1. This is an application under Section 115 of the Code of Civil Procedure for the revision of an order of thelearned first Civil Judge of Kanpur dated 3-3-1953.
2. The circumstances in which that order was made are these. A dispute arose between the partners of a firm carrying on business in Kanpur under the name of Hanuman Das Rup Kishore, and in 1947 a suit was filed against the present applicant and one Radha Kishan, since deceased, by the remaining partners for the recovery of a sum of a little over Rs. 2,71,000/-. Subsequentlyan application was made by the plaintiffs, and allowed by the Court, for the amendment of the plaint, and from the order an application in revision was filed in this Court.
While that application was pending one of the four plaintiffs, Raghubar Dayal, died on 28-5-1952, and on 5-11-1952, two applications were made by the widow and son of the deceased plaintiff. The first of these applications was for an order to set aside the abatement of the suit so far as the deceased plaintiff was concerned; the second was for the substitution of the widow and son as plaintiffs in the place of the deceased.
These applications, which were heard together, were contested by the present applicant on the ground that no sufficient cause had been shown for not preferring the application for an order to set aside the abatement within the period prescribed therefor. The applications were allowed by the learned Judge on the ground that the widow and son were in no way to blame for the delay which had occurred, and it is from that order that the present application in revision has been filed. The contention is that the learned Judge erred in law in arriving at this conclusion, and as a result Will exercise a jurisdiction not vested in him by law.
3. Now an application under Order 22, Rule 3, Civil P. C., to bring the heirs and legal representatives of a deceased plaintiff on the record has to be made within 90 days from the death, otherwise the suit, so far as that plaintiff is concerned abates; and an application under Order 22, Rule 9, for an order to set aside the abatement has to be made within 60 days from the date of the abatement. In the present case the former application ought therefore to have been filed on or before 18-8-1952, and the last datefor the filing of the latter application was 17-10-1952. Neither application was in fact filed, as I have said until 5-11-1952.
4. There is little dispute with regard to the circumstances causing the delay. The widow and son, to whom it is conveninent to refer as the respondents, reside in a village in Agra District; the suit had been filed in Kanpur. The pairokar of the respondents attended the office of the counsel at Kanpur acting on behalf of the respondents on the 9th August, and on that day the application for substitution was prepared and the accompanying affidavit duly sworn by the pairokar. The requisite vakalatnamah was signed by counsel on the 11th August.
On the 18th August the counsel's clerk, Mo-hammad Ali, presented the application together with the affidavit and vakalatnamah to the Mun-sarim of the Court who, however, would not accept the application as it was not accompanied by the notices which would have to be served upon the opposite parties. Mohammad Ali thereupon brought the application back to his employer's office withthe intention, as the learned Judge has found, of re-presenting it together with the requisite notices after having obtained the addresses of the opposite parties. It then appears that he forgot all about it.
5. The record of the proceedings in the suit was not at this time in the court of the Civil Judge as it had been sent to this Court in connection with the application which, as I mentioned earlier, had been made for the revision of an order made by the learned Judge allowing the plaint to be amended. That application in revision was dismissed, and the record of the case was received back in the Civil Judge's court on 24-9-1952.
The Civil Judge then fixed 3-11-1952, for further hearing of the case, and it appears that on that date the defendants to the suit were ordered to file an amended or additional written statement onthe following day. On the 4th November the respondents' pairokar again came to Kanpur and made enquiries from Mohammad Ali about the progress of the substitution proceedings, and it was only then that Mohammad Ali realised that the application which had been returned to him by the Munsarim on 18-8-1952, had never been filed. He searched for it, found it, and filed it along with the application for an order to set aside the abatement on the following day.
6. The learned Judge has stated in his order that counsel engaged by the respondents is an eminent local lawyer whose professional business is such as to entail' the filing of between three hundred and four hundred applications in a month; that it is not possible for counsel in such circumstances to give personal attention to the filing of all of them and that it is the practice to entrust the filing of substitution applications to clerks. He has found that the omission of Mohammad Ali to file this particular application was due solely to the latter's forgetfulness and there was no suspicion of fraud or bad faith. He has further found that all necessary steps for the filing of the application were taken by the respondents, that it was not in the circumstances incumbent on them to make regular enquiries as to the progress of the proceedings for substitution, and that they had acted with reasonable diligence and without negligence. He considered a number of authorities and arrived at the conclusion that it was not in the interests of justice that the respondents should be punished for the negligence of their lawyer's clerk, and he accordingly allowed the application.
7. I have referred at some length to the reasons upon which the learned Judge based his conclusion because it must, in my opinion, be borne in mind that we have been asked to interfere in this case with an order made by the lower court in the exercise of its discretion. That discretion must of course be exercised judicially and not arbitrarily but if it has been exercised judicially this Court cannot, in my opinion, substitute its discretion for that of the Judge, for as was stated by Asquith, L.J., in Bellenden v. Satterthwaite, 1948-1 All ER 343 at p. 345 (A)-
'We are here concerned with a judicial discretion, and it is of the essence of such a discretion that on the same evidence two different minds might reach widely different decisions without either being appealable. It is only where the decision exceeds the generous ambit within which reasonable disagreement is possible, and is, in fact, plainly wrong, that an appellate body is entitled to interfere. That is, I think, the principle which emerges from the decision of the House of Lords in Evans v. Bart-lam 1937 AC 473 (B) and Osenton & Co. v. Johns-ton, 1942 AC 130 (C).'
