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Aerial View Of The Stages Involved In A Civil Litigation In India

The initiation of a civil proceeding by a person against another is governed by the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) in India. The Code is quite complicated and, though, no law mandates the engagement of a lawyer, its rigours makes engagement of a law practitioner a prudent call. The complications of the Code are meant to address the concerns surrounding dispensation of justice; for what the law makers would have experienced over a period of time.

For instance, the principle of res judicata imbibed in Section 11 tackles the act of a notorious litigant who attempts to use the court process to harass the other party by bringing multiple legal proceedings for the same cause, one after the other. This might seem very obvious, but no it's not so because many a times very fine but materially different and genuine cases might look similar; and then if such distinction is not presented properly before the Court, the case may eventually be rejected or dismissed by the Court.

OR there may even be a situation where two cases have been filed which are substantively the same, but have been given a different colour through clever drafting. So such situation do require proper aid and advice of an experienced Advocate.

Any act performed in contravention of the procedure laid down may cause immense damage to a person's rights and interests, no matter howsoever great case he/ she may be having on merits. Many a times such damages are irreversible. However, even if they can be remedied, usually such will require execution of a daunting task leading to expense of time and resources, and embarrassment, may as well.

Accordingly, immense care is observed while pursuing a civil case, which leads to emergence of numerous technicalities, often leading to doubts and confusion in the mind of the litigant. So, to begin with one must have a basic understanding of legal process in case of a civil litigation. In this module, our attempt is to explain stages involved in a civil proceeding, and to explain that each of these stages are clearly drawn out, and do not overlap each other.

Barring some exception, these stages prevail in almost every kind of civil proceeding.

Case Preparation
A civil case begins with the presentment of 'plaint' by the plaintiff, which enumerates the statement of facts forming the basis of the plaintiff's claim against the defendant. An appropriate plaint needs to be crisp, containing the material particulars necessary to clearly identify the basis of the claim. However, it is not required to mention every possible detail about a document etc. substantiating the claim.

For example, in case initiated on basis of a cheque, it is sufficient to mention that a cheque was received under the agreed dues but was unpaid due to deficiencies on part of the drawer of cheque. It may not be necessary to mention the heads of payment, cheque number, date, name of the banker, date of cheque return memo, etc. unless the draftsman thinks those to be necessary ingredients of the claim. In ordinary cases, even if the minute details are not mentioned, the claim remains identifiable and clearly explained.

An ideal plaint should remain brief, direct and be an 'easy read' for the Judge. Too much detailing or too much use of scholarly words may bring irritation to its reader. Its language must be simple, broad and understandable, enabling the reader to easily find out the likely issues involved or the principles to be followed. Again, it must restrict itself to only those facts which form the claim, and there is no necessity to refer to the possible pleas or defences of the opposite or law involved. [Order VI]

STAGES OF A CIVIL PROCEEDING (Stages post case preparation and filing of the plaint)
  1. Step 1: INITIATION: A civil case begins with the presentment of the plaint along with supportive documents. Upon receipt of the case file, the Court issues notice of it (after holding a brief hearing to ascertain its nature) to the named Defendants.
  2. Step 2: COMPLETION OF PLEADINGS: Upon receipt of the summons, the Defendant is granted a period of 30 days to file its response (by way of written statement). The Defendant must not wait for the next date of hearing to file written statement, as very often dates are given much after the expiry of this 30 days' time period, and a non- filing during this time may not always be condoned by the Court. This may mean that the Defendant is prohibited from placing any defence before the Court.
  3. Step 3: FRAMING OF ISSUES: Once the written statement is filed, the Plaintiff may file a replication (which is basically a rejoinder), and thereafter the court proceeds to frame issues involved in the case (which are basically the points of dispute), on the basis of the pleadings and the accompanying documents. The Court also mentions the 'onus' of which of the party subsists in establishing a particular issue. Upon framing the issues, the case is committed to trial.
  4. Step 4: EVIDENCE: Either of parties is now required to state his/ her respective case/ defence under Oath before the Court. This is called the evidence stage.

    As per CPC, it is the Plaintiff, who usually, begins. Under the prevailing law, statement is recorded by furnishing affidavit (referred as Evidence by way of Affidavit). This affidavit also identifies (and pin points) the document upon which he/ she relies, and marks the documents accordingly. Unlike the pleadings, the emphasis here is more on the details, or the evidence or the documents that substantiate the claim. There may further be other witnesses to support the respective claims/ defences.

    While the statements are recorded as above, the opposite party is given the right to cross examine the maker of the respective statements, with respect to their statements or the documents produced. The statements made during cross- examination also form part of the evidence, and the cross- examiner has all the power to find out the veracity of the claim or the documents/ evidence furnished.

    There is no limit to the number of witnesses a party can bring in, but care must be observed to limit them on basis of their relevancy to the case.
  5. Step 5: FINAL ARGUMENTS: On completion of the evidence stage, the matter comes up before the Court for detailed hearing, popularly known as the "final arguments" stage. Here the Court hears each of the party in detail. Sometimes, the case gets adjourned for two or more dates to hear the argument of just one party, if needed.
  6. Step 6: ORDER/ JUDGEMENT: After the Court has heard the arguments of both the sides, it reserves the mater, and subsequently pronounces the final order/ judgement.

The above lay down a broad outline of the stages involved in a civil proceeding. Specific cases may necessitate certain modifications. However, it must be kept in mind that the stages explained above are clearly determined by the Courts, and are not permitted to be overlapped. Meaning thereby, that, for example, if a person has not filed a document during the stage of pleadings, he will not be permitted to do so when the stage of evidence begins.

Similarly, the Court will not accept a new fact or evidence during the stage of final arguments. Further to note that a pleading (whether plaint or the written statement) forms the basis of the litigants case/ defence. And so, any fact which has not been averred in the pleadings will not be allowed to be taken up during the evidence or the final arguments' stage.

In such a case, the litigant or his/ her lawyer will have to argue the case as if there had been no document to that very fact (in the former event), or as if he/ she never took up that very plea (in the latter event). Consequences of the same may be very much damaging.

Written By: D. Bhattacharya, Advocate
Ph no: +91-9899814806, 0129-4162669

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