The purpose of this article is to help in explaining to the readers the concept of Appellate Courts, to understand their need and also to explain the process that is followed when using this mechanism which is ultimately made for catering to the grievances of the society and upholding justice. As the title suggests, this article also most importantly gives a brief idea regarding the powers as well as duties of the appellate court courts which help in guiding them to a fair and just decision.
What is an Appellate Court?
Appellate Courts are those courts which come under appellate jurisdiction which is nothing but the ability of courts to rehear or review a case that has been already decided by a lower court. This gives an additional opportunity to the parties to bring their case in the form of appeal to higher courts if they are not satisfied with the judgement of the lower court. The appellate courts can either reverse the decision of the lower court or uphold it. Their job is to make sure that justice is delivered keeping in mind the facts of the case and the relevant laws which apply to those facts. A simple example is when a person is not satisfied with the judgement of the district court, he/she can take his/her case before the high court for rehearing.
Meaning and Importance of Appeal
An appeal is a concept which is remedial in nature to secure the right of an individual against an unjust order passed by a court. Sections 96 to 99A, 107, and 108 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 talk about the right of appeal in civil matters. The Code of Civil Procedure was ratified in 1908 to make sure that a party gets a fair trial keeping in mind the principles of natural justice and to lay down certain procedures in order to expedite the civil proceedings as well as the disposal of cases. This code makes the right to appeal a statutory and substantive right. Its statutory nature implies that it has to be specifically conferred by a statute along with the existence of appellate machinery unlike the right to file a suit which is an inherent right and is substantive in the way that it has to be taken prospectively unless provided otherwise by any statute.
Right to Appeal under the Code of Civil Procedure
Section 96 of the code says that a right to appeal shall lie in a higher court against any decree or order passed by any lower court exercising original jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear a case for the first time, unlike appellate jurisdiction. The above section also proved certain instances where the right to appeal lies or does not lie, for example, it lies in an ex parte decision when a decree is passed without hearing both the parties. It can also be passed only on a question of law and cannot be passed when the amount of the subject matter of the suit does not exceed ten thousand rupees.
No person unless he is a party to the suit, is entitled to appeal according to this section. But if a person, not being a party to the suit, is prejudicially affected or aggrieved by an order passed, then he/she can appeal such an order through special leave of the appellate court.
Also, according to section 96(3), no appeal can be made against an order or decree which is passed by the consent of the parties. No appeal exists when a party deliberately waives off its right to appeal i.e., if a party ratifies the decision of a court by accepting its provisions, then it is estopped from appealing it in higher courts.
Section 97 talks about how an appeal against a final decree cannot be applied to the preliminary decree. A preliminary decree is a decree which is passed before the actual disposition of a case which is done through the final decree, for example, if there is a dispute between two brothers regarding partition of a property, then the court first decides what will be the share of each owner in the rights of the property and then file a preliminary decree deciding the justified share. The issue is not yet disposed of and will only be so if the court further inquires and acts upon the facts gained through the preliminary decree. Now section 97 says that when the aggrieved party due to the preliminary decree does not appeal, he shall be precluded from further appealing against this decree in any appeal directed against the final decree. If there are some questions that are decided by the court in a preliminary decree and not appealed, then such questions will not be looked into again by the court in an appeal against the final decree.
Section 99 and 99A say the no order or decree subject to an appeal can be reversed on an error or irregularity which does not affect the merits of the case or prejudicially affect the decision of the case.
Power of Appellate Courts
The power of appellate courts is given in section 107 of the code which says that subject to the limitations provided, an appellate court has to power to –
1. To finally determine a case.
2. To remand a case.
3. To frame issues and refer them to trial.
4. To summon witnesses.
5. To obtain additional evidence or order such evidence to be taken.
6. To reverse the decree of the lower court if it is not justified.
This section further goes on to state that the appellate courts shall have the same powers and shall perform their duties as nearly in the same procedure as has been laid down by this code for courts of original jurisdiction.
Now the general rule is that the evidence that is present on record is insufficient for the appellate court to decide the case and that the order should not be dependent upon any fresh evidence. There are however certain exceptions to this rule in rare cases. These rare cases give the court the power of taking additional evidence subject to three conditions.
1. The first condition is that the person seeking or demanding the admission of additional evidence should be able to establish with a valid reason as to why he/she was not able to provide that evidence in the first instance i.e., to the lower courts.
2. The second condition is that the party which is affected by the admission of the additional evidence should be provided with an opportunity to rebut such additional evidence.
3. The third condition says that the additional evidence that is to be accepted should be relevant for the determination of the issue or the case at hand.
The above section also gives the power of remand to the appellate court which means that the appellate court can send the issue back to the lower court to retry or reconsider it. But again, there are certain conditions that should be met before the court can use this power. The first condition is that the suit should have been disposed of by the lower court or the trial court at an initial stage or a preliminary point. Secondly, the order or decree which is under appeal must have been repealed or reversed and thirdly, there could be any other reason because of which the appellate court presumes that it will be of paramount importance to send the case back to the lower court keeping in mind the principles of natural justice and the fact that the case was disposed of by the lower court at a preliminary point.
Another power and one of the most important one is the power of the appellate court to frame issues and refer them to trial. The most important aspect and function of a court when deciding a case are to frame the relevant issues keeping in mind the facts at hand and trying such issues according to the law. When a trial court or a lower court fails to perform this integral task with the utmost diligence, the appellate court comes up to frame the relevant issues and subsequently refer them to trial in the lower court. While performing the above task, the appellate court can also fix any reasonable time limit as well.
The last and another important power of the appellate court is of modifying an order or a decree. This power is an absolute discretionary power of the court and hence it cannot be forced in any way to reverse the decision of a lower court. These powers are entitled to the appellate court to take the entire case into their hands and impart complete justice.
Duties and Functions of Appellate Courts
The powers of the appellate court are not absolute and this is inferred by looking at the duties that are fixed upon it. The following are its duties and function–
1. It has a duty to analyze the factual positions keeping in mind the relevant laws and decide the case. It is the duty of the court to give judgment based on the appeal by applying the judicial minds that the judges possess.
2. It has a duty to give cogent or appropriate reasons while reversing the judgement of an inferior court. It is one of the most important functions of the court which says that all appellate courts other than a high court have a duty to record reasons justifying their decision.
3. To decide the appeal only in compliance with the scope and powers conferred upon it under section 96 and rule 32 of the code.
4. It has a duty to reappreciate the evidence. The court after taking due care and caution should reappreciate the evidence that was presented before the lower court to make sure that the approach of the trial court while recording and appraising the evidence was not erroneous or contrary to the established principles.
5. It has a duty not to reverse or interfere with a decree passed by a lower court only on technical grounds if the decree is otherwise correct and based on merits.
Through this article, we have made ourselves aware and familiar with the system of checks and balances that have been provided through the Code of Civil Procedure when it comes to the working of appellate courts. It has been set in this way to make sure that an uncontrollable power is not given to the higher courts which contrary to its original task of righting the wrongs of lower courts actually helps undermines their authority. Though they have absolute discretionary power, this power cannot be exercised without giving sufficient reasons. All of this is done keeping in mind the fact that being humans, even one of the wisest minds of our society i.e., the judges, can be capable of making mistakes due to numerous reasons and since these mistakes could actually affect the lives of individuals to a great extent, there comes an integral need to correct these mistakes if they occur by setting up the appropriate institutions and the mechanisms which guide these institutions.
This article has been written by Harshvardhan Nathawat, 1st Year B.A. LL.B (Hons) student at NALSAR University of Law.