Actus Curiae Neminem Gravabit – An Act of the Court shall prejudice no man –
- This principle has been held to be fundamental to the system of justice and application to Indian Jurisprudence – that no man should suffer because of the fault of the court or delay in the procedure – Busching Schmitz Private Limited Vs P.T. Menghani & Ors., MANU/SC/0344/1977: AIR 1977 SC 1569: 1977 (2) SCC 835.
- A 3 Judge bench of Supreme Court held that if the Court in supplying the information makes a mistake the responsibility of the litigant, though it does not altogether cease, is at least shared by the Court. If the litigant acts on the faith of that information the Courts cannot hold him responsible for a mistake that it itself caused. It further went on to say that “there is no higher principle for the guidance of the Court than the one that no act of Courts should harm a litigant and it is the bounden duty of Courts to see that if a person is harmed by a mistake of the Court he should be restored to the position he would have occupied but for that mistake. This is aptly summed up in the maxim: Actus curiae neminem gravabit; Thus, in view of the mistake of the District Court which needed to be righted, the parties were relegated to the position they occupied when the error was committed by the Court, which error was rectified by SC nunc pro tunc. Jang Singh Vs Brijlal & Ors., AIR 1966 SC 1631: 1964 (2) SCR 145.
- Supreme Court used the legal phrase “actus curiae neminem gravabit” in support of its conclusion that the legislature could not have intended to put a period of limitation on the act of the court of taking cognizance of an offense so as to defeat the case of the complainant – Bharat Damodar Kale & Ors. Vs State of A.P., MANU/SC/0794/2003: AIR 2003 SC 4560: 2003 (8) SCC 559.
- Supreme Court held that the maxim “actus curiae neminem gravabit” formed the basis of the principle of rectification of decree under Section 152 of Code of Civil Procedure whereby any error occurring in the decree on account of arithmetical or clerical error or accidental slip may be rectified by the Court. After considering a plethora of case laws, it laid down certain situations in which the Court can invoke the said maxim:-
- In a matter where it is clear that something which the Court intended to do but the same was accidentally slipped or any mistake creeps in due to clerical or arithmetical mistake, it would only advance the ends of justice to enable the Court to rectify such mistake.
- But before exercise of such power the Court must be legally satisfied and arrive at a valid finding that the order or the decree contains or omits something which was intended to be otherwise i.e. to say that while passing the decree the court must have in its mind that the order or the decree should be passed on a particular manner but that intention is not translated into the decree or order due to clerical, arithmetical error or accidental slip.
- The facts and circumstances may provide clues to the fact as to what was intended by the court but unintentionally the same does not mention in the order or the judgment or something which was intended to be there stands added to it.
- The power of rectification of clerical, arithmetical errors or accidental slip does not empower the court to have a second thought over the matter and to find that a better order or decree could or should be passed. There should not be re-consideration of merits of the matter to come to a conclusion that it would have been better and in the fitness of things to have passed an order as sought to be passed on rectification.
Jayalakshmi Coelho Vs Oswald Joseph Coelho, MANU/SC/0145/2001: AIR 2001 SC 1084: 2001 (4) SCC 181..
- Court held that no one shall suffer by an act of the Court. The factor attracting the applicability of restitution is not the act of the Court being wrongful or a mistake or error committed by the court; the test is whether an act of the party persuading the Court to pass an order held at the end as not sustainable, has resulted in one party gaining an advantage it would not have otherwise earned, or the other party suffering an impoverishment which it would not have suffered but for the order of the Court and the act of such party. There is nothing wrong with the parties demanding to be placed in the same position in which they would have been had the Court not intervened by its interim order when at the end of the proceedings, the Court pronounces its judicial verdict which does not match with and countenance its own interim verdict. The injury, if any, caused by the act of the Court shall be undone and the gain which the party would have earned unless it was interdicted by the order of the Court would be restored to or conferred on the party by suitably commanding the party liable to do so. Thus the Court held the successful party to be entitled to compensation in terms of money at the end of litigation – South Eastern Coalfields Ltd. Vs State of M.P. & Ors., AIR 2003 SC 4482: 2003 (8) SCC 648: 2003 Supp 4 SCR 651.
- Supreme Court applied the effect of the maxim in criminal law as well and used it as one of the guiding principles to interpret Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to conclude that the said provision is made for condonation of delay and thus treated the date of filing of complaint or date of initiation of proceedings as the relevant date for computing limitation. The Court further stated that the court’s inaction in taking cognizance i.e. court’s inaction in applying mind to the suspected offense should not be allowed to cause prejudice to a diligent complainant – Sarah Mathew Vs Institute of Cardio-Vascular Diseases and Ors., 2014 (2) SCC 62: AIR 2014 SC 448: 2014 (2) SCC 62.
- In situations where interim orders have been passed and ultimately petition/ suit dismissed as being frivolous or devoid of any merit, Supreme Court was of the view that “no litigant can derive any benefit from the mere pendency of a case in a Court of Law, as the interim order always merges into the final order to be passed in the case and if the case is ultimately dismissed, the interim order stands nullified automatically. A party cannot be allowed to take any benefit of his own wrongs by getting an interim order and thereafter blame the Court. The fact that the case is found, ultimately, devoid of any merit, or the party withdrew the writ petition, shows that a frivolous writ petition had been filed. The maxim “Actus Curiae neminem gravabit”, which means that the act of the Court shall prejudice no-one, becomes applicable in such a case. In such a situation the Court is under an obligation to undo the wrong done to a party by the act of the Court. Thus, any undeserved or unfair advantage gained by a party invoking the jurisdiction of the Court must be neutralized, as the institution of litigation cannot be permitted to confer any advantage on a party by the delayed action of the Court – Kalabharati Advertising Vs Hemant Vimalnath Narichania and Ors., AIR 2010 SC 3745: 2010 (9) SCC 437: 2010 (10) SCR 971.
- Supreme Court cautioned against the use of the maxim “actus curiae neminem gravabit”. It stated “the legal maxim that has been taken recourse to cannot operate in a vacuum. It has to get sustenance from the facts. As is manifest, after the admissions were over as per the direction of this Court, the Appellants, who seemed to have resigned to their fate, woke up to have control over the events forgetting that the law does not assist the non-vigilant. One cannot indulge in the luxury of lethargy, possibly nurturing the feeling that forgetting is a virtue, and thereafter, when the time has slipped through, for it waits for none, wake up and take shelter under the maxim “actus curiae neminem gravabit”. It is completely unacceptable.” Court thus declined to come to the rescue of such a lethargic party – Neeraj Kumar Sainy And Ors. Vs State of U.P. & Ors., MANU/SC/0283/2017: AIR 2017 SC 1524: 2017 (14) SCC 136: 2017 (3) SCALE 583.
- Supreme Court relied upon the said maxim to arrive at a conclusion that since the interim order was passed at the instance of the Respondent, the Appellant should be permitted to retain the amount and complete the process by providing an opportunity to the private Respondents. The Court went on to say that when it is prima-facie indicated that due to the delay caused at the instance of the private Respondents the value of the Kendu leaves had reduced, thereby causing loss, in view of legal proceedings initiated by the private Respondents, the Court will have to bear in mind the maxim actus curiae neminem gravabit, namely, no party should suffer due to the act of Court – Odisha Forest Development Corporation Ltd. Vs Anupam Traders & Ors., MANU/SC/1643/2019: 2019 (17) SCALE 531.