M.P. Mehrotra, J.
1. This is a second appeal arising out of a suit wherein the plaintiff claimed a money decree against the defendant on the ground that the former had lent certain amount to the latter. To be specific, the plaintiff claimed a decree for Rs. 5478 with pendente lite and future interest as costs. The defendant contested the suit and denied the factum of loan or that anything was due from him to the plaintiff. The plaintiff gave a list of witnesses whom he proposed to examine at the trial and one such proposed witness was Pt. Satya Narain Misra. The plaintiff examined himself and thereafter a joint application (paper No. 33C) was moved on behalf of both the parties praying that Pt. Satya Narain Misra be appointed as a referee under Section 20 of the Evidence Act. Both the parties jointly stated in the said application that whatever would be stated by the said sole referee, either in person before the court or by a statement in writing to be submitted by him to the court, would be treated as sole evidence of both the parties and both the parties would be bound by the same. It was further stated that neither of the two parties would tender any other evidence in the suit. Lastly, it was stated in the application that the said referee would be entitled to examine the papers on record or to make such other enquiries as he liked to make before making his statement in the court. The statement of the referee would be read in accordance with Section 20 of the Evidence Act.
Pt. Satya Narain Misra, the alleged referee, did not personally appear before the court but sent his statement in writing which is paper No. 33B on the record of the trial court. It was stated by him that he sent for the plaintiff and the defendant, heard them, examined the papers in their presence, entertained the evidence which the parties desired to lead and after taking into consideration the entirety of the aforesaid matter, he reached a conclusion that a sum of Rs. 4100 was payable and should be paid by the defendant to the plaintiff. He further stated that on the said sum of Rs. 4100, the plaintiff was also entitled to his proportionate costs. This statement was filed on 9th May, 1956, and on the same date the court pronounced its judgment on the basis of the said statement. The relevant order-sheet of the court is worth reproduction.
'9-5-56. 39B Referee's statement, Admit, on file.
Sd/- Moti Babu
Neither party has to raise any objection.
The suit is decreed for a sum of Rupees 4100 with proportionate costs. As to the rest the suit is dismissed with costs on parties.
Sd/- Moti Babu
2. It seems that on 21st May, 1956 an application was moved which is paper No. 62C. By this application the defendant prayed that the decree of the court based on the judgment dated 9th May, 1956 be not signed. It was contended that the referee was in fact and in law an Arbitrator and his statement amounted to an award. The defendant was entitled to file objection to the award within 30 days of the service of the notice of the filing of the award under Article 158 of the old Limitation Act. As the defendant was not allowed to file his objections, it was prayed that he should be given an opportunity to file objections to the said award. The said application dated 21st May, 1956 was rejected on the same date. Against the judgment of the trial court dated 9th May. 1956, an appeal was filed in the lower appellate court but the same was dismissed and the trial court's judgment and decree were confirmed. Thereafter the defendant filed the instant second appeal.
3. I have heard learned counsel for the parties. On behalf of the appellant it has been contended that paper No. 33C in reality and in law amounted to an arbitration agreement between the parties and therefore Pt. Satya Narain Misra was really appointed and the dispute between the parties was referred to him in the capacity of an Arbitrator and not as referee under Section 20 of the Indian Evidence Act. Consequently, his alleged statement (paper No. 39B) was really an award given by the Arbitrator who under Section 14, Sub-section (2) of the Indian Arbitration Act, 1940 was bound to give notice to the parties of the filing of the award. Thereafter the parties were entitled to a period of 30 days under the old Limitation Act to file their objections.
4. Learned counsel for the appellant has placed reliance on the following authorities in support of his contention. (1) Chhabba Lal v. Kallu Lal ; (3) Sadhu Ram v. Ude Ram ; (3) Shambhunath Goenka v. Madan Mohan Ghuwalewala (AIR 1977 NOC 241) (Delhi); (4) Mt. Akbari Begam v. Rehmat Hussain : AIR1933All861 .
5. On the other hand, learned counsel for the respondent has supported the judgment of the lower appellate court on the grounds set out in the said judgment and has relied on the case law cited by the lower court. Learned counsel has also contended that in : AIR1933All861 (supra) the decision in reality supports the respondents. It was contended, in the alternative, that it was open to the parties, if they so desired, to file objections within 30 days. Moreover, on the date when the trial court passed its judgment, it was done on the basis that none of the parties desired to file objections, therefore, the court was entitled to act in the said manner. After hearing learned counsel for the parties. I think that the contention raised on behalf of the defendant-appellant is correct. Whatever might have been laid down by this Court prior to 1946, I am of the opinion that after the Privy Council's verdict in 1946 any such earlier pronouncement of this Court could not hold good and must be deemed to have been overruled by the pronouncement of the Privy Council. Privy Council interpreted Section 20 of the Evidence Act as follows:
'It is obvious that a reference to an outside party to decide matters in dispute in a suit and the question of costs is not a reference to that party for information in reference to a matter in dispute, and if the reference is to be regarded as made only under Section 20 it was a bad reference.' In Halsbury's Laws of England, IVth Edition Vol. 17, Para 74, page 57, it has been laid down as follows:--
'When a party agrees to be bound by what a third person says or refers an opposite party to a third person for information or an opinion on a given subject, the third person's reply is admissible against the party so agreeing or referring and if the reference has been made by agreement it will be conclusive.'
