Are Foreign Judgments Binding on Indian Courts?

There is a strict hierarchy of courts in India due to the federal structure and SC judgments are binding on all other lower courts. The question lies, does this also apply to foreign judgments and whether the Indian judgments have to bind by them despite being a sovereign country? Read along to know more.

India being a sovereign country is not subordinate to any country and is not bound to follow any foreign jurisdiction. With regards to the principle of equity, justice, and good conscience there are provisions in the Civil Procedure Code that allow our courts to enforce any foreign decree as it had been adjudged by an Indian court. The relevant sections of CPC are as follows:

Presumption as to foreign judgments. The Court shall presume, upon the production of any document purporting to be a certified copy of a foreign judgment, that such judgment was pronounced by a Court to competent jurisdiction unless the contrary appears on the record; but such presumption may be displaced by proving want of jurisdiction.
When a foreign judgment, not conclusive.- A foreign judgment shall be conclusive as to any matter thereby directly adjudicated upon between the same parties or between parties under whom they or any of them claim to litigate under the same title except,— (a) where it has not been pronounced by a Court of competent jurisdiction; (b) where it has not been given on the merits of the case; (c) where it appears on the face of the proceedings to be founded on an incorrect view of international law or a refusal to recognize the law of India in cases in which such law is applicable; (d) where the proceedings in which the judgment was obtained are opposed to natural justice; (e) where it has been obtained by fraud; (f) where it sustains a claim founded on a breach of any law in force in India.

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The Decree passed by Reciprocating Countries

There are certain countries that are recognized by the central government as reciprocating countries whose decree is treated by the district court as if it has been passed by itself. This arrangement is confined only to decrees for the payment of money not being sums payable as taxes, fines or penalties, etc. Further, the decree should not be based on an arbitration award. 
Execution of decrees passed by Courts in reciprocating territory-(1) Where a certified copy of a decree of any of the superior courts of any reciprocating territory has been filed in a District Court, the decree may be executed in India as if it had been passed by the District Court. (2) Together with the certified copy of the decree shall be filed a certificate from such superior court stating the extent, if any, to which the decree has been satisfied or adjusted and such certificate shall, for the purposes of proceedings under this section, be conclusive proof of the extent of such satisfaction or adjustment. (3) The provisions of section 47 shall as from the filing of the certified copy of the decree apply to the proceedings of a District Court executing a decree under this section, and the District Court shall refuse execution of any such decree, if it is shown to the satisfaction of the Court that the decree falls within any of the exceptions specified in clauses (a) to (f) of section 13. Explanation I: “Reciprocating territory” means any country or territory outside India which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be a reciprocating territory for the purposes of this section, and “Superior Courts”, with reference to any such territory, means such courts as may be specified in the said notification. Explanation II: “Decree” with reference to a superior Court means any decree or judgment of such court under which a sum of money is payable, not being a sum payable in respect of taxes or other charges of a like nature or in respect of a fine or other penalties, but shall in no case include an arbitration award, even if such an award is enforceable as a decree or judgment2.
Execution of decrees outside India So much of the foregoing sections of this part as empowers a court to send a decree for execution to another court shall be construed as empowering a court in any State to send a decree for execution to any court established by the authority of the Central Government outside India to which the State Government has by notification in the official Gazette declared this section to apply.

Reciprocating territories and their respective supreme court declared by the central government under notification for the purposes of section 44A of CPC are

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United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Aden, Fiji, Republic of Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Federation of Malaya, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, the Cook Islands(including Niue) and the Trust Territories of Western Samoa, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh.

Relevant Cases

RamanathanChettiar v. Kalimuthu Pillai AIR 1914 Mad. 556, one of the landmark case in which the Madras high court laid down circumstances where the foreign courts would have jurisdiction

Moji Nar Singh Rao vs Shankar Saran AIR 1962 SC 1737, in this case, it was enumerated the importance of the decree passed by the superior court of the reciprocating country.

Satya v Teja Singh (1975) 1 Supreme Court Cases 12, held that as the marriage between the parties had been performed in India, according to Hindu rites, the same could be annulled only according to the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act and therefore the decree of divorce of the foreign Court was not of a binding nature between the parties.

Indian Evidence Act

The sections in the Civil Procedure Code are supplemented by Section 86 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Relevant abstract from Section 86 is as follows:

Presumption as to certified copies of foreign judicial recordsThe Courts may presume that any document purporting to be a certified copy of any judicial record of any country and not forming part of India or of Her Majesty’s dominions is genuine and accurate, if the document purports to be certified in any manner which is certified by any representative of the Central Government in or for such country to be the manner commonly in use in that country for the certification of copies of judicial records.

When the applicant applies for the execution or challenging any foreign court’s decree the court will always assume that the decree passed was passed by a competent court, having proper jurisdiction and by following the principles of natural justice until otherwise proved.

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Relevant Cases

Narasimha Rao And Ors vs Y. Venkata Lakshmi And Anr 1991 SCC (3) 451- Held, the Photostat copy per se is not inadmissible in evidence. It is inadmissible because it has not further been certified by the representative of our Central Government in the United States.

Therefore, the copy of a decree to be admissible in Indian courts must be duly certified by the representative of the Indian Central Government in the respective country.

Pashaura Singh Vs. State of Punjab and Anr. AIR2010SC922, the court accepted the foreign decree of divorce and the accusation for Bigamy under section 494 was set aside.

Supplementing Indian Laws with International Laws and Treaties

According to the article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties- A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty. This principle was recognized by the Supreme Court in Ram Jethmalani v. Union of India ((2011) 8 SCC 1.

In other judgments like Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241, and National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438, the Supreme Court of India applied international law when there was no competent act available. Similarly, T.N.GodavarmanThirumulpad v. Union of India (2012) 4 SCC 362, the Supreme Court reiterated the settled law that the provisions of the Treaties/Conventions which are not contrary to Municipal Laws, be deemed to have been incorporated in the domestic law.

Conclusion

The Indian Judiciary system is known for its judicial activism and proactive steps taken to broaden the principle laid down in various acts to accommodate the evolving nature of the Indian society. From the framers of our constitution to the modern lawmakers and our judges, all have strived to make our society progressive by applying the tried and tested international laws to supplement our own laws. Though now, after attaining independence we might not be bound by any foreign laws against our will but the Legislature and the Judiciary does not shy away in adopting and enacting the guidelines and laws by taking guidance from the International Law.

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References

Civil Procedure Code

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Indian Evidence Act

RamanathanChettiar v. Kalimuthu Pillai AIR 1914 Mad. 556

Moji Nar Singh Rao vs Shankar Saran AIR 1962 SC 1737

Satya v Teja Singh (1975) 1 Supreme Court Cases 12

Narasimha Rao And Ors vs Y. Venkata Lakshmi And Anr 1991 SCC (3) 451

Pashaura Singh Vs. State of Punjab and anr. AIR2010SC922

Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties

Jethmalani v. Union of India ((2011) 8 SCC 1

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241

National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438

T.N.Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India (2012) 4 SCC 362