8. All that Section 5, Limitation Act, requires as a condition for the exercise of the discretionary power of admitting an application presented after time is sufficient cause for not presenting it within time. There has been much conflict of opinion as to what constitutes sufficient cause, but in my opinion it must be taken to be the view of this Court, that the expression 'sufficient cause' should be so construed as to advance substantial justice: See Brij Mohan Das v. Mannu Bibi, 19 All 348 (PB) (D) and Shib Dayal v. Jagannath, AIR 1922 All 490 (FB) (E).
Each case has to be considered on its own facts, the difficulty being to balance fairly the claim of one party to prosecute a suit or appeal against the right which accrues to the opposite party upon the expiry of the prescribed period oflimitation. This Court held in Shib Dayal's case (E) -- which was referred to by the learned Civil Judge, and was of course binding on him as it is on us -- that an honest mistake of law committed by an advocate, even though a negligent one, ought not in the then state of the profession in the districts be allowed to operate to the prejudice of clients.
That judgment was delivered in 1922, but learned counsel were unfortunately unable to say that the standard of efficiency in the districts had shown any marked progress in the intervening years. This Court has also held in Lachmi Chand Babu Lal v. Unkar Mal Chote Lal : AIR1929All351 that the negligence of a lawyer's clerk may constitute sufficient cause for the delay in filing an appeal, the Court being of opinion that the criterion was whether the appellant had acted with reasonable diligence.
In the light of these decisions, and of the practice of the courts of this State founded on them it must, I think, be held that the negligence of a district lawyer or of his clerk may be enough to constitute sufficient cause for the failure to initiate proceedings within the prescribed period. In each case the question is one of degree, the overriding consideration being the doing of substantial justice.
9. I do not therefore think that the question before us is whether the decision arrived at by the learned Judge was one which this Court would have reached had the matter come before it in the first instance. Speaking for myself, I entertain grave doubt whether the respondents had sufficient cause for not filing the application within the prescribed time. It is quite clear however that the learned Judge did not act arbitrarily, and I do not think that it can be said that he has misdirected himself as to the law to be applied. In the circumstances therefore I do not think it possible to say that the Judge was plainly wrong.
10. I think therefore that this Court should not interfere in exercise of its discretion under Section 115 of the Code, and I would therefore dismiss this application.
11. Upon the facts of the case which have been fully stated by my Lord the Chief Justice two questions arise for decision: (1) whether upon those facts there was sufficient cause for not filing the application within the prescribed time and (2) whether this is a case in which this Court will interfere in revision with the exercise of the discretion by the lower court even if in its opinion there was no sufficient cause.
12. What may constitute 'sufficient cause'has to be determined upon the facts of each particular case and no hard and fast rule can be laiddown. But certain general principles are well settled. The first is that the litigant must show thathe acted with due diligence in the prosecutionof his appeal or application, vide Brij Indar Singhv. Kanshi Ram, 45 Cal 94 : (AIR 1917 PC 156) (G),where the Privy Council approved the decision ofa Full Bench of this Court in 19 All 348 (D), andthe second is that the expression sufficient cause should be construed liberally so as to advance the causeof substantial justice, vide the observations ofBanerji J. in the Pull Bench decision of this Courtin AIR 1922 All 490 (E). These two principleswhen combined may be expressed, in the languageof a Bench of the Madras High Court, thus:
'Sufficient cause should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice when no negligence, nor inaction, nor want of bona fidesis imputable to the appellant' Krishna v. Chath-appan, 13 Mad 269 (H & I).
12a. Sometimes it is said that when the time prescribed for filing an appeal or making an application has expired, a very valuable right is secured to the successful litigant. But this only means that the Court should not lightly condone the delay in referring the appeal or making the application and that it should do so only if there is reasonable or sufficient cause shown for the delay.
13. As has been stated already, in order that the litigant may derive the benefit of Section 5, Limitation Act, he must show that he acted with due diligence in the prosecution of his appeal or in making the application. It follows, therefore, that if delay is caused on account of any negligence or latches on his part the same cannot be condoned on the ground of sufficient cause. He must show that delay was caused due to circumstances beyond his control.
14. How far the negligence of a party's agent can be considered as sufficient cause is a point upon which judicial opinion is divided. Taking a strict view of the matter it has been held that negligence of an agent of a party is the negligence of the party himself and therefore cannot furnish sufficient cause for delay, vide Mt. Mahtab v. Mt. Birhmo AIR 1924 All 176 (J), Jaleswar Dayal v Ram Hari AIR 1920 Pat 594 (K). In Mt. Dilan v. Ram Bharosey an appeal was presented beyond time by the appellant on account of forgetfulness of the appellant's counsel. It was held that it was not sufficient cause.
