Judgment Summarized by Delhi Law Academy – Jaipur
The 1st appellant and the 1st respondent were married at Tirupati on February 27, 1975. They separated in July 1978. The 1st appellant filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Missouri, USA. The 1st respondent sent her reply from here under protest. The Circuit Court passed a decree for dissolution of marriage on February 19, 1980 in the absence of the 1st respondent.
On November 2, 1981, the 1st appellant married the 2nd appellant in Yadgirigutta. Hence, 1st respondent filed a criminal complaint against the appellants for the offence of bigamy. The appellants filed an application for their discharge in view of the decree for dissolution of marriage passed by the Missouri Court. The learned Magistrate discharged the appellants. The High Court set aside the order of the Magistrate holding that a photostat copy of the judgment of the Missouri Court was not admissible in evidence to prove the dissolution of marriage.
It is necessary to note certain facts relating to the decree of dissolution of marriage passed by the Missouri Court. In the first instance, the Court assumed jurisdiction over the matter on the ground that the 1st appellant had been a resident of the State of Missouri for 90 days next preceding the commencement of the action and that petition in that Court. Secondly, the decree has been passed on the only ground that there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage between the parties can be preserved, and that the marriage is, therefore, irretrievably broken”. Thirdly, the 1st respondent had not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court. Fourthly, it is not disputed that the 1st respondent was neither present nor represented in the Court and the Court passed the decree in her absence.
Under the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, only the District Court within the local limits of whose original civil jurisdiction (i) the marriage was solemnized, or (ii) the respondent, at the time of the presentation of the petition resides, or (iii) the parties to the marriage last resided together has jurisdiction to entertain the petition. The Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri had, therefore, no jurisdiction to entertain the petition according to the Act under which admittedly the parties were married. Secondly, irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not one of the grounds recognised by the Act for dissolution of marriage. Hence, the decree of divorce passed by the foreign court was on a ground unavailable under the Act.
Under Section 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a foreign judgment is not conclusive as to any matter thereby directly adjudicated upon between the parties if (a) it has not been pronounced by a Court of competent jurisdiction; (b) it has not been given on the merits of the case; (c) it is 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) the proceedings are opposed to natural justice, (e) it is obtained by fraud, (f) it sustains a claim founded on a breach of any law in force in India.
As pointed out above, the present decree dissolving the marriage passed by the foreign court is without jurisdiction according to the Act as neither the marriage was celebrated nor the parties last resided together nor the respondent resided within the jurisdiction of that Court. The decree is also passed on a ground which is not available under the Act which is applicable to the marriage.
What is further, the decree has been obtained by the 1st appellant by stating that he was the resident of the Missouri State when the record shows that he was only a bird of passage there and was ordinarily a resident of the State of Lousiana. He had, if at all, only technically satisfied the requirement of residence of ninety days with the only purpose of obtaining the divorce. He has in his petition made a false averment that the 1st respondent had refused to continue to stay with him in the State of Missouri where she had never been.
Relying on a decision of this Court in Smt. Satya v. Teja Singh [1975 SC], it is possible for us to dispose of this case on a narrow ground, viz., that the appellant played a fraud on the foreign court representing to it incorrect jurisdiction facts. For, as held in that case, residence does not mean a temporary residence for the purpose of obtaining a divorce but habitual residence or residence which is intended to be permanent for future as well. We refrain from adopting that course in the present case because there is nothing on record to assure us that the Court of St. Louis does not assume jurisdiction only on the basis of a mere temporary residence for the purpose of obtaining divorce. We would, therefore, presume that the foreign court by its own rules of jurisdiction had rightly entertained the dispute and granted a valid decree of divorce according to its law.
The larger question that we would like to address ourselves to is whether even in such cases Courts in this country should recognise foreign divorce decrees.
What we state here will apply strictly to matters arising out of matrimonial disputes.
Clause (a) of Section 13 states that a foreign judgment shall not be recognised if it has not been pronounced by a court of competent jurisdiction. We are of the view that this clause should be interpreted to mean that only that court will be a court of competent jurisdiction which the Act or the law under which the parties are married recognises as a court of competent jurisdiction to entertain the matrimonial dispute.
Any other court should be held to be a court without jurisdiction unless both parties voluntarily and unconditionally subject themselves to the jurisdiction of that court. The expression “competent court” in Section 41 of the Indian Evidence Act has also to be construed likewise.
Clause (b) of Section 13 states that if a foreign judgment has not been given on the merits of the case, the courts in this country will not recognise such judgment. This clause should be interpreted to mean (a) that the decision of the foreign court should be on a ground available under the law under which the parties are married, and (b) that the decision should be a result of the contest between the parties. The latter requirement is fulfilled only when the respondent is duly served and voluntarily and unconditionally submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court and contests the claim or agrees to the passing of the decree with or without appearance. A mere filing of the reply to the claim under protest and without submitting to the jurisdiction of the court should not be considered as a decision on merits of the case.
