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Inherent powers of the Court are a crucial feature of our legal structure because they enable the Courts to fulfil its prerogative, by upholding the ends of justice. Law is captured through the provisions that have been codified, for judges to determine their decisions in various cases. However, sometimes situations arise where the circumstances compel the Court to go beyond the sections of the legislation and act in good faith, so that no abuse of the process of the Courts may occur.
At this time, Courts have the ability to invoke their inherent powers, in order to provide complete justice to all stakeholders. This article explains the inherent powers of the court through a trajectory of relevant case laws, as well as analyzes the limitations placed on these powers.
Inherent refers to a permanent and fundamental part of something, which if separated, loses its essence in totality. Inherent powers of the courts are the powers which the Court possesses in order to provide justice to the fullest extent of the law, as that is the duty of Courts.
When laws were drafted they could not possibly imagine every potential circumstance that could affect a case, which is why it is necessary for Courts to have the authority to use these inherent powers, if something needs to be done in the interest of justice but the Courts feel restricted due to a lack of specific provisions. Inherent powers of the Court are stated in Section 151 of the Civil procedure Code.
To understand the purpose of the inherent powers of the Court, we must look at the case of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal. The Supreme Court held that inherent powers of the Courts are for preventing the abuse of the Court’s processes as well as to ensure justice is served.
The obligation of Courts to ensure justice in every case, whether or not it is backed through an express provision, makes these inherent powers of the Court a necessary feature of the Indian judicial system. It is essential to note that these powers are not conferred. There are a liberal interpretation and broad understanding that is lent to this section of Procedural law, as it is intended to facilitate enforcement of substantive rights in law.
These inherent powers are required so that administrative restrictions do not cause injustice to occur. They are seen as complementary to specially conferred powers. They co-exist with them in the interest of justice.
The Code of Civil Procedure is a procedural law, which is why it is important for the provisions thereof should be broadly construed and comprehended in the context of the matter. The Code of Civil Procedure recognizes not just the powers but their limitations and restrictions as well.
However, inherent powers are those which are vested in Court even without a specific codification. The Court has the liberty to apply them to prevent abuse and to advance justice. If there are defined and separate sections of the law to address a given issue, then the Courts do not have the authority to invoke inherent powers. These powers can be invoked to aid the provisions of the law but not to override or bypass express provisions.
These powers rest on the notion of Judicial Interpretations Alternative. If there is no other remedy available in law if abuse of procedures of the court occurs, these powers are invoked to address and overcome the malicious act. They are not substantive rights and cannot be used at the cost of substantive law.
The Provisions Associated with The Inherent Powers
The Various Sections of Civil Procedure Code which are linked to inherent powers of Court include the following –
Section 148 and Section 149 refers to granting of time or extending the time limit for a situation.
Section 150 is related to the transfer of business. It mentions that if the business of any Court is transferred to another Court, the recipient Court will have the same authority and shall perform the same duties which were initially conferred and imposed upon the Court from which the business was so transferred.
Section 151 guards the inherent powers of the Court. Section 152, Section 153 and Section 153A is concerned with amendments in judgments, decrees and orders.
Section 148 provides Courts with the liberty to expand time limits for certain situations if that extension is needed. It is a discretionary power and not the right of the litigant. This provision provides Courts with the power to enlarge a period which may have been fixed initially or may have even expired. The court can extend the period up to 30 days.
In the matter of Ram Chand and Sons Sugar Mills v. Kanhayalal Bhargava, the Apex Court said that Court cannot exercise its inherent power if it is incompatible and contrary with given sections of law or the powers conferred through other provisions of the Act.
In the case of M/s Jaipur Mineral Development Syndicate v. The Commissioner of I.T., Court upheld the same notion. It did so by stating that unless there is an express or implied restriction or prohibition, Courts have the authority to pass an order that it deems imperative to prevent the abuse of the court’s process.
The petitioner argued that while the first suit was pending, certain events had occurred which led to the first suit’s failure and in law that said the suit could not be kept pending and was continued only for the sake of continuing an interim order made in it. This presented a key question of law to the Supreme Court – whether or not the court has the authority to take cognizance of a subsequent event to determine whether the pending suit should be disposed or not.
Could the defendant make an application under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code to dismiss the pending suit, on the basis of the said suit losing its cause of action? The Court answered in his favour.
According to Section 149 of the CPC, if any part of the fee prescribed for any document by the law for the time being in force relating to court fee is unpaid, the Court has a discretionary power to permit the individual, by whom such fee is due, to pay the fee. Upon the payment, the document will emerge with the same force and effect as if the fee had been paid on time when it was initially due.
In the case of Bahadur Pradhani v. Gopal Patell, it was about the plaint of a Money suit getting rejected because the deficit court fee had not been paid in the time duration granted by Court. The appellant filed a petition under Section 151 of the Code, to seek restoration of the suit. The court permitted the restoration of the suit and assessed the ambit of the inherent powers. The Court went on to say that sections of the Code do not dictate the inherent powers of the Court nor restrict them. It is a power that is fundamental and intrinsic to the courts by virtue of the Court’s duties and prerogative for justice.
