Doctrine of relation back

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. The article explains the meaning of the doctrine of relation back. It further explains its applicability and use in different areas of law along with relevant case laws.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Introduction​


Did you know that if you do something today, it might be presumed under the law that you did it some years ago? Surprising, right?

Well, it is true. Law is not just the legislations or statutes enacted by the legislators or the precedents and guidelines set by the judiciary; it also consists of doctrines and rules that may not be expressly mentioned anywhere but applied and mentioned impliedly in the provisions. However, when such doctrines are applied, they have their own impact. Thus, it is necessary to understand such doctrines and theories. One such doctrine is the doctrine of relation back. This doctrine is frequently applied by the courts in different cases depending upon the nature and circumstances of the case. This doctrine has its own use under different areas of law and is not limited to just one particular area. In the present article, we will understand the meaning and objective of this doctrine and its applicability under different areas of law like concept of adoption under hindu law i.e the
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,
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along with relevant case laws.

What is the doctrine of relation back​


The term relation back has been defined by the
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as ‘a principle that an act done today is considered to have been done at an earlier time.’ Thus, the doctrine implies that under certain circumstances, an act done at a later stage is considered as if it was done earlier. It can also be said that according to the doctrine an act done by a person in the present situation is linked with an act done by him previously to determine the issue or cause of action. It must be noted that it is not universally applicable and is applied depending upon the nature and circumstances of the case. However, application of this doctrine can never be used to overturn or change the provisions of a statute.

The doctrine is used differently in different areas of law. For example, Order VI Rule 17 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 provides an opportunity for pleading amendments at any stage of pleadings before a trial has begun in order to determine the dispute between the parties. In the case of
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, the Supreme Court held that once an amendment is incorporated it is referred back to the date of the suit. The doctrine is also applicable to the
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.
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of the Act provides that a registered document becomes operative from the date it was made and not when it was registered.

Objective of the doctrine of relation back​


The doctrine aims to fulfil the following objectives:

  • The doctrine is applied to avoid confusion in the justice delivery system
  • It helps to avoid limitations and restrictions in a case
  • It further reduces chances of mistakes
  • The doctrine is used as a tool by the judges while deciding a case with fairness

Doctrine of relation back under Hindu Law​

Application of the doctrine of relation back in old Hindu Law​


As said earlier, the doctrine is used differently in different areas of law. In Hindu law, it is mostly used in the concept of adoption and inheritance law. In the ancient times, families with no children, especially sons, used to adopt a son in order to protect their ancestral property so that it could vest with the adopted son. If a widow adopted a son after the death of her husband, it was believed that she adopted the child before her husband’s death. In simple words, the doctrine provided that if a son is adopted by a widow after her husband’s death, it would be deemed as if she adopted him during the time her husband was alive. After the adoption, the adopted son is under an obligation to perform all the duties of a son and even inherit the property owned by the father before his death. To better understand the doctrine, let’s take an example:

Illustration: A woman ‘Q’, married ‘B’ who died in 1940. Q had limited interest but no right to inherit B’s property and so the property was equally distributed among his two brothers. However, in 1949, Q adopted Y. Applying the doctrine of relation back, it will be presumed that Y was adopted in 1940 and so he will be allowed to divest B’s property.

However, the doctrine has two exceptions:

  • If any lawful alienation is done by a female heir after the death of the father and before the son is adopted, it would be binding on him as well. The same was also reiterated in the case of
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    .
  • If the property is already inherited to any relative descending from a common ancestor, the adoption would not divest such property vested in the heir of collateral. He is entitled to inherit only that property which was owned by the father before his death.

In the case of
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, the Supreme Court held that according to the doctrine of relation back, if a widow adopts a son, the adoption would be considered retrospective in nature as if the child was adopted before the father’s death.

The doctrine of relation back was also explained in the case of
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as:

  • The doctrine was accepted as a rule of Hindu law wherein the adoption is considered retrospective to the date of father’s death.
  • The court also recognised the right of the adopted son to demand partition.

