice is always loaded in their favour, since even if they lose, the time gained is the real gain. This situation must be redeemed by the Courts. The Court imposed costs of 15.1 lakhs. Against this, Special Leave to Appeal (Civil) No 29197/2008 was preferred to the Supreme Court. On 19.03.2010, the Hon‘ble Supreme Court passed the following order:
We have heard learned counsel appearing for the parties. We find no ground to interfere with the well-considered judgment passed by the High Court. The Special Leave Petition is, accordingly, dismissed.
6.4. I agree with the findings by the learned Judge in Padmawati’s case (supra) and I would wish to add a few words. There is another feature which has been observed and it is of unscrupulous persons filing false claims or defences with a view that the other person would get tired and would then agree to compromise with him by giving up some right or paying some money. If the other party is not able to continue contesting the case or the Court by reason of falsehood falls into an error, the wrongsucceeds. Many times, the other party compromises, or at other times, he may continue to fight it out. But as far as the party in the wrong is concerned, as this Court noted in Padmawati’s case (supra), even if these litigants ultimately lose the lis, they become the real victors and have the last laugh
6.5. Padmawati’s case (supra) was one where the wrongdoer was holding up delivery of possession. The present case, another species of the same genus, is where a party puts forward a false claim in order to entangle someone else‘s property in the hope that he can, with court delays and the needs of the other, one day, extract money for withdrawing the claim. The manner in which the case has been presented, and proceeded with, gives a clear impression that it is of this type. 
6.6. If there is falsehood in the pleadings (plaint, written statement or replication), the task of the Court is also multiplied and a lis that could be decided in a short time, then takes several years. It is the legal duty of every party to state in the pleadings the true facts and if they do not, they must suffer the consequences and the Court should not hold back from taking action.
6.7. A similar sentiment had been expressed by the Karnataka High Court in A. Hiriyanna Gowda v. State of Karnataka, 1998 Cri.L.J. 4756: 
1. The present application is filed under Section 340, Cr. P.C. and undoubtedly involves a power that the Courts have been seldom exercising. It has unfortunately become the order of the day, for false statements to be made in the course of judicial proceedings even on oath and attempts made to substantiate these false statements through affidavits or fabricated documents. It is very sad when this happens because the real backbone of the working of the judicial system is based on the element of trust and confidence and the purpose of obtaining a statement on oath from the parties or written pleadings in order to arrive at a correct decision after evaluating the respective positions. In all matters of fact therefore, it is not only a question of ethics, but an inflexible requirement of law that every statement made must be true to the extent that it must be verified and correct to the knowledge of the person making it. When a client instructs his learned Advocate to draft the pleadings, the basic responsibility lies on the clients because the Advocate being an Officer of the Court acts entirely on the instructions given to him, though the lawyer will not be immune from even a prosecution. If the situation is uncertain it is for his client to inform his learned Advocate and consequently if false statements are made in the pleadings the responsibility will devolve wholly and completely on the party on whose behalf those statements are made.
2. It has unfortunately become common place for the pleadings to be taken very lightly and for nothing but false and incorrect statements to be made in the course of judicial proceedings, for fabricated documents to be produced and even in cases where this comes to the light of the Court the party seems to get away because the Courts do not take necessary counter-action. The disastrous result of such leniency or indulgence is that it sends out wrong signals. It creates almost a licence for litigants and their lawyers to indulge in such serious malpractices because of the confidence that no action will result. To my mind, therefore, the fact that the petitioner has pressed in this application requires to be commended because it is a matter of propriety and it is very necessary at least in a few glaring cases that an example be made of persons who are indulging in such malpractices which undermine the very administration of justice dispensation system and the working of the Courts. This will at least have a deterrent effect on others.
5. It is true that the power that is now being exercised is seldom exercised, but I am firmly of the view that in the interest of the purity of the working the Courts that it is absolutely essential to take such corrective action whenever an instance of the present type arises.
6.8. A Division Bench of this court over two decades back in Rajendra Jaina Towers (P) Ltd. v. Delhi Development Authority 33 (1987) DLT 216 held as under:
27. All the statements in paragraph 11, to which I have referred, were material for the purpose of taking a decision in the case. As I have tried to show, they were deliberately made and carefully worded. Their object was to mislead and overreach the court. The perjury was daring and atrocious. Probably, Mr. Rajender Jain thought it was worth taking the risk because the courts are so reluctant to prosecute for perjury. That is the general impression which has caused perjury to become so rampant in our courts and resulted in vexatious litigation. It is clearly expedient in the interests of justice, that Mr. Rajender Jain be prosecuted for the statements made in paragraph 11 of the petition, which he has incorporated by reference in his affidavit.