Similarly, in the matter of Manorharlal v. Seth Hiralal, the court held that the sections of the Code are not exhaustive. This is because the legislature cannot ever foresee all potential situations when it is drafting law. All future circumstances cannot be conceived when the codification of law occurs, which is why it is important to give certain leeway and liberty to Courts.
As J. Desai stated,
“the danger inherent in passing conditional orders becomes self-evident because that by itself may result in taking away jurisdiction conferred on the court for just decision of the case. The true purpose of conditional orders is that such orders merely create something like a guarantee or sanction for the obedience of the court’s order but would not take away the court’s jurisdiction to act according to the mandate of the statute or the relevant equitable considerations if the statute does not deny such considerations”.
To fully understand the impact of Section 151, we must take a look at the possible situations arising from it –
- The court may review its orders and resolve errors;
- The Court has authority to issue provisional sanctions if the case is not included by Order 39 or to place alongside an ‘ex parte’ order.
- Unlawful orders or orders that have been passed without requisite jurisdiction can be set aside
- Ensuing situations or events in the case can be taken into consideration as per the discretion of the Court
- The Court has the authority to conduct an ‘in camera’ trial and/or prevent disclosure of the proceedings
- The Court may remove comments made against a Judge
- The Court has the power to improve, review, or re-hear the suit on merit and re-examine its order accordingly.
To understand the scope of Section 151, it is crucial to understand what ‘ends of justice’ truly means. This was addressed in the case of Debendranath v. Satya Bala Dass. The court held that ‘ends of justice’ are not sheer words or a legal term but they carry the idea that justice is the pursuit and end of all law.
Abuse of process of the court
Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code refers to the exercise of the inherent powers to deals with situations where abuse of the process of the court occurs. Abuse of the powers of the Court essentially means unfairness to a party. In that case, the party needs a remedy or a relief to resolve the injustice that it may have endured. This is based on the doctrine of actus curiae neminem gravabit, which is a maxim for the court shall prejudice no one.
The ‘abuse’ of the court’s power occurs when a party may commit fraud in a proceeding. The remedy for that lies in the inherent powers of the court. The perpetrator or the beneficiary of the abuse is the party that derives an undue advantage from the fraud on Court or the proceeding. In the case of Anup Kumar v. State, the Supreme Court held that High Courts can exercise their inherent powers under Section 482 of CrPC, 1973 to squash an FIR if multiple FIRs are repeatedly filed on the same ground, as this amounts to an abuse of the process of the Court.
In a 2018 Supreme Court Judgment, the bench had to decide whether or not the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had the authority to permit a petition under Section 561-A of CrPC 1989. The petitioner had sought quashing if the FIR registered against him. The question of law that arose was whether or not the High Court had the inherent power to quash the FIR in the absence of a trial.
The Supreme Court held that allowing the proceeding to continue would be an abuse of the process of the Court and it was in the interest of justice that the proceedings were quashed. The primary take away from the case of Nisar Ahmad v. State of J&K was that the ambit of inherent powers conferred upon High Courts is not restricted to the specific cases laid down under criminal and civil laws.
Limitations on The Inherent Powers
The restrictions on Inherent Powers are an important part of ensuring that Courts do not exceed their authority or misuse their liberties in the name of justice. The Limits on Inherent Powers are mentioned below –
- They can be invoked only in a situation where there is a lack of specific provisions in the Code, to deal with that matter.
- They cannot override any section that has been specifically mentioned in the code.
- They cannot be applied if they are incompatible with what has been expressly mentioned in the Code.
- Inherent powers are supposed to be invoked in rare cases where exceptional circumstances compel for their application, and not on a frequent basis.
- They should abide by the principle of Res Judicata. Inherent powers cannot be used to re-open a case which has already been decided.
- When courts are applying the inherent powers, they must abide by the process given by the legislation.
- The court must pick a mediator to make an award afresh.
- Inherent powers cannot override substantive rights in law. 
Inherent Powers are the powers of the court that help shorten the usually lengthy litigation process and also discourage multiplicity of proceedings which helps save time for not just the parties but the already overburdened Court. Most importantly, these powers are rooted in the Court’s prerogative to provide complete justice to the litigants and stakeholders.
Inherent Powers of the Court are invoked through Section 151 of the Code but expand over other Sections ranging from Section 148 to 153B of Civil Procedure Code.
State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335
 Ram Chand and Sons Sugar Mills v. Kanhayalal  1 S.C.R. 884
 M/s Jaipur Mineral Development Syndicate v. The Commissioner of I.T AIR 1977 SC 1348
 Bahadur Pradhani v. Gopal Patel, AIR 1964 Ori 134
 Manoharlal v. Seth Hiralal, 1962 AIR 5271
Debendranath v Satya Bala Dass, AIR 1950 Cal 217
Anup Kumar v. State, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 7069
 Nisar Ahmad v. State of J&K, 2018 SCC OnLine J&K 516