6. Section 20 of the Evidence Act lays down as follows:
'Statements made by person to whom a party to the suit has expressly referred for information in reference to a matter in dispute are admissions.'
7. In a Division Bench overruled the earlier pronouncements of the said court reported in AIR 1951 Punj 416 and . Both were single Judge pronouncements.
8. Referring to Section 20 of the Indian Evidence Act, the Division Bench observed (at p. 181):--
'It is hard to read into this section any more than that if a party to a suit agrees to be bound by a statement of that third party when made is to be treated as an admission by the party who made the offer, and if both parties agree to refer a matter to a third party his statement will be binding on both of them but I cannot regard the word 'information' as meaning anything but a statement of fact, and not a decision of any kind.'
9. In the aforesaid Delhi case, the Privy Council and Punjab decisions have been relied on and the so-called referee before the said court was treated as an Arbitrator. So far as the Allahabad cases are concerned, about which a reference has been made in the lower court's judgment, I have already observed that the cases had been decided before the verdict of the Privy Council. The cases in so far as they are in conflict with the Privy Council's verdict, cannot be treated to be good law. So far as : AIR1933All561 is concerned, it may be observed that there was a difference of opinion between the two Judges of this Court and as such three questions were referred to the Full Bench of three Judges. We are not concerned with the second and third question. The first question was as follows:--
'Can the parties to a suit agree, apart from the Indian Oaths Act, that they will abide by the statement of a witness, including one who is a party to the suit and can they 'leave the decision of all points' including costs arising in the case to be according to his statement?'
10. Sulaiman C. J. answered the first question in the affirmative. He observed:--
'In concurrence with the opinions of the learned Judges who have made this reference, I hold that an agreement to abide by the statement of a particular witness is in substance not a reference to arbitration. The essence of arbitration is that the arbitrator decides the case and his award is in the nature of a judgment which is later on incorporated into a decree of the Court. The arbitrator can either proceed on the basis of his knowledge or make enquiries and take evidence and then give his decision on such evidence. But where parties agree to abide by the statement of a third person or a referee, the referee merely makes a statement according to his knowledge or belief and the Court then decides the case and pronounces its judgment on the basis of such a statement and passes a decree thereon. The referee is not authorised to make enquiries and take evidence, and then announce his decision on the basis of such evidence. He is called upon to make a statement according to his knowledge or belief, in the case of an arbitration, as the arbitrator's award is an expression of an opinion and his procedure resembles that of Court, a party is entitled to file objections and challenge the validity of the award. The making of a statement by a referee or a third person has no resemblance to a proceeding conducted by him as if he were a court of law, and accordingly there can be no procedure for filing objections as to its validity. It is for the court, in pronouncing judgment, to consider its effect. But under Section 20 of the Evidence Act statements made by persons to whom a party to the suit has expressly referred for information in reference to a matter in dispute are deemed to be admissions of the party himself. If the parties have agreed to abide by the statement of a third person to be made in court, he may well be a person to whom the parties have expressly referred for information in reference to the matter in dispute. It may be noted in this connection that for purposes of a reference to a third party under Section 20 of the Evidence Act it is not necessary that the reference should be on question of fact within the knowledge of the referee.' Mukerji, J. observed:
'When the parties to a suit agree that a third person who is not a party to the suit or one of themselves shall decide the point arising in the case as also the question of costs, they really agree to an arbitration in the case by the said person or party.'
11. It seems to me that the observations of the Full Bench are more in favour of the defendant-appellant than in favour of the plaintiff respondent. From the facts of the instant case, which have been reproduced above, it would be seen that Pt. Satya Narain Misra was expressly empowered to make his own enquiries into the dispute and then to make his statement. The court had to pass the judgment in accordance with such statement. It seems to me that it is, hard to describe it a case to which Section 20 of the Indian Evidence Act can be said to be applicable. But on a true construction of the application dated 6th Feb., 1956 (paper No. 33C) it has to be held that Sri Misra was appointed the sole arbitrator by the parties. The so-called statement dated 9th May, 1956 (paper No. 39B) was really in the nature of an award. In the circumstances of the case, it can be said that the courts below have misdirected themselves in passing the judgment and decree in favour of the plaintiff respondent by treating the said statement (paper No. 39B) as one under Section 20 of the Evidence Act.
