21 November 2022


Supreme Court

Maharashtra Chess Association Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.




Mere existence of alternate forums does not create a legal bar on a High Court to exercise its writ jurisdiction

In present matter, the second Respondent, the All India Chess Federation is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. It is a central governing authority for chess in India. The Appellant is a society registered under the Act of 1860 and was an affiliated member of the second Respondent since 1978. On 25 December 2016, the Central Council of the second Respondent passed a resolution to disaffiliate the Appellant. After the institution of the writ proceedings, the third Respondent has been affiliated by the second Respondent in place of the Appellant.

The Appellant had filed a writ petition before the Bombay High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution impleading, the second Respondent. The second Respondent raised a preliminary objection that, the Bombay High Court did not have jurisdiction to entertain the writ petition on the ground that, Clause 21 of the Constitution and Bye Laws conferred exclusive jurisdiction on Courts at Chennai in disputes involving the second Respondent and any other party to the Constitution and Bye Laws, including the Appellant. The question raised in present case is whether Clause 21 itself creates a legal bar on the Bombay High Court exercising its writ jurisdiction

It is a well settled principle of contract law that, parties cannot by contract exclude the jurisdiction of all courts. Such a contract would constitute an agreement in restraint of legal proceedings and contravene Section 28 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. However, where parties to a contract confer jurisdiction on one amongst multiple courts having proper jurisdiction, to the exclusion of all other courts, the parties cannot be said to have ousted the jurisdiction of all courts. Such a contract is valid and will bind the parties to a civil action.

The existence of an alternate remedy, whether adequate or not, does not alter the fundamentally discretionary nature of the High Court's writ jurisdiction and therefore does not create an absolute legal bar on the exercise of the writ jurisdiction by a High Court. The decision whether or not to entertain an action under its writ jurisdiction remains a decision to be taken by the High Court on an examination of the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

The mere existence of alternate forums where the aggrieved party may secure relief does not create a legal bar on a High Court to exercise its writ jurisdiction. It is a factor to be taken into consideration by the High Court amongst several factors. Thus, the mere fact that the High Court at Madras is capable of granting adequate relief to the Appellant does not create a legal bar on the Bombay High Court exercising its writ jurisdiction in the present matter.

The writ jurisdiction of the High Court is fundamentally discretionary. Even the existence of an alternate adequate remedy is merely an additional factor to be taken into consideration by the High Court in deciding whether or not to exercise its writ jurisdiction. This is in marked contradistinction to the jurisdiction of a civil court which is governed by statute. In exercising its discretion to entertain a particular case under Article 226, a High Court may take into consideration various factors including the nature of the injustice that is alleged by the Petitioner, whether or not an alternate remedy exists, or whether the facts raise a question of constitutional interpretation.

In the present case, the Bombay High Court has relied solely on Clause 21 of the Constitution and Bye Laws to hold that its own writ jurisdiction is ousted. The Bombay High Court has failed to examine the case holistically and make a considered determination as to whether or not it should, in its discretion, exercise its powers under Article 226. The scrutiny to be applied to every writ petition under Article 226 by the High Court is a crucial safeguard of the Rule of law under the Constitution in the relevant territorial jurisdiction. It is not open to a High Court to abdicate this responsibility merely due to the existence of a privately negotiated document ousting its jurisdiction.

It is certainly open to the High Court to take into consideration the fact that, the Appellant and the second Respondent consented to resolve all their legal disputes before the courts at Chennai. However, this can be a factor within the broader factual matrix of the case. It is not for this Court to interfere in the discretion of the High Court in determining when to engage its writ jurisdiction unless exercised arbitrarily or erroneously. The sole and absolute reliance by the Bombay High Court on Clause 21 of the Constitution and Bye Laws to determine that its jurisdiction under Article 226 is ousted is however one such instance. The impugned judgment of the High Court set aside. Writ petition is accordingly restored to the file of the High Court for being considered afresh.

Tags : Legal bar Clause Jurisdiction

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