Difference among Decree, Order and Judgment

Decree
In a civil suit several facts might be alleged and the court may be required to rule on several claims. In simple terms, a decree is the ruling of the court regarding the claims of the parties of the suit. For example, in a suit between A and B, A may claim that a particular property P belongs A. After hearing all the arguments, the court will rule in the favor of either A or B. The final decision of the court regarding this claim i.e. whether the property belongs to A or B, is a decree.

As per Section 2(2) of CPC,  a decree is the formal expression of an adjudication which, so far as regards the Court expressing it, conclusively determines the rights of the parties with regard to all or any of the matters in controversy in the suit. It can be final or preliminary.

From the above definition we can see the following essential elements of a decree –

1. There must be an adjudication – Adjudication means Judicial Determination of the matter in dispute. In other words, the court must have applied its mind on the facts of the case to resolve the matter in dispute. For example, dismissing a suite because of default in appearance of the plaintiff is not a decree. But dismissing a suite on merits of the case would be a decree.

2. There must be a suit –  Decree can only be given in relation to a suit. Although CPC does not define what suit means, in Hansraj vs Dehradun Mussoorie Tramways Co. Ltd. AIR 1933, the Privy Council defined the term suit as “a civil proceeding instituted by the presentation of a plaint”.

3. Rights of the parties – The adjudication must be about any or all of the matters in controversy in the suit. The word right means substantive rights and not merely procedural rights. For example, an order refusing leave to sue in forma pauperis (i.e. an order rejecting the application of a poor plaintiff to waive court costs) is not a decree because it does not determine the right of the party in regards to the matters alleged in the suit.

4. Conclusive Determination – The determination of the right must be conclusive. This means that the court will not entertain any argument to change the decision. I.e. as far as the court is concerned, the matter in issue stands resolved. For example, an order striking out defence of a tenant under a relevant Rent Act, or an order refusing an adjournment is not a decree as they do not determine the right of a party conclusively. On the other hand, out of several properties in issue in a suit, the court may make a conclusive determination about the ownership of a particular property. Such a conclusive determination would be a decree even though it does not dispose off the suit completely.

5. Formal expression – To be a decree, the court must formally express its decision in the manner provided by law. A mere comment of the judge cannot be a decree.

Examples of decisions which are Decrees –  Dismissal of appeal as time barred, Dismissal or a suit or appeal for want of evidence or proof, Order holding appeal to be not maintainable.

Examples of decisions which are not Decrees –  Dismissal of appeal for default, order of remand, order granting interim relief.

Judgment

Order
As per Section 2 (14), The formal expression of any decision of a civil court which is not a Decree is Order.  In a suit, a court may take certain decisions on objective considerations and those decisions must contain a discussion of the matters at issue in the suit and the reasons which led the court to pass the order. However, if those decisions fall short of a decree, they are orders.

Thus, there are several common elements between an order and a decree –  both related to matter in controversy, both are decisions given by the court, both are adjudications, both are formal expressions. However, there are substantial differences between them –

Decree – S. 2(2) Order S. 2(14)
Can only be passed in a suit originated by the presentation of a plaint. Can be passed in a suit originated by the presentation of a plaint, application, or petition.
Contains Conclusive Determination of a right May or may not finally determine a right.
May be final, preliminary, or partly preliminary – partly final. Cannot be a preliminary order.
In general, there can only be one decree or at the most one preliminary and one final decree in a suit. There can be any number of orders in a suit.
Every decree is appealable unless an appeal is expressly barred. Only those orders which are specified as appealable in the code are appealable.

Judgement
As per Section 2 (9), “judgment” means the statement given by the judge of the grounds of a decree or order. Every judgment should contain –  a concise statement of the case, the points for determination, the decision thereon, the reasons for the decision. In the case of Balraj Taneja vs Sunil Madan, AIR 1999, SC held that a Judge cannot merely say “Suit decreed” or “Suit dismissed”. The whole process of reasoning has to be set out for deciding the case one way or the other.

As per Rule 6 A of Order 20 the last part of the judgment should precisely state the relief granted. Thus, a judgment is a state prior to the passing of a decree or an order. After pronouncement of a judgment, a decree shall follow.

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