The Court ordered the Registrar of this court to make a complaint in writing against Mr. Rajender Jain, for having committed offences under Sections 191, 192 and 193 of the Indian Penal Code to the Magistrate having jurisdiction.
6.9. If this Court were to go by a general impression, the position has not improved but only worsened. It is time to take appropriate action so that parties, when they file their pleadings, do so with a sense of responsibility and if averments therein, or any evidence in support, is found to be false, the wrongdoer is not able to escape the punishment prescribed by law. 
6.10. The present case is a striking example of how the petitioner could file the petition without any fear, keep it pending, and disappear when he found the respondent did not succumb and exposed the petitioner. The non-appearance by the petitioner at this stage (27th April, 2010) appeared to be intentional and therefore a number of opportunities were given (11th May, 2010, 14th May, 2010, 17th May, 2010 and 18th May, 2010), yet the petitioner or his advocate did not appear. To have simply dismissed the petition for default and not taken action would be allowing them to escape. It has also been the experience that when falsehood has stood exposed, the party tenders an apology and the courts tend to let off and take no action. Such an approach emboldens others to do likewise. 
6.11. On a related issue, in South Eastern Coalfields Ltd. v. State of M.P. (2003) 8 SCC 648 : AIR 2003 SC 4482, the Hon‘ble Supreme Court said: 
"26 … In law, the term 'restitution‘ is used in three senses; (i) return or restoration of some specific thing to its rightful owner or status; (ii) compensation for benefits derived from a wrong done to another; and (iii) compensation or reparation for the loss caused to another.
6.12. In fact, restitution, which includes compensation, and levy of costs, is not sufficient where there is, in the pleadings before the Court, falsehood, concealment or reliance upon forged documents. There it also calls for triggering into motion the penal laws, i.e., making of a complaint under Section 340 Cr.P.C. The more important part is of punishment to prevent, in the first instance, litigants from making false averments before a court of law. While the punishment prescribed by law is deterrent, the probability of prosecution, and thereafter conviction, should also be sufficient to deter such conduct. 
6.13. A party, whether he is a petitioner or a respondent, or a witness, has to respect the solemnity of the proceedings in the court and he cannot play with the courts and pollute the stream of justice. It is cases like this, with false claims (or false defences) which load the courts, cause delays, consume judicial time and bring a bad name to the judicial system. This case is a sample where the facts are glaring. Even if they were not so glaring, once falsehood is apparent, to not take action would be improper.
6.14. The judicial system has a right and a duty to protect itself from such conduct by the litigants and to ensure that where such conduct has taken place, the matter is investigated and reaches its logical conclusion and depending on the finding which is returned in such proceedings, appropriate punishment is meted out. 
6.15. It is perhaps the general reluctance, as also noticed by the Hon‘ble Supreme Court in Swaran Singh v. State of Punjab, (2000) 5 SCC 668: 
36. …… Perjury has also become a way of life in the law courts. A trial Judge knows that the witness is telling a lie and is going back on his previous statement, yet he does not wish to punish him or even file a complaint against him. He is required to sign the complaint himself which deters him from filing the complaint..... that has made the situation reach such levels where pleadings contain false averments and parties make false averments with impunity in the hope that in all probability the opposite party will cough up something, and even if he does not, in the end he will have the last laugh, for a prosecution of perjury, although consciously committed and persisted in, will have a probability of punishment as good as nil. The gain far exceeds the risk.
6.16. In an effort to redeem the situation, not only realistic costs and full compensation in favour of the winning party against the wrongdoer are required, but, depending on the gravity of the wrong, penal action against the wrongdoers is also called for. Unless the judicial system protects itself from such wrongdoing by taking cognizance, directing prosecution, and punishing those found guilty, it will be failing in its duty to render justice to the citizens. Litigation caused by false claims and defences will come to be placed before the courts, load the dockets and delay delivery of justice to those who are genuinely in need of it. Let us then examine the procedures in this regard.
8.7. Making false averment in the pleading pollutes the stream of justice. It is an attempt at inviting the Court into passing a wrong judgment and that is why it must be treated as an offence. 8.8. Where a verification is specific and deliberately false, there is nothing in law to prevent a person from being proceeded for contempt. But it must be remembered that the very essence of crimes of this kind is not how such statements may injure this or that party to litigation but how they may deceive and mislead the courts and thus produce mischievous consequences to the administration of justice. A person is under a legal obligation to verify the allegations of fact made in the pleadings and if he verifies falsely, he comes under the clutches of law.
8.9. Consequently, there cannot be any doubt that if a statement or averment in a pleading is false, it falls within the definition of offence under Section 191 of the Code (and other provisions). It is not necessary that a person should have appeared in the witness box. The offence stands committed and completed by the filing of such pleading. There is need for the justice system to protect itself from such wrongdoing so that it can do its task of justice dispensation.

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