Private Agreement cannot oust writ jurisdiction of HC under Article 226 : SC

The Supreme Court has made it clear that a private agreement negotiated between two parties cannot create a legal bar against the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of Constitution.

The court was dealing against the judgement of the Bombay High Court in Maharashtra Chess Association v Union of India where a private agreement entered into between the parties in the form of the Constitution and Bye-Laws conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the courts at Chennai, so the Bombay High Court refused to admit the petition.

The Bench  comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee held that

“The existence of an alternate remedy whether adequate or not, does not alter the fundamentally discretionary nature of the High Court’s writ jurisdiction and therefore does not create an absolute legal bar on the exercise of a writ jurisdiction by a High Court.The decision whether or not to entertain an action under its writ jurisdiction remains a decision to be taken by the high court on an examination of the facts and circumstances of a particular case.”

 It is not open to a High Court to abdicate this constitutional responsibility merely due to the existence of a privately negotiated document ousting its jurisdiction.

It stated that, “If a High Court is tasked with being the final recourse to upholding the rule of law within its territorial jurisdiction, it must necessarily have the power to examine any case before it and make a determination of whether or not its writ jurisdiction is engaged.”

The court held that the High Court has to take a holistic view of the facts and circumstances of each case. It may take into consideration various factors including the nature of the injustice that is alleged by the petitioner, whether or not an alternate remedy exists, or whether the facts raise a question of constitutional interpretation, the list not being exhaustive.

It stated two principles regarding the exercise of powers of writ jurisdiction by the High Court – 

First, that the decision of the High Court to entertain or not entertain a particular action under its writ jurisdiction is fundamentally discretionary. Second,that the  limitations placed on the court’s decision to exercise or refuse to exercise its writ jurisdiction are self-imposed.

The apex Court held that the powers of the High Court in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction cannot be circumscribed by strict legal principles.

It also held that the mere existence of alternate forums where the aggrieved party can secure relief is no  legal bar on a High Court to exercise its writ jurisdiction. It is a factor to be taken into consideration by the high court among several factors.

The court observed that the Bombay High Court relied solely on Clause 21 of the Constitution and Bye-Laws of the agreement to hold that its own writ jurisdiction is ousted. It thus failed to examine the case holistically and make a considered determination as to whether or not it should, in its discretion, exercise its powers under Article 226.

The court set aside the judgment of the Bombay High Court and restored the matter for fresh consideration..