Inherent Powers of the Court

What are the inherent powers of the court?

We all must have pondered that since court while delivering justice reply upon the substantive and procedural laws and powers given thereto, or are there some inherent powers vested which does not require verification from any law for the time being in force. If dealing with the civil courts specifically, the Code of Civil Procedure being a procedural or adjective law and having such provisions gives away court immense powers as to liberally construe its provisions to advance the cause of justice and further its ends.[1]

Administration of justice is the paramount duty of the court. And therefore every court not only is required but deemed to posses all such powers necessary to do the right and to reverse the wrong in the course of administration of such justice.[2] In fact Section 151 of the Code of Civil procedure, 1908 provides for the saving of inherent powers of the court as “Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect the inherent powers of  the court to make such orders as maybe necessary for ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the court.” Therefore the inherent powers of the court are complimentary powers which the court si free to exercise for the ends of justice or to prevent the abuse of the process of the court.

The reason behind the legislature for proving for the provisions saving inherent powers of the court are henceforth apparent that legislature is incapable of contemplating all the possible circumstances which may arise in future litigations. And in such unforeseen circumstances, the inherent powers by virtue of Section 151 comes to the rescue of the court, and to the legislature and such powers are exercise in absence of expressed powers by the code, for which a Latin maxim exists, ex debito justitiae.[3] Basically these powers are existent in themselves or exists naturally. These powers does not exists in sequence or in a definite order but are construed in sphere of power of court in terms of enlargement of time, payment of court fees, transfer of business, meeting ends of justice, prevent the abuse of process of court, powers in relation to amendment of judgement decrees an order, etc.

The first and foremost power of the court in terms of enlargement of time is exercised by the court where any period is fixed or granted by the court for doing any act, the court has power to enlarge the said period even if the original period has expired.[4] The word may indicate that such power is discretionary and the court is entitled to take into account the conduct of parties praying for such extension. There are however, two conditions precedent for such extension which are, that a pre existing period must have been fixed or granted by the court and such period must be for doing an act prescribed or allowed by the Code.

The court also has the power to allow a party to make up the deficiency of court fees payable on a plaint, memorandum or appeal, etc even after the expiry of limitation period prescribed thereof.[5] It however defeats the provision of the section 4 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 which says that no document chargeable with court fees under this Act shall be filed or recorded in any court of justice, unless the requisite court fees is paid. But it is to be kept in mind that being a discretionary power and bearing the retrospective validity for the purpose of limitation as well as court fees, the provisions shall be exercised in meeting the interests of the justice.

The powers in regard to transfer of business by the court are prescribed under section 150. It provides that whereby the business of any court is transferred to any other court, the transferee court will exercise same powers and discharge same duties conferred or imposed by the Code upon such transfer. As it has been already discussed that the main purpose behind prescribing or impliedly imposing inherent powers are meeting the ends of justice. Therefore, for the purpose of that, the court can do a number of things which comes under the umbrella of securing the ends of justice.[6] Few instances of these are that the court can recall its own order and correct mistakes, can add, delete or transfer any party to a suit, can hold trial in camera or prohibit excessive publication of its proceedings, etc.

While providing for a limited but reasonable liberty to itself and to the litigants, for the sole reason of meeting the ends of justice, the same powers are also provided to prevent the abuse of the process of the court. Keeping in mind such powers, there comes an abuse of such in most circumstances and such may be employed by the court itself or by the parties. In case where the injustice is done by the court on such abuse to the party, it must be remedied on the basis of principles that an act of court shall prejudice no one.[7] In case, a litigate is found guilty of such abuse by instituting vexatious, obstructive or dilatory tactics or by taking undue advantage of opposite parties or practicing fraud in the court, etc such must be dealt by the court accordingly.

In case where the miscarriage of justice or lack of proper administration of justice is not due to an intentional abuse, but instead a clerical or arithmetical mistake of the court while giving judgement, decree or order, such can be amended by the court. There are given under the provisions of Section 152, 153 and 153-A. In such cases, these irregularities may be corrected by court either by its own motion (suo moto) or by the application of the parties.

It is to be kept in mind that the courts being provided by vast and wide powers in the spheres mentioned above, such powers are to be exercised in the absence of expressed provisions in such regard by the court and in cases where in the expressed provisions are exclusively covering a particular topic, no inherent power of the court must be exercised in respect of the said provisions.[8] Such provisions however, are not provided for controlling the inherent powers of the court but for the purpose of presumption that such powers are vested by the legislature to the courts for protecting the interests of justice.


[1] Mulraj v. Murti Reghunathji Maharaj AIR 1967 SC 1386

[2] Manohar Lal Chopra v. Seth Hiralal AIR 1962 SC 527

[3] Ibid

[4] Section 148

[5] Section 149

[6] Section 151

[7] Kanai Law Shaw v. Bathu Shaw C.A. 151 of 1963

[8] Ram Chandra and Sons Sugar Mill (P) Ltd. V. Kanhayalal Bhargava AIR 1966 SC 1899

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