Explained: The Rule of Fair Play in Proving A Document in Indian Court of Law

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Rule of Fair Play :The objection should be taken when the evidence is tendered and once the document has been admitted in evidence and marked as an exhibit, the objection that it should not have been admitted in evidence or that the mode adopted for proving the document is irregular cannot be allowed to be raised at any stage subsequent to the marking of the document as an exhibit. The latter proposition is a rule of fair play.

Panchkula (ABC Live India): Rule of Fair Play :The Supreme Court of India decided a case titled Lachhmi Narain Singh (D) Through LRs & Ors Vs Sarjug Singh (Dead) Through LRs. & Ors on August 17, 2021, wherein the apex court of India decided the issue that the   evidence   is   tendered,   and   once   the document  has been  admitted in  evidence  and marked as an   exhibit,   the   objection   that   it   should   not   have   been admitted in evidence or that the mode adopted for proving the document is irregular cannot be allowed to be raised at appeal stage.

Brief facts leading to the present appeal are Rajendra Singh (since deceased) had executed a Will on 14.09.1960 (Exbt  2)  in   favour  of  the   applicant  Sarjug   Singh. The  executant died issueless on 21.08.1963 leaving behind his sister Duler Kuer, wife of late Thakur Prasad Singh and nephew Yugal Kishore Singh and   also   the     probate   applicant   Sarjug   Singh. The   case   of   the applicant   is   that   the   testator’s   wife   died   long   ago   and   therefore Rajendra   Singh     who   was     issueless   bequeathed   his   property   in village   Pojhi   Bujurg   and   Pojhi   Kapoor,   District­Saran,   Bihar   by executing   the   Will   (Ext.2)   favouring   the   respondent   Sarjug   Singh (since deceased).

In   the   probate   proceeding   initiated   by   Sarjug   Singh   i.e.   Probate Case No. 19/1967, objection was filed by Shyam Sunder Kuer alias Raj Bansi Kuer (claiming to be the second wife and widow of the testator).   Khedaran   Kuer   also   opposed   the   applicant    and   she claimed to be the widow of Jamadar Singh who was the son of late Jag Jitan Singh (brother of the testator Rajendra Singh).  According to the  objectors, the Will favoring Sarjug Singh was  revoked and cancelled by a registered deed dated 02.02.1963 (Exbt. C). It was also   the   objector’s   contention   that   Raj   Bansi   Kuer   was   in possession of all assets belonging to late Rajendra Singh and she along   with   Khedaran   Kuer,   sold   several   plots   of   land   to   the appellants.   Eight of the vendees who took possession after such purchase, appeared in the probate proceedings and supported the case of the objectors.

It is relevant to state that the validity of the Will in favour of the applicant   Sarjug   Singh   was   never   seriously   challenged   but   the objectors   pleaded   that   the   concerned   Will   was   cancelled   by   a registered deed on 02.02.1963 (Exbt. C) by the testator himself. The applicant however claims that the testator was in very poor health, paralytic and was not in a position to attend the Sub Registrar’s office   on   02.02.1963   to   execute   the   registered   cancellation   deed (Ext.   ‘C’).     The   applicant   also   challenged   the   genuineness   of   the testator’s thumb impression on the cancellation deed of the Will.

In   the   Probate   case   filed   by   Sarjug   Singh,   the   learned   First Additional   District   Judge,   Chapra   firstly   concluded   that   the   Will (Ext. 2) is   a   genuine   document.   However,   by   referring   to   the evidence laid by the objectors, the learned Judge then held that the Will (Ext. 2) was cancelled on 02.02.1963 under a registered deed (Ext. C), a few months before Rajendra Singh died on 21.08.1963, at Patna hospital. The   Court also   referred   the   death certificate (Ext.   F)  to conclude   that   the   same   does   not   indicate   that   the testator was suffering from paralysis. This observation was made by the trial Court to reject the contention of the applicant to the effect   that   Rajendra   Singh   was   paralytic   and   was   incapable   of cancelling the Will a few months before he died.  The learned Judge then   considered   the   sale   deeds   produced   by   the   objector   Shyam Sunder   Kuer   and   observed   that   she   was   dealing   with   Rajendra Singh’s property as his legal heir and this according to the Court was also indicative of the fact that the Will for which probate was sought, was revoked by the testator himself.

The   learned   trial   Court   while   examining   the   genuineness   of   the cancellation   deed   dated   02.02.1963   (Ext.   ‘C’)   referred   to   the evidence   of   the   handwriting   expert,   Hassan   Raza   (OW­3),   the attesting   witness   of   cancellation   deed,   Jagarnath   Prasad   (OW­4) and the scribe of the cancellation deed Shashinath Mishra (OW­5). The   OW­3   as   an   expert,   compared   the   admitted   thumb   mark   of Rajendra   Singh   on   the   deed   of   gift   dated   23.7.1947   in   favour   of Jugal Kishore Singh (Ext. 1) and on the Will dated 14.09.1960 in favour   of   Sarjug   Singh   (Ext.   2)   with   the   thumb   impression registered   at  Chapra   Registration   Office   and   recorded   the following :­ “8. .....xxx...The expert who examined these thumb marks   is   of   the   opinion   that   all   these   thumb impressions tally.   O.W.3 S.E.T. Hassan Raza is the Expert and Ext. B is his report.   There is nothing in his   cross-examination   to   discard   his   evidence   and report.....xxx....” After   referring   to   the   testimony   of   the   attesting   witness   and   the scribe   of the cancellation deed, the trial Court concluded as below:­ “10.   .....xxx...There is no evidence on the side of the applicant nor there is any suggestion to the attesting witness   O.W.   4   and   Shashinath   Mishra   the   scribe O.W.   5   to   the   effect   that   somebody   also   had impersonated   Rajendra   Singh   before   the   Sub­ Registrar....xxx....” 7.On the above analysis, the learned trial Court, under its judgment dated   14.12.1973   concluded   that   the   Will   has   been   revoked   and the applicant Sarjug Singh is disentitled to get the Will probated. 

