1. The question that has been argued in this Letters Patent Appeal is whether it is competent to a Court of inferior jurisdiction to entertain a suit to declare a compromise decree obtained in a Court of superior jurisdiction to be not binding on the plaintiff as having been obtained by fraud. The plaintiff asked in his plaint not only for a declaration that the decree in O.S. No. 20 of 1914 on the file of the District Court of Coimbatore was not binding on him but also that it should be set aside and that the said suit should be retried and decided on the evidence. The District Munsif to whom the plaint was presented held that he had no jurisdiction to go into the question whether the former decree was obtained by fraud and that only an Appellate Court or a court transferring a suit from one court to another would have the power to direct a retrial. The District Judge, who heard an appeal from the District Munsif's decision, was of opinion that a court of inferior jurisdiction could not either set aside or order a re-hearing of a suit tried by a court of superior jurisdiction.
2. The learned Judge of this Court, who disposed of a petition to revise, the District Judge's order, gave as his reason for refusing to interfere in the matter that the suit as originally instituted was not within the pecuniary jurisdiction of the District Munsif, although the amount involved in the compromise decree was.
3. There seems to have been a considerable misapprehension as to the course that the court trying the question of fraud would have to follow if it decided in the plaintiff's favour. As observed in Vijaya Ramayya v. Venkata Subba Row I.L.R. (1916) M. 853 it would be sufficient for the court to declare that the previous decree was of no effect so far as he was concerned. Their Lordships remarked, in that case that the trial of the suit, which has been improperly compromised, after a declaration to that effect would no doubt proceed' if a proper application were made to the proper court. They refused in second appeal to make any order as to that. Ho here, the fact that the plaintiff asked for two reliefs which could not in the nature of things be granted was no reason for not deciding whether he was entitled to the declaration which he demanded if he proved that the compromise was fraudulent.
4. Next as regards the powers of the District Munsif to try a suit brought for a declaration that a decree obtained in the District Court was obtained by fraud, Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code runs thus: 'The courts shall (subject to the provisions herein contained) have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature excepting suits of which their cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred.' The respondent has not shown that there is any express or implied bar to such a suit as this. Under Section 56 Clause (b) of the Specific Relief Act, a court has no power to stay proceedings in a court not subordinate to it; but there is no such limit placed by Section 42 on a court that has other wise jurisdiction over the suit making a declaration as to a plaintiff's title to a legal right and granting a permanent injunction against the decree-holder executing his fraudulent decree against the plaintiff.
5. If it were only the court which possessed the jurisdiction to try the suit in which the fraud was committed that could entertain a question whether a decree so obtained was vitiated by fraud, there would be no relief by suit under Article 95, Limitation Act, for parties aggrieved by fraud perpetrated in the trial of Small Cause suits or of rent suits in revenue courts or in appeals to the Privy Council, however gross the fraud. In Nistarini Dassi v. Nundoo Lal Bose I.L.R. (1899) Cal. 891, Stanley, J., quoting from Shedden v. Patrick (1854) 1 H.L.C. 607, observed, 'It matters not whether the impeached judgment has been pronounced by an inferior tribunal or by the highest court of judicature in the realm; in all cases alike it is competent for every court, whether superior, or inferior, to treat as a nullity any judgment which can be clearly shown to have been obtained by manifest fraud.' His judgment was upheld in appeal by a Bench of three Judges in Nistarini Dasd v. Nundoo Lal Bose I.L.R. (1902) C. 869 (see observations of Maclean, C.J., at page 381-2) and confirmed by the Privy Council in Benode Behary Bose v. Nistarini DassiI.L.R. (1905) Cal. 180.
6. In Banke Behari Lal v. Pokhe Ram I.L.R. (1902) A. 48, and Jawahir v. Neki Bam I.L.R. (1911) A. 189, it was held that a Subordinate Judge and a District Munsif could try suits to declare that decree passed by the Calcutta High Court and by another court in Bengal respectively were void as against the plaintiff, when the cause of action arose within the jurisdiction of the former courts owing to execution proceedings having been taken in that locality.
7. As regards pecuniary jurisdiction the compromise decree was for Rs. 1,700 and interest, and that is therefore the extent to which the interests of the plaintiff in this suit have suffered. It is not suggested that there has been any undervaluation. The property is situated and the defendant resides within the jurisdiction of the Tiruppur District Munsif's Court. Under Section 12 of the Civil Courts Act the Tiruppur District Munsif's court is the proper court to try the suit unless it is shown to be 'otherwise exempted from his cognizance'. I am not aware of any provision of law which has the effect of exempting from the jurisdiction of a court, otherwise competent to try them suits brought to avoid decrees obtained in suits when the original plaintiff claimed in his plaint more than he got by the final decree.