12. So far as the other objection of the learned counsel for the plaintiff-respondent is concerned, I do not think that it can be said that the court was entitled to pass a decree immediately after an award was filed on 9th May, 1956, merely by observing that 'neither party has to raise any objection', I cannot construe this statement as a waiver on the part of the parties. It does not expressly say that neither party wanted or sought to raise objection. In any case, I am very clear in my own mind that the right of a party cannot be allowed to be put into jeopardy on the basis of an order which could at best be said to be uncertain and vague.
13. Section 17 of the Arbitration Act lays down as follows:
'Where the court sees no cause to remit the award or any of the matter referred to arbitration for reconsideration or to set aside the award, the court shall, after the time for making an application to set aside the award has expired, or such application having been made, after refusing it, proceed to pronounce judgment according to the award, and upon the judgment so pronounced a decree shall follow, and no appeal shall lie from such decree except on the ground that it is in excess of, or not otherwise in accordance with the award.'
14. It seems to me that in view of this position in law it was not open to the court to pronounce the judgment on the very day the arbitration award was filed in the Court. Even if for the sake of argument it be accepted that a consent decree can be passed on the basis of an award even before the expiry of the time for filing objections to the award, I am clear in my mind that it is not possible in the instant case to hold that the judgment of the trial court is one passed with consent.
15. Learned counsel for the plaintiff respondent further contended that a statement by an Arbitrator would amount to estoppel under Section 31 of the Evidence Act. The said section lays down as under:--
'Admissions are not conclusive proof of the matters admitted but they may operate as estoppel under the provisions hereinafter contained,' and for this proposition he placed reliance on a Division Bench decision of this Court reported in Umrai Ali Khan v. Intizami Begam 0065/1938 : AIR1939All176 . The Head Note of this case is as under:
'Where the parties to a suit agree that a referee should be appointed and case should be decided according to whatever statement the referee makes, the agreement is not in substance a reference to arbitration. The statement which the referee makes in pursuance of the agreement is an admission under Section 20 Evidence Act and operates as an estoppel against the parties.'
16. The Division Bench placed reliance on : AIR1933All861 (supra). In my opinion the Full Bench never laid down that a statement under Section 20 would always amount to estoppel on a joint reading of the said section with Section 31 of the Evidence Act. That point was not before Full Bench. It is true, that the first question was answered in the affirmative by all the three Judges of the Full Bench, but the basis of answer given was different in the case of each of the three Judges. Sulaiman C. J. preferred the basis of his answer on the plea that as there was contract between the parties in the shape of offer and acceptance to be bound by the statement of a referee, the claim involved in the suit could be treated to be adjusted on the basis of the statement of the referee. Mukerji, J. on the other hand thought that the referee was in such a position as an arbitrator, but he held that the party was bound by an award of the arbitrator as it has waived its right to move objections to the said award. King, J, did not say anything about the basis on which he answered the first question. He merely held that such agreement between the parties can be treated as legal and it was binding between them. With respect, I, therefore, do not think the Division Bench case reported in 0065/1938 : AIR1939All176 was correctly interpreting the case reported in : AIR1933All861 . Moreover, as I have already observed, in case which was a later decision, it has been clearly held that:
'A reference to an outside party to decide matters in dispute in a suit and the question of costs is not a reference to that party for information in reference to a matter in dispute, and if the reference is to be regarded as made only under Section 20 it is a bad reference.'
I, therefore, negative this contention of the learned counsel for the plaintiff-respondent.
17. I do not think that the plaintiff-respondent is right in suggesting that even after the decision of the trial court it was open to the parties to file objections treating the statement of the referee as an award of the Arbitrator, The judgment of the trial court had been pronounced and the parties could assail the said judgment and decree passed thereon only by filing regular appeals and not treating the same as a nullity. In this view of the matter, it was not open to the parties to file objections after the judgment of the trial court. On the facts of the instant case, it appears that on 21st May, 1056, even within 30 days of the filing of the statement of the referee, some kind of objection had been filed by the defendant-appellant. Therefore, it was well within limitation. But I am of the opinion, as I have indicated earlier, that after the trial court's judgment there was no occasion for the parties to file any objection and the proper stage for filing objections only arises after the trial court has given notice to the parties of the filing of the award.
18. I, therefore, set aside the judgments and decrees of the court below and allow the appeal and remand the case to the trial court for a fresh decision, The trial court shall give notice to the parties of the filing of the award of the Arbitrator (paper No. 39B) and it shall be open to the parties to file objections, if any, which may be filed by the parties in the manner as laid down under the Arbitration Act. The record of the case shall be sent down to the court below without the least possible delay and the trial court shall proceed without any further delay. In the circumstances of the case the costs of the second appeal shall be easy.