What the term issue means
The term “issue” in a civil case means a disputed question relating to rival contentions in a suit. It is the focal point of disagreement, argument or decision. It is the point on which a case itself is decided in favour of one side or the other, by the court.
The court cannot frame any issues in a court case when no dispute exists between the parties.
For example, a plaintiff says the defendant borrowed Rs 10 lakh from him. The defendant denies it. It is an affirmation by one party and denial by the other. Then there arises a distinct dispute and that dispute is termed an “issue”. The court can then frame issues based on the facts of the case and proceed with it.
Fact or law is asserted or denied
An issue in a case is a “material proposition” (means a directly relevant and vital statement which affirms or denies) of fact or of law. Issues arise when any material proposition of fact or law in a case is affirmed by one party and denied by the other.
Plaintiff gets the right to sue and the defendant gets his right to defend the case based on the issues. A claim or right affirmed by one party and denied by the other shall form a distinct issue in a case.
The term “material proposition” refers to the “cause of action” of a case, though it is not stated directly in the Civil Procedure Code 1908 (CPC). The “cause of action” is a bundle of essential facts when considered against the law applicable to such facts, gives the Plaintiff a right to seek some relief against the Defendant in the case.
The cause of action occurs prior to the institution of the suit. It forms the foundation of the suit. Without a valid cause of action the plaint is not maintainable and will have to be rejected. Cause of action creates a ground for accruing some legal rights or duties for the parties in a case and obtaining a judgment on the basis of such rights/duties. A breach of such right or duty with consequential injury or damage gives the plaintiff a right to sue for relief. To determine the cause of action the substance rather than the form must be taken into consideration.
A suit essentially is an action of an aggrieved party in a court for the recovery of a legal claim or right. When such a right is decided by a court after due adjudication it becomes a decree. Any decision of the court that does not touch upon such a claim or right is only an order of the court but not a decree.
A set of Issues in a case
Whether the plaintiff proves that the defendant entered into an agreement to sell his property to him for Rs 10 lakh?
Whether the plaintiff proves that he paid Rs one lakh as earnest money deposit to the defendant?
Whether the plaintiff proves that he is ready and willing to perform his part of the contract?
Whether the defendant proves that the case of the plaintiff is false and got up?
What relief the plaintiff is entitled to?
What order and decree the plaintiff is entitled to?
When issue is framed
When plaint is presented to the court the case is set in motion. Subsequently the written statement is filed by the other party. After that issues are framed.
The day on which the issues are framed is termed the day of “first hearing of the suit”. On the first day of the suit the court shall ascertain from each party whether he admits or denies the allegation in the plaint.
It is after “the first hearing of the suit” from the parties, reading the plaint and the written statement, and ascertaining on what material proposition of fact or law the parties are at variance, the court frame issues. The right decision in any case dominantly rests on the correctness of the issues framed.
If the defendant makes no defence in the first hearing of the suit, there is no need to frame the issues. Issues are framed to avoid surprises in the trial and enable the parties know what points they need to provide evidence on. The averments not denied in the written statement are taken as admitted.
The court should pronounce judgment on all issues. It cannot leave any issue unattended to. Issues relating to jurisdiction of the court and the bar to the suit by any law should be taken up first when proceedings start.
The issues are to be framed by the court from the following sources:-
· Allegations of parties or their behalf on oath
· Allegations made in the pleadings/interrogatories
· The contents of documents produced by both parties.
The court can even examine witnesses or documents not brought before it, before framing the issues if it is not possible otherwise. For bringing them before the court seven days adjournment is possible.
The court can amend, add or delete issues at any time before passing a decree if such changes are necessary in the interest of justice.
If the parties are ready to agree for a settlement in any matter before the court, they should frame it in the form of an issue and then enter into an agreement. The agreement thus arrived at may be in the following format: “the first party will pay the amount so agreed upon (specify the amount) to the second party and the second party will hand over the assets in question (give details here) to the other party”.
If the court is satisfied that the agreement is executed by the parties, the parties have interest in the above said substantial question thus agreed to, and the issue is fit enough to be tried and decided, it shall proceed to try the issue and come out with the judgment.
If the issue is decided in favour of the plaintiff it will give him relief. If it is decided in favour of the defendant it will be a valid defence against the claim.
Types of issues
There are three kinds of issues: issues of fact, issues of law, and mixed issues of fact and law.
A question of law on which no evidence is to be brought in by the parties can be tried as a preliminary issue. It is being done when the issue involves a question of law alone. To decide to try anything as a preliminary issue is a matter of discretion for the court, but it is not an obligation (O XIV R 2(2).
When determination of a ‘question of law’ depends on a ‘question of fact’, then the issue of law should not be tried as a preliminary issue. The plea of limitation, estoppel, res judicata etc, raised in the beginning of a case can be tried as preliminary issue.
Court cannot refuse to decide issues
The court cannot refuse to decide any issue if the issue is framed and evidence is given, even though the point finds no mention in the pleadings.
The court should not frame any issue which does not arise in the pleadings. The issue must be confined onto the material questions of fact or law.
Importance of issues
To decide a case properly the framing of the issue should be appropriate.
Framing of issue helps the parties to lead necessary evidence in support of the claims and the reliefs. It will give the other party to confront or construct the case to bring home his defence.
Issues are the lamp post which enlightens the parties, the trial and the appellate court as to what the controversy is, what the evidence must be, and where the truth in the dispute lies.
Duty of the court in framing issues
It is the duty of the court to frame proper issues. The judge must apply his mind and understand the facts of the case when framing issues. If the court frames improper issues, the parties can move the court for framing proper issues. Framing of issues largely depends on literary skill of the judge. Issues should be precise, crystal clear and to the point.
The court may examine the witness or inspect the documents before framing or amending the issues. If the parties agree to a question of fact or law in issue between them, they may state it in the form of an issue and the court can issue judgment on the issue.
The framing of issues is the crucial part of the trial. Only on laying down the foundation of the case with proper issues, is it possible for the court to go along the right lines and come to the right judgment in a case.
The stage of framing issues is an important one. It is on that day the scope of the trial is determined by laying the path on which a trial should proceed. Omission to frame an issue is an irregularity, but not a material one to vitiate the proceedings if it does not affect the merit of the case. Even if wrong issues were framed, the decree would not be set aside unless it is a prejudicial one.
When lower court omits framing any issue
When the lower court omitted to frame an issue before trying a matter in controversy, the appellate court can frame the issue and refer it for trial to the lower court. There is no need to remand the entire case. Then the lower court should try such issues and return the evidence and its decision to the appellate court (please see Section 25 of the CPC and the Order XLI Rule 24).
In appeal and second appeal
In an appeal, the primary issue is what wrong occurred in the Judgment/order. The question of fact or law can be challenged in an appeal.
However in the second appeal, the substantial question of law involved has to be framed as the issue.
Court adjudicates on issues
It is on the issues that the court applies its mind and decides which issue should be decided in whose favour.
The judgment is the application of the court’s mind on the issues that the court initially frames. That means the issues run as a thread from the first day of hearing of a case to the last day of its judgment.
When a plaint is instituted it will become a suit. On adjudication it will then end up in a judgment. A judgment is a formal and final expression of adjudication on the issues.
The issues framed initially keep the thread right from the beginning to the end of the case.
Gov of India: The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
Takwani, C K: Civil Procedure with Limitation Act, 1963. Lucknow, Eastern Book Co, 2015
Singh, S N: The Code of Civil Procedure including Pleadings. Calcutta, Central Law Agency, 2011