In the case of
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, the Madras High Court held that the above principle could only apply to the father’s estate and not to that of collateral heirs. Thus, it must also be noted that the rule or the doctrine can be applied only when an adopted son claims his father’s estate after his death. This was based on the principle which provided that the creation of filial relations was based on the rule of continuity of life.

Application of the doctrine of relation back under modern Hindu Law​


The doctrine was applicable only till the time adopted laws were not codified. After the enactment of
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, the doctrine has neither been recognised nor applied unlike before.
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of the Act clearly provides that an adopted child would be considered as the child of the adoptive parents from the date of his or her adoption which means that unlike before the enactment of the Act, the adoption of a child is not retrospective in nature. The section also provides that the child so adopted will not divest or deprive any person of any estate which is vested in him before the adoption. Thus, adoption would have no effect on the estate which is already vested in a person.

The primary aim of the Section is to codify the law of adoption and maintenance. It does not recognise the doctrine and rather confers equal status of a natural child with the adopted child in the family, in which he or she is adopted, but only from the date of adoption and not retrospectively.
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further denies the theory of relation back which was applied and used in the case of vesting and divesting of property. It also helped reduce multiple litigation in this regard. Moreover, the date of adoption is considered necessary to determine filial relations in the adoptive family.

In the case of
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, the Supreme Court observed that the aim of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 and the provisions for adoption given therein is to sever all ties of birth family of the adopted child after he or she is given in adoption to the adoptive family. The legal effect is to transfer the child from his or her birth family to adoptive family. Thus, the Act abrogates the doctrine of relation back by providing the adopted child with the same status as that of a natural born child in the adoptive family from the date of adoption. From the date of adoption, all the ties of a child with his or her birth family would be replaced by that of the adoptive family.​


In the case of
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, the
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held that the doctrine of relation back can no longer be applied to the issue of divesting of property and adoption. The 1956 Act clearly provides express provision which states that the adopted child would not take away any estate already vested in a person before the adoption. In this case, a sole surviving coparcener gave all his properties to his wife. After his death, the widow adopted a son and gave him certain properties and retained the others. The adopted son tried to divest all the properties of his adoptive mother but the same was denied by the court.

In the case of
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, the
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observed that the person who claims title of the property on the basis of adoption must prove the adoption was valid by giving relevant evidence. The burden to disprove the same then shifts to the one who challenges it. In the present case, the adoption deed was not signed by any person giving the child in adoption. In the absence of any evidence, the court held that the adoption cannot be said to be a valid adoption and hence, the decree passed by lower court was set aside.

Doctrine of relation back under CPC, 1908​

Order VI Rule 17 CPC, 1908​


Under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the doctrine of relation back is applicable to the amendment of pleadings. Pleadings are the statements made in writing by each party to the suit, delivered to the other wherein their contentions are stated. One of the essentials of pleadings is that all the material facts and other necessary particulars like interrogatories, essential documents, etc must be disclosed. The doctrine of relation back is impliedly given under Order VI Rule 17 of the Code. It provides that a court can allow a party to a suit to amend the pleadings at any time before the trial, if it is necessary to determine the issues between the parties. It further provides that no amendment can be allowed once the trial has commenced unless the court is satisfied that the party could not have amended it before the trial in spite of due diligence.

The objective of such a rule is:

  • To reduce multiplicity of suits.
  • Avoid unnecessary delay in trial.
  • Minimise litigation.

The Supreme Court, in the case of
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, held that the objective of inserting a proviso in Rule 17 is to prevent false and frivolous applications intended to delay the trial.

Applicability of the doctrine of relation back​

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According to the doctrine of relation back, an amendment usually relates back to the date of pleadings when it was filed. However, the doctrine is not absolute and cannot be applied universally. The court can order that a particular amendment would be effective from the date it was allowed rather than the date when the plaint or written statement was made. The application of the doctrine in this regard is closely linked with the limitation of the suit.
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of the
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clearly provides that the substitution or addition of parties will be governed by the doctrine of relation back.

Another thing to be noted is that, if any amendment is done pertaining to any defect or error according to
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of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the doctrine of relation back will be applicable. For example, If there is a misdescription of a party and the same is corrected by amendment, it will relate back to the date when the suit was instituted. The same was observed in the case of
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.