8. I consider therefore that this appeal should be allowed and the District Munsif of Tiruppur should be directed to restore O.S. No. 1631 of 1915 to his file and dispose of it according to law. Costs throughout to abide and follow the result.
Srinivasa Aiyangar, J.
9. I agree. The question in this appeal is whether one court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit to set aside the decree of another court, in this case a superior-court, on the ground of fraud. The present suit was filed in the Munsif's Court, Tiruppur, to set aside a mortgage decree passed by consent by the District Court, Coimbatore, for a sum of Rs. 1,700 in favour of the defendant against the plaintiff in a previous suit in that court by the former against the latter to recover a sum of money which was beyond the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Munsif. The lands charged are wholly within the local limits and the value of the relief sought is within the pecuniary limits of the jurisdiction of the Munsif. The plaintiff's claim is to relieve himself from the liability to pay Rs. 1,700 under previous decree and to get rid of the charge on his lands for the same amount. The defendant also lives within the jurisdiction of the Munsif.
10. It is now quite settled that the more appropriate mode of setting aside a consent decree for fraud is by a separate action instituted for that purpose where charges of fraud can be fully investigated, rather than by a motion in the cause in the nature of a review; but such a suit is not, I think, the same as an action of review or the old bill of review. (Mussamut Gulab Koer v. Badshah Bahadur (1909) 10 C.L.J. 420. Legislative recognition of this mode of procedure is afforded by Article 95 of the Limitation Act. A suit instituted for that purpose is an ordinary civil suit and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain such a suit must depend on the provisions of the Civil Courts Act and the Code of Civil Procedure. It was not said that suits to set aside decrees were exempted from the cognizance of Munsiffs and under Section 12 of the Civil Courts Act therefore Munsiffs have jurisdiction to try suits of this class. If the suit is considered to be one for the determination of a right to pr interest in immoveable property, the District Munsif's court, Tiruppur, was the proper court to try it (Section 16 of the Code); otherwise the same court will have jurisdiction to try it as the defendant actually and voluntarily resides within the local limits of its jurisdiction (Section 20 of the Code). If for instance the plaintiff in the present suit had executed a mortgage deed in favour of the defendant for Es. 1,700 and interest on the security of the property charged by the decree in satisfaction of his claim in the previous suit and if that suit had been withdrawn or dismissed as adjusted without there being a decree and if the present suit was to set aside the mortgage on the ground of fraud, there can scarcely be any doubt that the District Munsif of Tiruppur would have jurisdiction to entertain it. For the purpose of determining the court in which the suit should be filed I do not see any difference between the 2 suits. The District Judge may also have concurrent jurisdiction, but the suit must be instituted in the District Munsif's court as that is the court of the lowest grade competent to try it. That is how the matter stands on the construction of the relevant portions of the statutes which prescribe or limit the jurisdiction of courts.
11. A certain amount of confusion has, however, arisen by not keeping quite distinct the question of the appropriate relief or reliefs which a court can grant in a suit to set aside a decree or the consequence which follow the setting aside of a decree from the question of competency of the curb to try the suit. In this very suit the plaintiff after praying that the consent decree should be set aside, further prayed that the court should direct the previous suit in the District Court to be retried and decided on the evidence; this latter relief he was not entitled to in the suit and the District Munsif was not competent to grant it. If the plaintiff succeeds in the suit, and gets the consent decree set aside, any application in the previous suit, either to revive it or proceed with it can only be made to the court in which that suit was pending and it is only that court that can make any order in respect of that suit; but that in no way affects the jurisdiction of the Munsif to try the suit to set aside the decree. What exactly are the forms of reliefs which a court can grant when a party establishes his right to set aside a decree for fraud need not be considered or specified now as they may conceivably depend on the nature of the decree sought to be set aside and other circumstances of the case. Ordinarily a declaration that the decree is not binding on the plaintiff and an injunction restraining the other party from executing it, would be sufficient and proper.