Aggrieved by the rejection of the Probate case by the Trial Court, the applicant Sarjug Singh filed the First Appeal No. 127 of 1974 before   the   High   Court.   During   the   pendency   of   the   appeal,   on 21.03.2002,   Sarjug   Singh   died   but   no   application   was   filed   for substitution of the deceased appellant.

The High Court addressed the core issue on whether the testator had cancelled the Will.  Then the Court noted the precarious health condition of the testator and the failure of the objectors to produce the original   of the cancellation   deed and non­presentation of the material witness. On such consideration, the appellate Court held that the deed cancelling the Will should not be taken into evidence.

The learned Judge also noted that the validity of the Will was never seriously questioned and the objectors had stated that the Will was cancelled   by   the   testator   himself.   The   High   Court   accordingly granted the probate and reversed the finding of the trial Court. The subsequent purchasers of the assets who supported the objector’s case in the probate proceedings, have then filed the present appeal.

The Supreme Court in this case ruled that where no protest was registered by the probate applicant against production   of   certified   copy   of   the   cancellation deed,   he   cannot   later   be   allowed   to   take   up   the   plea   of   non­ production of original cancellation deed in course of the appellate proceeding.

The judgment in para 20 ruled that In such scenario, where no protest was registered by the probate applicant  against  production   of   certified   copy   of   the   Cancellation Deed,   he   cannot   later   be   allowed   to   take   up   the   plea   of   non­ production of original cancellation deed in course of the appellate proceeding.   As   already   noted,   the   main   contention   of   probate applicants   was   that   the   mode   of   proof   of   Cancellation   deed   was inadequate.   However,   such   was   not   the   stand   of   the   probate applicants   before   the   Trial   Court.   The objection   as   to   the admissibility   of   a   registered   document   must   be   raised   at   the earliest stage before the trial court and the objection could not have been taken in appeal, for the first time.  On this we may draw support from observations made by Justice Ameer Ali in Padman v. Hanwanta where the following was set out by the Privy Council “The defendants have now appealed to His Majesty­ in Council,   and   the   case   has   been   argued   on   their behalf in great detail. It was urged in the course of the argument   that   a   registered   copy   of   the   Will   of   1898 was admitted in evidence without sufficient foundation being laid for its admission. No objection, however, appears to have been taken in the first court against   the  copy   obtained  from  the   Registrar's   office being put in evidence. Had such objection been made at the time, the District Judge, who tried the case in the first instance, would probably have seen that the deficiency   was   supplied.   Their   Lordships   think   that there   is   no   substance   in   the   present   contention.”(Emphasis in original).

Further in para no 22 of the judgment the supreme court of India says, “In support of our above conclusion, we may usefully refer to the ratio in R.V.E Venkatachala Gounder Vs Arulmigu Viswesaraswami &   V.P   Temple where Justice Ashok Bhan while dealing with the aspect of disallowing objection as to mode of proof at appellant stage as a rule of fair play to avoid prejudice to the other side, said as follows: ­20. ........... In the latter case, the objection should be taken when the evidence is tendered and once the document has been admitted in evidence and marked as an exhibit, the objection that it should not have been admitted in evidence or that the mode adopted for proving the document is irregular cannot be allowed to be raised at any stage subsequent to the marking of the document as an exhibit. The latter proposition is a rule of fair play. The crucial test is whether an objection, if taken at the appropriate point of time, would have enabled the party tendering the evidence to cure the defect and resort to such mode of proof as would be regular. The omission to object becomes fatal because by his failure the party entitled to object allows the party tendering the evidence to act on an assumption that the opposite party is not serious about the mode of proof. On the other hand, a prompt objection does not prejudice the party tendering the evidence, for two reasons: firstly, it enables the court to apply its mind and
pronounce its decision on the question of admissibility then and there; and secondly, in the event of finding of the court on the mode of proof sought to be adopted going against the party tendering the evidence, the opportunity of seeking indulgence of the court for permitting a regular mode or method of proof and thereby removing the objection raised by the opposite party, is available to the party leading the evidence. Such practice and procedure is fair to both the parties. Out of the two types of objections, referred to hereinabove, in the latter case, failure to raise a prompt and timely objection amounts to waiver of the necessity for insisting on formal proof of a document, the document itself which is sought to be proved being admissible in evidence.........” (Emphasis in original).  

The Supreme Court Referred Following Case law in this Case;

Padman Vs Hanwanta

Gopal Das & Another v/s Sri Thakurji & Others

R.V.E. Venkatachala Gounder vs Arulmigu Viswesaraswami & V.P

Dayamathi Bai v. KM Shaffi

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