- The "Doctrine of Relation Back" states that an act performed at a later time is deemed to have occurred at a previous time by the law.
- The Civil Procedure Code, the Companies Act, the Registration Act, the Contract Act, and various other statutes all contain traces of this doctrine.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, the term "Relation Back" is defined as an act done at a later time that is,under certain circumstances, treated as though it occurred at an earlier time. In India, the doctrine of relation back has been integrated into several statutes and case law. The Doctrine of Relation Back is frequently applied to real estate contracts in which the parties to the sale enter into an agreement for sale and then complete a sale deed which is when the sale deed refers back to the sales agreement. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has issued some judgments in which the same has been articulated concerning various laws. Therefore, to obtain a better knowledge of the concept a discussion of a few provisions of specific legislation and related case laws have been analyzed in this article.
DOCTRINE OF RELATION BACK TO VARIOUS LEGISLATIONS
The "Doctrine of Relation Back" states that an act performed at a later time is deemed to have occurred at a previous time by the law. Further, speaking from a practical point of view, in some instances, the party's activity at present would be linked to an earlier time to determine the cause of action. According to the Law Lexicon, the phrase "Relation Back" is defined as when an item or act constructively connects back to an antecedent thing or act.
In other words, the doctrine not only provides a second opportunity but also a way to avoid statutes of limitation to attain justice. As stated previously, the doctrine of relation back is seen under various legislations. To begin with, Order VI Rule 17 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 allows for pleading amendments at any level of the pleadings before the start of the trial, if required for determining the real disputes between parties. Furthermore, traces of this idea can also be seen in section 47 of the Registration Act, 1908, which states that a registered document begins to act from the time it would have begun to operate if no registration had been necessary or made, rather than from the time of registration. According to Section 196 of the Indian Contract Act of 1872, if a person chooses to ratify an act, the ratification has the same effect as if the acts were conducted by his authority in the first place.
Following the application of the doctrine of relation back to explain a bit more detailed under the Registration Act, 1908 as stated above, it is seen that Section 47 of the Registration Act, 1908 provides that a registered document shall operate from the time it would have begun to operate if no registration thereof had been required or made, rather than from the time of its registration. The purpose of Section 47 of the Registration Act is to determine which of two or more registered instruments in respect of the same property will take precedence in the event of a conflict. To further understand, consider the following scenario - two distinct documents have to be registered for the same property, one on February 1, 2021 (Document 1) and the other on March 30, 2021 (Document 2). Document 1 was registered on May 15, 2021, while Document 2 was registered on April 15, 2021. In this instance, the operational date of these documents will be the same as the document's original date. As a result, if a claim on the common property is filed under both Document 1 and Document 2, the claim under Document 1 will take precedence over Document 2.
Apart from this, the other key point to note here is that the Doctrine of Relation Back also applies when the Disciplinary Authority imposes a punishment that is then substituted and changed by the Appellate Authority. In this situation, the replaced punishment is based on the original punishment's date. Thus, the substituted punishment imposed by the appeal order has to be calculated from the date of the original punishment order's imposition, which dates back to a previous time.
Further, just like under Civil Procedure Code and Registration Act we have discussed, as stated briefly above in cases of ratification covered by Sections 196 to 199 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, the doctrine of relation back comes into effect. It arises generally when a person acts on behalf of another without the principal's knowledge or consent, and thereafter the principal can ratify the unapproved but illegal act. This allows the person on whose behalf the act was performed to the choice of ratifying the act of disowning it. Although, the principal has the option of whether or not to adopt the unauthorized act, once approved, the ratification cannot be withdrawn or recalled, and the principal is obliged as if he or she had authorized the act in the first place. Lastly, it is pertinent to note here that a legitimate contract's ratification has a retroactive effect on the subject, binding the principal from the date of the ratification, and not just from the time of the ratification primarily because the object ratified is linked to a previous event, the ratification, in this case, is linked to the date of the ratified act.