12. The learned District Judge in his judgment in appeal in this case draws a distinction between the jurisdiction of the court to treat a decree obtained by fraud as a nullity when the impeachment of the decree arises incidentally or is only one of the reliefs prayed, and the jurisdiction of the court where the impeachment of the decree is the sole object of the suit. It is quite possible that a court which has jurisdiction over a cause, may have jurisdiction to decide on the validity of a decree though if the suit was wholly to set aside that decree it may have no jurisdiction on the ground that no part of the cause of action arose within its local limits or the defendant did not reside there. That difference arises, not out of any distinction between a direct and collateral impeachment of the decree, not out of any difference in the nature of the suits, but arises solely out of the difference in the place of suing as determined by the provisions of the code or any other law determining the venue. I do not understand how a court which is not competent to adjudicate directly on the validity or the invalidity of a decree can do so indirectly. If a decree obtained by fraud is a nullity and is wholly void, (which I think it is not in spite of some expressions to the contrary in the reported judgments), the court may ignore it; but if it is binding till set aside, the fact that it is impeached in a suit in which other or substantial reliefs are asked which depend or are consequential on the setting aside of the decree cannot confer a jurisdiction which otherwise the court did nob possess. The recent decisions of the Calcutta and Allahabad High Courts some of which were confirmed by the Privy Council support the view taken above. In an early case in Calcutta, Pontifex, J., in connection with an application to take the plaint off the file on the ground that leave to sue was not obtained is reported to have said that ' where the principal part of the prayer of the suit was to set aside a consent decree of the High Court in a previous suit, that court and that court alone, had jurisdiction. 'Bibee Solomanv. Abdool Aziz (1879) 4 Cal. L.R. 366. In that case the whole cause of action appears to have arisen within the local limits of the original jurisdiction of the High Court as the fraud which gave rise to the action was committed within the local limits. The suit itself appears to be one in which substantial relief for the recovery of property appears to have been claimed and the previous decree which limited the right of the plaintiff was sought to be set aside as a preliminary to obtain such relief. If that be so, the later decision of the same court on the Original Side in Nistarini Dassi v. Nundoo Lal Bose I.L.R. (1899) C. C. 891 which was confirmed in appeal, which again was confirmed by the Privy Council, is conclusive authority for the position that a court which has jurisdiction over the cause has jurisdiction to set aside the decree of another court on the ground of fraud as an auxiliary to the granting of the other reliefs (Nistarini Dassi v. Nundoo Lal Bose I.L.R. (1899) C. 891, Nistarini Dassi v. Nundoo Lal Bose I.L.R. (1908) C. 369. Benode Behari Bose v. Srimat Nistarini Dassi (1905) L.R. 32 IndAp 198. I would draw particular attention to the judgment of Chief Justice Maclean in appeal at pages 380 and I.L.R. 30 C 381. where the question of jurisdiction of one court to set aside the decree of another court for fraud is discussed with reference to the Indian statutes. In Kedar Nath Mukerjee v. Prosanna Kumar Chatterjee 5 C.W.N. 559, the suit was to set aside on the ground of fraud a decree of a Small Cause Court, at Krishnagar and sale of immoveable properties in execution of that decree on transfer by a Munsif's Court. The plaintiff also claimed to recover possession of the property sold in execution and instituted the suit in the Munsif's Court. On objection taken, the jurisdiction of the Munsif to entertain the suit was sustained, but the learned Judges were disposed to hold that if the action was brought simply to set aside the decree, the suit should have been instituted in the Krishnagar Civil Court. It is important to note that the learned Judges say that the suit to set aside the decree of the Small Cause Court would not lie in that court, but would have to be brought in the ordinary Civil Court, and it may be that Krishnagar Civil Court was the only court, which could take cognizance of a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, if it was simply to set aside the decree.
13. The precise question now raised, came up for decision in Sarthakram v. Nundo Ram 11 C.W.N. 579, and the Calcutta High Court decided that Munsif's Court had jurisdiction to declare that a decree obtained by fraud in a Subordinate Court was not binding on the plaintiff and to grant an injunction restraining the defendant from executing the decree. There also the decree in the previous suit was for a sum which was within the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Munsif, though apparently the claim was for an amount above it. In this judgment the learned Judges appear to draw a distinction between ' setting a side adecree ' and declaring it to be a nullity; but what exactly is the difference is not explained. No doubt one court has no control over the record of another court, and one court setting aside the decree of another court on the ground of fraud in an action brought for that purpose, does not do so in the sense in which a judgment is vacated in appeal or on review. The consequences are, or may be, different; further in the latter case direction may be given as to revivor, new trial or continuance of the proceedings and the court may even enter a fresh judgment in the old suit. Again there may be matters over which particular courts have exclusive jurisdiction as for