Relevant cases explaining the doctrine​


The court in the case of
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provided a distinction between Order VI Rule 17 and Section 153 of the Code. It was observed that there may be grammatical errors in pleadings, these are not covered under Order VI Rule 17 but under Section 153. Thus, where such defects or errors are corrected, the doctrine will be applicable irrespective of the fact that the correction is done within or without limitation.

In the case of
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, the Court held that the aim of the rule is to reduce multiplicity of suits by enabling the court to decide all the issues in a single suit. Further, in the case of
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, it was held that the pre-trial amendments must be allowed liberally. In the case of
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, the court held that the amendment can also be allowed to be made during the appellate stage if no injustice will be caused to the other party to the suit. Further, in the case of
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, the Court observed that whenever an application for amendment is allowed by a court, it must be done after the court is satisfied that the party could not make amendments before the trial despite due diligence.

Doctrine of relation back under Indian Contract Act, 1872​


The application of the doctrine of relation back under the Indian Contract, 1872 can be found in the concept of ratification given under
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of the Act. The doctrine is closely linked with the principal-agent relationship and the concept of agency. Before understanding the applicability of the doctrine, it is important to understand the concept of agency.
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of the Act gives the definition of an agent and a principal. An agent is a person who is engaged or employed by a person to act on his or her behalf and the person who employs him or who is being represented by him is known as the principal. Thus, agency is a contractual relationship that exists between an agent and a principal. Usually, a principal is liable for the acts done by an agent under the contract of agency.

The doctrine of relation back is applied in cases of ratification. Ratification is done by a person who employs or engages another person to act on his behalf but the person so employed does an act without his knowledge or consent. In this situation, the person who employed the other person i.e. a principal has a right to choose or elect to either ratify or disown the acts done by the agent. If the principal decides to ratify such acts, it will be presumed that the acts were done with his consent and under his authority. Section 196 of the Act provides this right. The doctrine states that once a principal decides to ratify the acts of the agent, it cannot be revoked and the principal will be liable as if he had authorised the act from the very beginning. Thus, ratification will have a retrospective effect on the subject and will bind the principal from the date when such an act was performed initially and not from the date when it was ratified.

Illustration: X (agent), buys goods for Y (principal) without his consent and knowledge. Y further sells those goods to Z. This is implied ratification by Y of the act done by X. Now, if there will be any default, Y will be liable and bound from the date X bought the goods.

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of the Act further states that ratification may be expressed or implied. In the case of
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, the court applied the doctrine of relation back and stated that the contract was binding on all the parties and was enforceable from the date on which it was made.

Important case laws​

Sampath Kumar v. Ayyakannu (2002)​

Facts of the case​


The plaintiff in this
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filed a suit seeking permanent injunction alleging that he is entitled to possession over the property in dispute. The defendant on the other hand denied the allegations and pleaded that he was in possession of the property when the suit was instituted. Before the trial, the plaintiff filed an application under Order VI Rule 17 of the Code for making amendments in the plaint wherein he wanted to seek relief for declaration of title. However, the defendant opposed the application stating that the plaintiff is trying to change the cause of action as a result of which the application was rejected by the trial court and the plaintiff was asked to institute a fresh suit. This order was further maintained by the High Court. Aggrieved by the order, the present appeal was filed before the Supreme Court

Issues involved in the case​


Whether a suit filed for seeking injunction can be converted into a suit for declaration of title through amendment?

Judgement of the court​


The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the amendment proposed by the plaintiff in the application did not alter the basic structure of the suit, rather it only sought to change the nature of relief. It was further observed that the delay in making amendments must be decided not by calculating the period of delay but by the stage at which the suit has proceeded. Thus, pre-trial amendments must be allowed and courts must take a liberal approach in this regard. It was also observed that once an amendment is incorporated it relates back to the date when the suit was instituted.

Doctrine of relation back, however, cannot be applied universally in every case. In certain cases the court can declare that a particular amendment would not relate back to the date of suit. In the present case, the court allowed the appeal and held that the amendment will be allowed and it will be considered that the prayer for declaration of title and recovery of possession has been made on the date on which amendment was filed. Thus, it will not relate back to the date when the suit was instituted.

