When a Judgement becomes Operative?

Way back in 1954, the Supreme Court (SC), considered when a judgement become final and operative. It was in Surendra Singh & Others v The State of Uttar Pradesh (1954 AIR 194).

The SC later reiterated its stand in Vinod Kumar Singh v Banaras Hindu University & Others (1988 AIR 371) as well.

Two judges heard the case but one died before delivery

The facts in the above said 1954 Surendra Singh case was that a case was heard by a Bench of two Judges, the judgment was signed by both of them, but it was delivered in court by one of them after the death of the other. The question came before the SC was whether the judgement delivered was a valid one or not.

The SC held that there was no valid judgment and the case should be re-heard. The SC pointed out that a judgment is the final decision of the court intimated to the parties and the world at large by formal pronouncement or delivery in open court. Until a judgment is delivered the judges have a right to change their mind even if they signed its draft.

Some High Courts have a different view

The Allahabad High court in  Sangam Lal v  Rent Control And Eviction Officer says a  judgment, which has been orally dictated in open Court, can be completely changed before it is signed and sealed provided notice is given to all parties concerned and they are heard before the change is made.

Judgement is communicated by formal delivery

In the 1954 judgement the SC held that a judgment is the final decision of the court intimated to the parties and to the world at large by formal pronouncement or delivery in open court.

It is a judicial act which must be performed in a judicial way. Small irregularities in the manner of pronouncement or the mode of delivery do not matter but the substance of the thing must be there. That can neither be bluffed nor left to inference and conjecture nor can it be vague.

Rules of delivery vary, but unimportant

The manner in which it is to be recorded, the way in which it is to be authenticated the signing and the sealing, all the rules designed to secure certainty about its content. Such matters can be cured, but not the hard core, namely the formal intimation of the decision and its contents formally declared in a judicial way in open court.

The way in which this is done does not matter. In some courts the judgment is delivered orally or read out, in some only the operative portion is pronounced, in some the judgment is merely signed after giving notice to the parties and laying the draft on the table for a given number of days for inspection.

What is pronounced is the mind of the court

The decision which is pronounced or intimated must be a declaration of the mind of the court as it is at the time of pronouncement. The mode or manner of delivery is unimportant but it must be done in a judicial way in open court. It must be an expression of the mind of the court at the time of delivery.

That is the first judicial act touching the judgment which the court performs after the hearing. Everything else up till then is done out of court and is not intended to be the operative act which sets all the consequences which follow on the judgment in motion.

Judges may, and often do, discuss the matter among themselves and reach a tentative conclusion. That is not their judgment. They may write and exchange drafts. Those are not the judgments either, however heavily and often they may have been signed.

The final operative act is that which is formally declared in open court with the intention of making it the operative decision of the court. That is what constitutes the judgment.

Till delivery judges can alter it

Up to the moment the judgment is delivered Judges have the right to change their mind.

Last minute alterations sometimes do occur. Therefore, however, a draft judgment may have been signed beforehand, it is nothing but a draft till formally delivered as the judgment of the court.

Only when it is delivered it crystallise into a full-fledged judgment and become operative. It follows that the Judge who delivers the judgment, or causes it to be delivered by a brother Judge, must be in existence as a member of the court at the moment of delivery so that he can, if necessary, stop delivery and say that he has changed his mind. There is no need for him to be physically present in court but he must be in existence as a member of the court and be in a position to stop delivery and effect an alteration should there be any last-minute change of mind on his part.

If he hands in a draft and signs it and indicates that he intends that to be the final expository of his views it can be assumed that those are still his views at the moment of delivery if he is alive and, in a position, to change his mind but takes no steps to arrest delivery.

But one cannot assume that he would not have changed his mind if he is no longer in a position to do so.

Signing a draft does not make it final

It is frequently the practice to send a draft, sometimes a signed draft, to a brother Judge who also heard the case. This may be merely for his information, or for consideration and criticism.

The mere signing of the draft does not necessarily indicate a closed mind.

Judgement is the final decision of the whole court

The mere arguments and expressions of opinion of individual Judges, who compose a court, are not judgments. A judgment in the eye of the law is the final decision of the whole court.

When each of the several Judges of whom a simple court is composed separately expresses his opinion when they are all assembled, there is still but one judgment, which is the foundation for one decree.

When the court delivers becomes operational

As soon as the judgment is delivered, that becomes the operative pronouncement of the court.

The law then provides for the manner in which it is to be authenticated and made certain. The rules regarding this may differ but they do not form the essence of the matter. If there is irregularity in carrying them out it is curable.

If a judgment happens not to be signed and is inadvertently acted on and executed, the proceedings consequent on it would be valid. If the judgment is validly delivered, it would stand good despite defects in the mode of its subsequent authentication.

SC reiterates its stand in Vinod Kumar Singh case

In Vinod Kumar Singh v Banaras Hindu University & Others (1988 AIR 371) the SC held that when a judgment is pronounced in the open court, the parties act upon it and conduct their affairs on the basis that it is in judgment of the court and that the signing of the judgment is a formality to follow.  A judgment to be operative does not await the signing           thereof by the court. If what is pronounced in the court is not acted upon, the litigants would be prejudiced. Their confidence in the judicial process would be shaken.

A judgment pronounced in the open court should be acted upon unless there be some exceptional feature, like, soon after the judgment is declared in the open court, a feature, not placed for consideration before the court earlier, is brought to its notice by either party to the cause, or the court discovers some new facts from the record or the court notices a feature, which should be taken into account, or a review is asked for, which is granted.

In such a situation the court   may take up the matter again for further consideration, and it has to give good reasons if the judgment delivered by it is not to be operative.

A judgement is not lawful without a signed copy

In Ajay Singh & Anr & etc v State of Chhattisgarh & Anr, the SC points out that without pronouncement of a judgment in the open court, signed and dated, it is difficult to treat it as a judgment.

If the judgment is not complete and signed, it cannot be a judgment in terms of Section 353 CrPC. It is unimaginable that a judgment is pronounced without there being a judgment. It is gross illegality.

The judgement cites a constitutional bench decision in which the SC says that it is desirable that the final order which the High Court intends to pass should not be announced until a reasoned judgment is ready for pronouncement.

That means even though the judgement becomes operative at the moment it is pronounced, there should be a signed copy of the judgement showing the reasons for arriving at the decision as soon as possible.

To sum up

A judgement becomes operative when it is delivered in open court in the manner the law prescribes.

Anything that happens before the delivery of judgement, including putting the signature on the draft judgement etc, does not make it a final judgement. When a judgment is pronounced in open court it cannot be treated as invalid on the ground that the draft is not signed by the judge by oversight. Such lapses can be cured later. The significant part is the delivery of the mind of the court to the public.