instance Probate Courts. If an order or decree is passed by such courts in matters within their exclusive jurisdiction, such order or decree cannot be set aside by another court, though the latter court may be able to make a declaration, that a party was guilty of fraud in obtaining that order, See Priestman v. Thomas (1881) L.R. 9 P.D. 70 in appeal, page 210. In Earl of Bandon v. Becker (1885) 3 Fin. 479, Lord Brougham said 'it is undeniably true that the Court of Chancery has no right to review a decree of the court of Exchequer; that nothing but a Court of Appeal can give redress if such decree is erroneous, is clear, and indeed nothing can be more true than such a proposition; but it is equally true, that if the decree has been obtained by fraud it shall avail nothing for or against the parties affected by it, to the prosecution of a claim, or to the defence of a right'. How far such a distinction applies to courts exercising the same or similar jurisdiction as the ordinary civil courts in British India may be a question. If however that was the distinction made by the learned Judges in Sarthakram v. Nundo Ram 11 C.W.N. 579, as probably it was, that does not affect the present question. In a later case in the same Court, Abdul Huq Chowdhry v. Abdul Hafiz 14 C.W.N. 695, the suit was instituted in a Munsif's Court to set aside a decree of the Presidency Small Cause Court. The jurisdiction of the Munsif was upheld and the learned Judges pointed out that where a decree is set aside on the ground of fraud an injunction restraining execution is necessarily consequential thereon, even where no other relief is sought and that such a decree is more than a mere declaratory decree. They followed their previous decision in Sarthakram v. Nundo Ram 11 C.W.N. 579 and also another decision Prannath Boy v. Monesh Chandra Moitra I.L.R. (1897) C. 546 which was confirmed by the Privy Council. See Badha Baman Shaha v. Pran Nath Boy I.L.R. 28 (1901) C. 45, and Khagendra Nath Mahata v. Pran Nath Roy I.L.R. (l908) IndAp99. In these cases the main question in dispute was whether a party who had applied to the court which passed the decree, under Sections 108 and 311 of the old Code, to set aside an exparte decree and a sale in execution of it, can sue to set them, aside on the ground of fraud in a fresh suit. Their Lordships in the Privy Council confirming the judgment of the High Court held that he can; but these cases are important for the present purpose for two reasons. In the first place though relief by way of recovery of possession of immoveable property sold in execution of the fraudulent decree was asked, their Lordships do not appear to think that this made any difference, for they describe the suit as one 'for setting aside a decree and auction sale on finding them to be illegal, fraudulent and conclusive'; in the next place though the previous decree was passed and the auction held by the Munsif, the suit to set them aside was instituted in a different Court, the Court of the Subordinate Judge. These two decisions of the Privy Council appear to me to conclude the question in the present appeal.
14. The latest case in Allahabad is Jawahir v. Neki Ram I.L.R. (1914) A. 189. There a suit was instituted in the Munsif's Court, Fatehabad (Agra) to set aside a decree of a court in Silguri in Bengal. The learned Judges held that the Munsif had jurisdiction. They based their judgment on the ground that a portion of the cause of action at least arose within the jurisdiction of the Fatehabad Munsif as the fraudulent decree was sought to be executed by attaching properties situate within his local jurisdiction and they followed an earlier case in the same court where it was held that it was competent for the Cawnpore Court to set aside a decree of the Calcutta High Court. Banke Behari Lai v. Pokke Ram I.L.R. (1902) A. 48. The decision in Banke Behari Lal v. Pokke Ram I.L.R. (1902) A. 48, was followed in this Court in Arunachallam Chetty v. Vellappa Thambiran (1914) 28 M L.J. 140 by the Chief Justice and Hannay, J.
15. There was a reference made to Section 56 of the Specific Relief Act, but that section has no application to the present case, for the court is not asked to stay any proceedings in a superior court.
16. The respondent broadly contended that there was some principle of law which obliged a party desirous of setting aside a decree obtained by fraud, to seek relief in the Court which passed the decree; but except the dictum of Pontifex, J., he did not refer to any other authority. If that contention is correct, a Court of appeal which has no original jurisdiction and a Small Cause Court or a Revenue Court which has only a limited jurisdiction cannot entertain an original suit to set aside its decree, and no other court can. This however does not appear to be the law. In Flower v. Lloyd (1877) 6 Ch. D. 297, the Court of Appeal in England held that that court had no original jurisdiction to hear an application to set aside their decree passed in appeal on the ground of fraud, but that a fresh action should be brought in a Court having original jurisdiction to set aside the decree. In the same case Baggallay, L.J., no doubt said that under the old practice when a decree had been obtained by fraud a bill was filed in the original court in which suit had been brought for the purpose of setting the decree aside and the same may be done even after the Judicature Acts came into force. I doubt, however, whether the Lord Justice was thinking of Courts of different grades exercising similar jurisdiction. I therefore think that the District Munsif of Tiruppur had jurisdiction to entertain the suit, though he had no power to grant the second prayer of the plaint which however did not affect the jurisdiction of the court. It may be mentioned that the plaintiff agreed to withdraw their prayer in the first court.