On Tuesday, the Kerala High Court made specific alterations to the application of provisions of the Civil Procedure Code. The High Court interpreted the term ‘mental infirmity’ included under the ambit of Order 32 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The Judgement passed in the case of ‘Mary v Leelamma and Another’.
Background on the Case
Leelamma has speech and hearing impairments, due to which her daughter, Manju filed her suit. In the suit, the plaintiff claimed that she was forced to provide a thumbprint by her sister, Mary. As a result, Mary received a major share of the property. The judgment was passed in favor of Leelamma, after which an appeal was filed by Mary. The Court was asked to adjudge whether the partition deed signed between the parties was valid.
Leelamma was represented by her next-friend, Manju, who alleged that Mary used the plaintiff’s impairment to obtain her assent. The appellant contended that Leelamma could not be represented by a ‘next-friend’ because she was not of an ‘unsound mind’. Hence, the provisions of Order 32 of the CPC is not applicable. It was contended that the Trial Court had failed to ascertain Leelamma’s soundness of mind. Hence, the appellant argued that the plaint filed was void and could not be entertained.
The Judgment of the Court
A bench consisting of Justices SV Bhatti and BK Thomas ruled that people with physical disabilities can file suits through a next-friend. The Court stated that since cognitive skills help the orientation of individuals, the infirmity of the same would necessarily impact their minds. It was noted that a physical impairment which causes difficulty in communication could be viewed as ‘mental infirmity’. Hence, it can be accepted under the purview of Rule 15 of Order 32 of the Code.
The Court made use of previous judgments to determine the propriety of the next-friend. It was found that an infirmity that leads to difficulty in communicating and perceiving responses can be accepted under the Code. In Leelamma’s case, since she had speech and hearing impairments, there was bound to be communication problems. Therefore, the Court rejected the appellant’s arguments against the appointment of Leelamma’s daughter as a next friend. The Court also concurred with the Trial Court on the question of the validity of the Partition Deed. The partition deed was held to be null and void. It was held that Leelamma was entitled to her lawful share in the property.
Civil Procedure Code, 1908
The representation of Leelamma by her daughter Manju is provided by the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. Order 32 of the Code deals with suits filed by or against Minors and Persons of Unsound Mind. Rule 1 to 14 of the Order provides for all the conditions regarding the matters of appointment of next friend by a minor.
Rule 15, which was the provision in question in the Judgement, is responsible for providing rights to people of unsound mind under the code.
Rule 15 places persons of unsound mind in the same position as minors for the provisions laid down from Rule 1 to Rule 14. According to Rule 15, persons of unsound mind can be represented by a ‘next friend’. The person can be represented while suing or being sued by a third party. The provisions apply not only to people with an unsound mind but also to a weak mind. Physical infirmity also falls under the ambit of ‘unsound mind’, provided it negatively affects communication. In other words, any physical defect hinders the ability of an individual to communicate.
The Civil Code Procedure provides for representation of parties that are unable to represent themselves in court to eliminate any disparities. Provisions under the Code ensure that there is no miscommunication in the duration of the trial. A section of the Code contains provisions for certain rights for the vulnerable sections of society to place them in the same footing as other sections. Order 32 deals specifically with minors and people of unsound mind.
The recent Judgment further ensured the rights of the people suffering from infirmities. People with physical infirmities are often treated at a level below than people without such infirmities. However, their infirmities are not treated as seriously as people with an unsound mind. The recent case in the High Court adjudges the infirmities in terms of its consequences. As a result, it provides people with physical infirmities an opportunity to be adequately represented. The judgment ensures that the Court acknowledges the seriousness of infirmities and upholds the legal rights of such individuals.
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