If maintainability of civil suit is questioned, the court should make a prima facie jurisdiction before granting interim relief, says the Supreme Court

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While hearing the Asma Lateef & Anr. vs. Shabbir Ahmad & Ors. case on January 12, 2024, the Supreme Court (SC) observed that if the maintainability of a civil suit is in question and opposition is raised against the grant of interim relief then the trial court must at least make a prima facie satisfaction regarding the maintainability of the suit before deciding to grant the interim relief. The judgment reads, “Where interim relief is claimed in a suit before a civil court and the party to be affected by grant of such relief, or any other party to the suit, raises a point of maintainability thereof or that it is barred by law and also contends on that basis that interim relief should not to be granted, grant of relief in whatever form, if at all, ought to be preceded by formation and recording of at least a prima facie satisfaction that the suit is maintainable or that it is not barred by law.” 

The three-bench consisting of Justice B.R. GavaiJustice Dipankar Datta, and Justice Aravind Kumar also observed that “It would be inappropriate for a court to abstain from recording its prima facie satisfaction on the question of maintainability, yet, proceed to grant protection protem on the assumption that the question of maintainability has to be decided as a preliminary issue under Rule 2 of Order XIV, CPC. That could amount to an improper exercise of power.” It added, “If the court is of the opinion at the stage of hearing the application for interim relief that the suit is barred by law or is otherwise not maintainable, it cannot dismiss it without framing a preliminary issue after the written statement is filed but can most certainly assign such opinion for refusing interim relief.”

The bench also said that if there is a situation where a decision on maintainability delays the grant of interim relief causing irreparable harm then the Court may pass orders after justifying the course of action. The SC judgment reads, “However, if an extraordinary situation arises where it could take time to decide the point of maintainability of the suit and non-grant of protection protem pending such decision could lead to irreversible consequences, the court may proceed to make an appropriate order in the manner indicated above justifying the course of action it adopts. In other words, such an order may be passed, if at all required, to avoid irreparable harm or injury or undue hardship to the party claiming the relief and/or to ensure that the proceedings are not rendered infructuous by reason of non-interference by the court.”

Along with this, the SC mentioned that the Trial Court had no authority to decree the suit against Samiullah in the exercise of its power under Rule 10 of Order VIII, CPC. It further concluded that there was no reason to interfere with the High Court’s order and judgment. In this context, the bench stated “It is upheld and the appeal, accompanied by any pending applications, stands dismissed. Parties shall bear their own costs.”