Another notable example on the doctrine of relation back to understand better was Section 28(7) of the Provincial Insolvency Act of 1920, which stated that an order of adjudication shall relate to, and take effect from, the date of the petition on which it is made. Although this act is not relevant anymore to get conceptual clarity it is important to note that a decree that was issued after the petition was filed does not mean that no rights have been vested in the Court unless an order to that effect was issued before the date of the decree. Simply put, the date of the petition's presentation shall be taken into account to enforce the rights and responsibilities of the parties under the petition, subject to the petition being heard, resolved by the Court, and an Order for the same being issued by the Court.
It is necessary to look to a few landmark cases to comprehend the concept of relation back under various legislations. The most famous case to cite first is the case of Sampath Kumar v. Ayyakannu, (2002) 7 SCC 559, wherewith reference to Order VI Rule 17 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the Supreme Court applied the Doctrine of Relation back and observed that "An amendment, once incorporated, refers back to the date of the suit," However, the doctrine of relation back in the context of the pleading of amendments is not universally applicable, and inappropriate cases, the court is competent to direct that the amendment permitted by it shall not relate to the date of the suit and shall be deemed to have been brought before the court on the date on which the application seeking the amendment was filed to the extent permitted by it."
In this particular case, the court further held that if a party has already accomplished his title by way of adverse possession, the right so accrued should not be allowed to be defeated by allowing an Amendment to the Plaint and seeking new relief that would relate to the date of the suit, thereby depriving such party of the benefit accrued by lapse of time by excluding the period of prescriptive title claimed to have been earned by such party. The Plaint's Amendment in Relief Clause shall be presumed to have been made on the date the Application for Amendment in Plaint is filed, at the very least.
Likewise in the case of South Konkan Distilleries v. Prabhakar Gajanan Naik, (2008) 14 SCC 632 ina similar instance, the Supreme Court held that in cases where the issue of whether the amendment was barred by time or not was a contested question of fact, the request for amendment might be granted and the issue of limitation could be raised in the lawsuit itself. The court went on to say that in such situations, the amendment made cannot be related to the date of the Suit's filing, but rather to the date of the amendment application's filing.
Further, in the case of Delhi Jal Board v. Mahinder Singh, (2000) 7 SCC 210, the Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the Doctrine of Relation Back in Service Jurisprudence, saying that the findings of a disciplinary investigation exonerating an officer must be given effect because they link back to the date on which the allegations were formulated. If the Disciplinary Enquiry finds in the Officer's favor, it is as if the Officer had never been subjected to a disciplinary investigation. Further, it was also stated that promotion and other service-related incentives cannot be rejected only because a disciplinary investigation was ongoing at the time the Officer was in the Departmental Promotion Committee's consideration zone.
In a recent case of Bharat Bhushan Jindal v. Pr. CIT (2021), the Delhi High Court used the doctrine of relation back to decide whether the revenue's appeal would be considered pending on the specified date, 31-1-2020, which was important in determining whether the assessee could benefit from the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Act, 2020. Thus, in this case, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, by judgment dated 11-5-2020, while recalling its judgment dated 22-6-2018,restored the revenue's appeal and rescheduled it for a new hearing under section 254(2) of the Income-tax Act, 1961. The Court stated that the order dated 11-5-2020, recalling the dismissal order, "would have to be construed, metaphorically, as one breathing life into a dead appeal, in light of the doctrine of relation back," and that, given the logical implication of the doctrine of relation back, the revenue appeal would be said to be pending as of 31-1-2020.
Therefore, to conclude it is apparent from the aforementioned case-laws that Indian courts have applied the Doctrine of Relation Back to Service Jurisprudence as well as a variety of legislations concerning Hindu Law, Labour Laws, and the CPC, among others. To say in simple terms, the rule of Relation Back is not an inviolable principle with the universal application; rather, it is a tool in the hands of judges and legislators to help them do justice and be fair when enacting laws or passing verdicts. Lastly, the most important point to note here is that the doctrine of relation back cannot be used as a tool to overturn a statutory provision or its purpose.