The second part of clause (c) of Section 13 states that where the judgment is founded on a refusal to recognise the law of this country in cases in which such law is applicable, the judgment will not be recognised by the courts in this country. Marriages which take place in this country can only be under either the customary or the statutory law in force in this country. Hence, the only law that can be applicable to the matrimonial disputes is the one under which the parties are married, and no other law. When, therefore, a foreign judgment is founded on a jurisdiction or on a ground not recognised by such law, it is a judgment which is in defiance of the Law. Hence, it is not conclusive of the matters adjudicated therein and, therefore, unenforceable in this country.
For the same reason, such a judgment will also be unenforceable under clause (f) of Section 13, since such a judgment would obviously be in breach of the matrimonial law in force in this country.
Clause (d) of Section 13 which makes a foreign judgment unenforceable on the ground that the proceedings in which it is obtained are opposed to natural justice, states no more than an elementary principle on which any civilised system of justice rests. However, in matters concerning the family law such as the matrimonial disputes, this principle has to be extended to mean something more than mere compliance with the technical rules of procedure. If the rule of audi alteram partem has any meaning with reference to the proceedings in a foreign court, for the purposes of the rule it should not be deemed sufficient that the respondent has been duly served with the process of the court. It is necessary to ascertain whether the respondent was in a position to present or represent himself and contest effectively the said proceedings. If the foreign court has not ascertained and ensured such effective contest by requiring the petitioner to make all necessary provisions for the respondent to defend including the costs of travel, residence and litigation where necessary, it should be held that the proceedings are in breach of the principles of natural justice. If, therefore, the courts in this country also insist as a matter of rule that foreign matrimonial judgment will be recognised only if it is of the forum where the respondent is domiciled or habitually and permanently resides, the provisions of clause (d) may be held to have been satisfied.
The provision of clause (e) of Section 13 which requires that the courts in this country will not recognise a foreign judgment if it has been obtained by fraud, is self-evident. However, in view of the decision of this Court in Smt. Satya v. Teja Singh, it must be understood that the fraud need not be only in relation to the merits of the matter but may also be in relation to jurisdictional facts.
From the aforesaid discussion the following rule can be deduced for recognising foreign matrimonial judgments in this country. The jurisdiction assumed by the foreign court as well as the grounds on which the relief is granted must be in accordance with the matrimonial law under which the parties are married.
The exceptions to this rule may be as follows: (i) where the matrimonial action is filed in the forum where the respondent is domiciled or habitually and permanently resides and the relief is granted on a ground available in the matrimonial law under which the parties are married; (ii) where the respondent voluntarily and effectively submits to the jurisdiction of the forum and contests the claim which is based on a ground available under the matrimonial law under which the parties are married; (iii) where the respondent consents to the grant of the relief although jurisdiction of the forum is not in accordance with the provisions of the matrimonial law of the parties.
Since with regard to the jurisdiction of the forum as well as the ground on which it is passed the foreign decree in the present case is not in accordance with the Act under which the parties were married, and the respondent had not submitted to the jurisdiction of the court or consented to its passing, it cannot be recognised by the courts in this country and is, therefore, unenforceable.
The High Court, as stated earlier, set aside the order of the learned Magistrate only on the ground that the photostat copy of the decree was not admissible in evidence. The High Court is not correct in its reasoning.
Under Section 74(1)(iii) of the Indian Evidence Act documents forming the acts or records of the acts of public judicial officers of a foreign country are public documents. Under Section 76 read with Section 77 of the Act, certified copies of such documents may be produced in proof of their contents. However, under Section 86 of the Act there is a presumption with regard to the genuineness and accuracy of such certified copy only if it is also certified by the representative of our Central Government in that country that the manner in which it has been certified is commonly in use in that country for such certification.
Section 63(1) and (2) read with Section 65(e) and (f) of the Act permits certified copies and copies made from the original by mechanical process to be tendered as secondary evidence. A photostat copy is prepared by a mechanical process which in itself ensures the accuracy of the original. The present photostat copies of the judicial record of the Court of St. Louis is certified by the Deputy Clerk who is a public officer having custody of the document within the meaning of Section 76 of the Act. It is inadmissible because it has not further been certified by the representative of our Central Government in the United States as required by Section 86 of the Act. The expression “certified copy” of a foreign judgment in Section 14 of the Code has to be read consistent with the requirement of Section 86 of the Act.
While, therefore, holding that the document is not admissible in evidence for want of the certificate under Section 86 of the Act and not because it is a photostat copy of the original, we uphold the order of the High Court also on a more substantial and larger ground as stated above. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal and direct the learned Magistrate to proceed with the matter pending before him according to law.