M/s South Konkan Distilleries v. Prabhakar Gajanan Naik (2008)​

Facts of the case​


In this
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, a suit was filed by the respondent for the dissolution of partnership. The appellants or the defendants questioned the other existence of the partnership in their written statement. After thirteen and a half years, the appellant filed an application for amendment in the written statement in order to enhance the amount. This was challenged by the respondent saying that the application was barred by limitation. For the same reason, the trial court rejected the application. Aggrieved by the order, the appellant filed a writ petition in the
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which was also rejected and finally a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court.

Issues involved in the case​


Whether the application for amendment be allowed.

Judgement of the court​


The court observed that it is a well settled principle that the application for amendment must be allowed when the court is satisfied that if it is not allowed, the applicant would suffer irreparable loss or injury. Another cardinal principle in this regard is that the courts generally decline the amendments if the fresh suit on that matter is barred by limitation on the date when the application is made. The court also relied on the doctrine of relation back and that it is not applicable to every case. In certain cases, the amendment cannot relate back to the date of institution of suit but to date when the application was made. The court held that the trial court and High Court acted in a proper manner while rejecting the application for amendment.

Kasabai Tukaram Karvar v. Nivruti (dead) through legal heirs (2022)​

Facts of the case​


This
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is related to the partition of property of a deceased father among the step- sisters and the adopted son. The daughters of the deceased claimed that they are entitled to a share in the property along with the adopted son. The High Court in this regard held that according to doctrine of relation back, the adopted son would be the sole and exclusive heir of the property and would also divest the plaintiff’s right (daughters). The plaintiff further challenged the applicability of the doctrine of relation back.

Issues involved in the case​

  • Whether the doctrine of relation back was applied correctly in this case.
  • Whether the partition be invalidated retrospectively.

Judgement of the court​


The Supreme Court observed that the doctrine of relation back makes sonship retrospective in nature from the date when the father died. In the present case, there is no question on the validity of the adoption. Applying the doctrine, it will be deemed that the adopted son was notionally alive on the death of the father and he would become the sole coparcener. The court held that in the present case, the daughter would not be considered an heir because of the existence of an adopted son and the doctrine of relation back.

Conclusion​


Law is never static but dynamic in nature and is subject to wide interpretation and understanding. Doctrines and principles of interpretation play an important role in understanding the intricacies while applying any provision of law. The doctrine of relation back has its own importance and impact when applied to a particular case. It is used differently in different areas of law but the basic understanding remains the same. The doctrine implies that in certain situations, the act done at a later stage is considered as if it was done earlier.

The application of the doctrine can be seen in the adoption governed by Hindu law, Order VI Rule 17 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, ratification under Indian Contract Act, 1872. Another application of the doctrine can be found in the execution of sale deeds. When the parties enter into a sale agreement and later the sale deed is executed, it is considered that the deed relates back to the date when sale agreement was made and entered into by the parties. Further, earlier, the
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provided that an order of adjudication would relate back and have effect from the date when the petition was presented. However, now the
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is applicable. Thus, it can be said that the doctrine has its own effect when applied to the facts and circumstances of each case depending upon the area of law in which it is applied. However, it must be noted that it cannot have universal application.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)​

  1. How is the doctrine of relation back applied to Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920?

Under the Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920 the doctrine provides that an order of adjudication would relate back and have effect from the date when the petition was presented.

  1. Can a widow inherit her deceased husband’s property even if she has adopted a son?

Yes, the widow can inherit such property but if she has adopted a son then according to the doctrine of relation back, he would be the sole coparcener and inherit the property.

  1. What is the difference between the applicability of the doctrine in the old Hindu and modern Hindu law?

In old Hindu law, the doctrine of relation back was applied in cases of adoption and it was deemed as if the son was adopted before the death of the husband. However, in the modern law, the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 has been enacted which provides that the adopted child would be considered the child of the adoptive parents from the date of his or her adoption. Thus, it will not be applied retrospectively.

References​



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