In Ganesh Dat v. Hirde Bihari the forgetfulness of the clerk of the counsel was held not to amount sufficient cause. In Tarini Kumar Dutt v. Gopeswar Pal Chowdhury, 7 Ind Cas 391 (Cal) (N) it was held that the negligence or forgetfulness on the part of the agent specially appointed by the appellant to look after the appeal and to receive notices and information from the appellant's vakil is not a sufficient cause.
15. On the other hand it has been held that where the party himself was diligent and that he did all that he could do and his agent whom he was bound to rely upon was honestly negligent it was possible to hold that there was sufficient cause, vide : AIR1929All351 .
In Shib Dayal's case (E), already referred to above, it was held that an honest though negligent mistake of a counsel is a sufficient cause. In Kandasamy Mudaliar v. Arunachala Chetty : AIR1925Mad462 delay due to careless arithmetical mistake of a vakil was condoned. In Baban v. Empero AIR 1926 Nag 503 (P) honest though careless mistake in calculation was held to be sufficient cause.
16. So far this Bench is concerned it is bound by the Full Bench decision in Shib Dayal's case (E) where it was held that an honest mistake of counsel even though a negligent one, is sufficient cause. What negligence of an agent may be excused will again depend upon the facts of each case. It is not every negligence that would be condoned. Only that species of negligence may be considered as amounting to sufficient cause which any reasonable person situated in the position of the agent may in all honesty commit. Such neglience may, in other words, be said to be 'an honest mistake due to forgetfulness or oversight,' judged from the standard of a reasonable man.
In judging the conduct of a reasonable man in the position of the agent concerned, one has to take into consideration various factors, namely, the habits of the class of people to which the agent belongs, their standard of education and the like. For instance you cannot judge the conduct of a clerk working in the office of a mufassil lawyer in the light of the conduct of a solicitor in a Presidency town.
It is well known that clerks in the mufassil are not highly educated. Very often they are merely matriculates and have almost no legal training. What they come to know of law is by experience. So what one has to see is whether placing oneself in the position of the person whose conduct is to be judged one, can say that the mistake was one which was likely to have occurred or not.
17. In judging the conduct of the party and his agents in the present case, what do we find? We find that the respondents did all that they could towards the presentation of the application for substitution. The time for making the application was up to 18-8-1952; the pairokar of the respondents attended the office of the counsel at Kanpur on the 9th of August; the application for substitution was prepared and the necessary affidavit was duly sworn by the pairokar and the vakalatnama was signed on the 11th of August. This is all that he was expected to do.
It was then the duty of the counsel and his clerk to present the application before the due date. This was also done. The application was indeed presented on the 18th August by the counsel's clerk Mohammad Ali together with the affidavit and the valakatnama to the Munsarim of the Court, but the Munsarim did not accept the application because it was not accompanied by the notices to be served upon the opposite parties. In thus returning the application, the Munsarim was in error. He should have accepted the application and asked the clerk to file the notices. If these were not riled the same day, further time could also have been granted to the party to file them.
The clerk came back to his office and then mislaid the application and, as chance would have it, forgot all 'about it and he remembered about it only when on the 4th November the respondents' pairokar again came to Kanpur to make enquiries in the case as the record had then been received by the Court below and a date for the, filing of an additional or amended written statement by the opposite parties had been fixed. Then the clerk realised that the application which had been returned to him by the Munsarim on 18-8-1952 was not filed. He searched for it, found it and filed it along with the application for an order to set aside the abatement on the following clay.
The reason for the delay is thus the forget-fulncss on the part of the clerk. Judging the conduct of Mohammad Ali from the standard of a reasonable clerk in his position and of his education and taking a sympathetic view of the matter I am prepared to hold that in the special circumstances of this case the delay was fit to be condoned and that the party who was diligent and did all that he was expected to do should not be allowed to suffer. I think in taking this view the interest of substantial justice is advanced and not hindered.
18. Even if we were to hold that this did not amount to sufficient, cause, I am in agreement with, the view of my lord the Chief Justice that the discretion exercised by the court below should not be interfered with in revision. There is always room for an honest difference of opinion as to whether a certain set of facts amounts to sufficient cause or not. The courts below must have the discretion to decide the question for themselves, and unless the court below travels beyond the limits within which discretion may be reasonably exercised, or in other words, unless it can be said that it has taken a perverse or absurd view, the. exercise of the discretion by it will not be interfered with in appeal and much less in revision.
In the present case, the court below has seriously considered the matter in detail, and has held that there was sufficient cause for the delay. It is not possible to hold that its view is absurd or perverse, and in these circumstances, even if we were of opinion that there was no sufficient cause we would not interfere.
19. I agree with the order proposed.
By The Court
20. This application is dismissed. In the circumstances of the case we make no order as tocosts. The record will now be returned to the lowercourt without delay.