Bombay High Court Refers Key Questions on Revocation of Probate to Larger Bench

Mainstream
18-Jun-2024
blog-img

The Bombay High Court has referred critical questions regarding the interpretation of Section 263 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, to a larger Bench. This section pertains to the grounds on which the probate of a will can be revoked or annulled for a 'just cause'. 

Justice Manish Pitale's June 10 order addresses whether the explanations under Section 263 are exhaustive or merely illustrative. The specific questions referred are:

1. Whether explanations (a) to (e) to Section 263 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, are exhaustive or illustrative regarding the "just cause" for revoking or annulling a grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

2. Whether circumstances not covered under these explanations can constitute "just cause" for the Court to revoke or annul the grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.

3. Whether the judgments in George Anthony Harris vs. Millicent Spencer (1933) and Sharad Shankarrao Mane vs. Ashabai Shripati Mane (1997) represent the correct position of law.

The issue arose from a probate granted to a respondent concerning the assets of Rajesh Chowdhary, who died in July 2020. The petitioner, Chowdhary's brother, contested the grant, alleging that it was defective because the will was executed under suspicious circumstances. The petitioner argued that his caveat was dismissed due to procedural errors and should not bar his challenge.

The respondent countered that the grounds for revocation cited by the petitioner were not among those enumerated in Section 263, arguing that the section's illustrations were exhaustive. The respondent relied on precedents from the Bombay High Court, specifically the cases of Bal Gangadhar Tilak vs. Sakwarbai, George Anthony Harris vs. Millicent Spencer, and Sharad Shankarrao Mane vs. Ashabai Shripati Mane.

Conversely, the petitioner referenced contrary decisions from the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, which suggested that the explanations under Section 263 are illustrative, allowing for broader judicial discretion.

Justice Pitale observed a significant shift in legislative language from the earlier Indian Succession Act of 1865, which used the phrase "just cause is..." compared to the 1925 Act's "just cause shall be deemed to exist where...". He inferred that this shift indicates a non-exhaustive approach, aligning with the broader interpretations by the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court.

Given the conflicting judicial interpretations and his disagreement with co-ordinate Bench decisions, Justice Pitale concluded that an authoritative resolution by a larger Bench is necessary. He directed the registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice for assignment to a larger Bench.

Until the petition is finally resolved, the effect of the probate granted to the respondent has been stayed.

This decision underscores the importance of clear legal standards in probate matters, potentially impacting how courts across India interpret the revocation of probate under the Indian Succession Act.

Author: Anushka Taraniya

News writer