ST PHILOMINA SADHUJANA SAMAJAM Vs. MATHEW
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
ST. PHILOMINA SADHUJANA SAMAJAM
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(1.) A Society registered under the Travancore-Cochin literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act and its Vice president, Secretary. Treasurer and Committee Members have come up in appeal from a decree invalidating its decision to suspend the membership of the plaintiff for a period of twelve years The plaintiff was accused of causing wrongful loss to the society while functioning as an office-bearer thereof. The committee appointed by the general body of the society bad enquired into the allegations against him and submitted their report finding him guilty in the matter. In the general body meeting of the society, convened on 30th June, 1968 this report was to be presented as per the agenda fixed for the meeting. The plaintiff was given notice of the meeting but he was not present. It is at this meeting that it was decided to suspend the plaintiff's membership of the society for 12 years.
(2.) ACCORDING the plaintiff this decision was taken violating all principles of natural justice. He contends that he was not given any notice as to the charges against him nor was he afforded an opportunity to give his explanation in regard to the allegations made against him. In the suit he had also asked for the consequential relief of an injunction to restrain the defendants, who are appellants here, from implementing the decision. The trial court dismissed the suit but the lower appellate court differed from the trial court and hence setting aside the trial court's judgment and decree, decreed the suit, but without costs. Hence the defendants have come up in appeal.
The lower court was of the view that there was no evidence in the case to show that the plaintiff was made aware either expressly or impliedly that the general body proposed to take a decision on the committee's report at the meeting. The general body neither framed any charges against the plaintiff nor was he given an opportunity to state his case. Therefore, the court found that the impugned decision of the society taken at that general body meeting was void ab initio and hence could not be implemented. The court gave the plaintiff the decree as prayed for but at the same time made it clear that it was open to the general body to take a decision on the report submitted by the enquiry committee after giving sufficient opportunity to the plaintiff to offer his explanation, if any to vindicate his position.
It was strongly contended for by Sri. Joseph Augustine, learned counsel for the appellants that the decision was taken by the society in accordance with its rules and practice. In the circumstances the court has no jurisdiction as such to interfere in the internal management of the society. The plaintiff cannot come forward with the case that he was not given an opportunity to state his case as he was given notice of the meeting. Under R. 28 of the bye-laws the general body could take any action against a member of the society. The bye-laws also provided that the general body could remove any member if he acted against the interest of the society. The court cannot override the action taken by the general body acting within the framework of the bye-laws.
(3.) SRI. K. N. Narayana Pillai, learned counsel for the respondent-plaintiff contended that the decision of the general body was taken in violation of the principles of natural justice. The agenda of the meeting held on 30 6 68 only indicated that the report of the committee was to be presented on that day. If the general body proposed to take any action on the basis of the report, a regular procedure had to be drawn up which should afford an opportunity to the plaintiff to state his case against the report. The agenda drawn up cannot alert the members that disciplinary action was being taken against the members. Apart from the fact that the rules of the society do not allow such decision to be taken in the circumstances, even if the rules so permit, then such rules being violative of the principles of natural justice could have no legal force. I have no hesitation in accepting the plaintiff's contentions in the case. Gardner in his well-known treatise on Administrative Law, second edition, page 230 states:. ,. "it was also gradually established that whereas parties were prima facie bound by the rules of the association which they had joined, and to which they must therefore be implied to have assented, those rules would not be construed in such a manner as to enable the domestic tribunal to disregard the principles of natural justice in coming to its decisions. In the leading case of Lee v. Showman's Guild of Great Britain 1952-1 All. E. R. 1175 Denning L. J. Went even further than this: "although the jurisdiction of a domestic tribunal is founded on contract, express or implied nevertheless the parties are not free to make any contract they like. There are important limitations imposed by public policy. The tribunal must, for instance, observe the principles of natural justice. They must give the man notice of the charge and a reasonable opportunity of meeting it. Any stipulation to the contrary would be invalid. They cannot stipulate for a power to condemn a man unheard. . . Another limitation arises out of the well-known principle that parties cannot by contract oust the ordinary courts of their jurisdiction. . . They can of course, agree to leave questions of law as well as questions of fact, to the decision of the domestic tribunal. They can, indeed, make the tribunal the final arbiter on questions of fact, but they cannot make it the final arbiter on questions of law. They cannot prevent its decisions being examined by the courts. If parties should seek, by agreement, to take the law out of the hands of the courts and into the hands of a private tribunal, without any recourse at all to the courts in the case of error of law, then the agreement is to that extent contrary to public policy and void. "
In Andrews v. Mitchell (1905 A. C. 78) it was held by the House of Lords that a power to expel a member who committed a breach of the society's rules did not confer a power to expel a member summarily; he must be given notice of his alleged offence and an opportunity of expressing his views on the matter.;
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