Lawwatch

Question of law can be brought before SC at any stage

Seminal question before the SC

In a recent judgment in K Lubna v Beevi, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld that a pure question of law can be examined at any stage even before the SC if the foundation of the fact has already been laid. The examination of the legal consequences of such a well laid down fact would be a pure question of law.

The SC has already recognized in Chittoori Subbanna v Kudappa Subbanna ( AIR 1965 SC 1325) that by moving a separate application for permission, it is possible to include additional grounds in the grounds of appeal.

In upholding this principle, the SC relied on a 1892 judgment in Connecticut Fire Insurance Co v Kavanagh. In the judgment, Lord Watson stated: when a question of law is raised for the first time in a court of last resort upon facts proved beyond controversy, the court is not only competent but also it is expedient in the interest of justice to entertain the plea.

Facts of the case in brief

The present case comes under the Kerala Building (Lease & Rent Control) Act, 1965. The facts of the case are as follows: the landlord lets out three shop rooms in 1967; after two decades, the landlord demanded surrender of possession of shop rooms on three different grounds: rooms were required for bonafide own use, two shops were sublet and the arrears for the past years were not paid; then landlord filed a petition in the Rent Control Court, Kozhikode (see the judgment linked below to know the facts in detail).

Judgments of different courts in this case

The trial court ignored all alleged grounds except the nonpayment of rent and ordered eviction of tenancy if the arrears were not paid within one month. The tenant deposited the arrears.

Then the landlord filed an appeal before the appellate court. The appeal court found no bonafide need for the landlord in the case of first shop but found bonafide need in the case of second room and did not find the subletting of the third room.

Then both parties (the landlord and the other party) filed cross revision petitions in the High Court of Kerala. The High Court did not find any bonafide need for the room 1 and 2, but recognized the subletting of the third room and ordered eviction of the third room alone.

The landlord then filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the SC. The SC granted Leave. The SC, during the hearing, found that there was only one tenancy for the three rooms but there were different alleged violations in different portions of the tenancy.

Landlord’s last minute plea

The landlord, for the first time in the entire history of the case starting from the trial court, contended before the SC that even if the sub tenancy was created only in part of the premises, his right of eviction is in respect of the whole premises, as per Section 11 (4) (i) of the Kerala Building (Lease & Rent Control) Act. Surprisingly, the landlord’s plea was brought before the SC through a rejoinder to the SLP. Thereafter the landlord, through an interlocutory application, urged additional grounds to raise the above issue. The respondent challenged it.

The SC then upheld that a pure question of law can be examined at any stage even before the SC if the foundation of the fact has already been laid. In this case the fact has already been well established. So the SC inclined to decide the issue.

SC ordered eviction of entire premises

The SC on examination of the Section 11 (4) (i) of the Kerala Building (Lease & Rent Control) Act (see the link below) found that subletting of any part of the tenanted premises gives rise to eviction from the whole premises.

Therefore the court ordered that the landlord is entitled to a decree of eviction of the tenancy from the entire premises on the ground of the tenant subletting a part of the premises.

Two take away points

The two key points that the judgment reaffirms are:

  1. a pure question of law can be examined at any stage even before the SC if the foundation of the fact has already been laid and

  2. subletting of any part of the tenanted premises gives rise to eviction from the whole premises as squarely provided in the rent control act of Kerala State.

Additional Reading

  1. The judgment in the case K. Lubna v. Beevi [ (2020) 2 SCC 524] available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/194853219/

  2. The judgment in Chittoori Subbanna v Kudappa Subbanna ( AIR 1965 SC 1325) available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1752222/

  3. The judgment in Connecticut Fire Insurance Co v Kavanagh is available at https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1892/1892_45.html

  4. Kerala Building (Lease & Rent Control) Act, 1965, available at http://www.lawsofindia.org/pdf/kerala/1965/1965KERALA2.pdf