Judgment Summarized by Delhi Law Academy – Jaipur
This is an appeal by special leave against the judgment of the High Court of Bombay in an appeal from the judgment of a single judge of that Court. The claim in appeal before the High Court was for about 26 lakhs of rupees. Being aggrieved by the decision of the High Court, the appellant applied for a certificate under Art. 133(1)(a) of the Constitution. It was necessary for the appellant to establish that a substantial question of law was involved in the appeal.
On behalf of the appellant it was contended that the question raised concerned the interpretation to be placed on certain clauses of the managing agency agreement upon which their claim in the suit was founded and that as the interpretation placed by the appeal court on those clauses was erroneous and thus deprived them of the claim to a substantial amount the matter deserved to be certified by the High Court under Art. 133(1)(a) of the Constitution. The learned Judges dismissed the application
The appellants, therefore, moved this Court under Art. 136 of the Constitution for grant of special leave which was granted. It is not disputed before us that the question raised by the appellant in the appeal is one of law because what the appellant is challenging is the interpretation placed upon certain clauses of the managing agency agreement which are the foundation of the claim in the suit. Indeed it is well settled that the construction of a document of title or of a document which is the foundation of the rights of parties necessarily raises a question of law
The next question is whether the interpretation of a document of the kind referred to above raises a substantial question of law.
Observations of the Privy Council in Raghunath Prasad Singh v. DeputyCommissioner of Partabgarh 1927 PC:
Admittedly here the whole question turns upon whether there is a substantial question of law. There seems to have been some doubt…….as to whether a substantial question of law meant a question of general importance. Their Lordships think it is quite clear…….that that is not the meaning, but that “substantial question of law” is a substantial question of law as between the parties in the case involved.
What is a substantial question of law as between the parties would certainly depend upon the facts and circumstances of every case. Thus, for instance, if a question of law had been settled by the highest court of the country the question of law however important or difficult it may have been regarded in the past and however much it may affect any of the parties would cease to be a substantial question of law. Nor again, would a question of law which is palpably absurd be a substantial question of law as between the parties.
In Dinkarrao v. Rattansey,  it was argued before Nagpur High Court on the basis of certain decisions that no question of law can be substantial unless the legal principles applied in the case are not well defined or unless there can be some reasonable divergence of opinion about the correctness of the view taken and unless the case involves a point of law such as would call for fresh definition and enunciation.
Referring to the Privy Council case Bose, C.J., observed as follows:
In the Lucknow case the only question was whether the defendant there obtained an absolute interest or a limited interest under a will. That again was a question which was of no interest to anyone outside the parties to the suit. Nevertheless, their Lordships considered in both cases that the questions were substantial questions of law because they were substantial as between the parties. We can only consider this to mean that a question of law is substantial as between the parties if the decision turns one way or another on the particular view taken of the law. If it does not affect the decision then it cannot be substantial as between the parties. But if it substantially affects the decision then it is substantial as between the parties though it may be wholly unimportant to others.
In Subba Rao v. N. Veeraju [1951 Mad] the test of the kind suggested by Bose C.J. was rejected on the ground that logically it would lead to the position that even a palpably absurd plea raised by a party would involve a substantial question of law because the decision on the merits of the case would be directly affected by it.
What was, however, said was that when a question of law is fairly arguable, where there is room for difference of opinion on it or where the Court thought it necessary to deal with that question at some length and discuss alternative views, then the question would be a substantial question of law. On the other hand if the question was practically covered by the decision of the highest court or if the general principles to be applied in determining the question are well settled and the only question was of applying those principles to the particular facts of the case it would not be a substantial question of law.
The proper test for determining whether a question of law raised in the case is substantial would, in our opinion, be whether it is of general public importance or whether it directly and substantially affects the rights of the parties and if so whether it is either an open question in the sense that it is not finally settled by this Court or by the Privy Council or by the Federal Court or is not free from difficulty or calls for discussion of alternative views. If the question is settled by the highest Court or the general principles to be applied in determining the question are well settled and there is a mere question of applying those principles or that the plea raised is palpably absurd the question would not be a substantial question of law.
Applying these tests it would be clear that the question involved in this appeal, that is, the construction of the Managing Agency agreement is not only one of law but also it is neither simple nor free from doubt. In the circumstances we have no hesitation in saying that the High Court was in error in refusing to grant the appellant a certificate that the appeal involves a substantial question of law. It has to be borne in mind that upon the success or the failure of the contention of the parties, they stand to succeed or fail with respect to their claim for nearly 26 lakhs of rupees.