From its inception, a civil trial passes through certain stages, until its final conclusion. While each case has its own peculiarities, the broad steps remain the same, illustrated in my chart below, followed by a brief description.
1. FILING OF CASE:
The Plaintiff files the case. This is done by dropping the entire case file (upcoming blog will give details of what a civil case file includes) into a petition box located in the district court premises.
Cases are then marked to be heard by a particular civil judge.
The frequent terms you may hear in preparation of a case are:
A document by which a person gives authority to a lawyer to represent them in court; a power of attorney in favour of a lawyer. There is a set format which lawyers use with minor variations. See sample Vakalatnama in English here, one in Urdu here, and one in Urdu for criminal cases here.
- Plaint, Plaintiff & Defendant:
A Plaint is the written allegation submitted to the court. The person who files it is called the Plaintiff and against whom it is filed is called the Defendant. For example if a case title is, Ahmad Bilal (“AB”) v Chaudry Daud (“CD”) *, Ahmad Bilal would be the Plaintiff, one who has filed the case in court, and Chaudry Daud would be the Defendant, meaning the person who has to reply to the allegations and defend the case.
* Fictitious characters
2. SUMMONING OF DEFENDANT:
The Defendant, CD in our example above, needs to be informed that there is a case against him and consequently, has to appear in court to give his version of the facts. The court uses a process to enforce a Defendant’s attendance, through sending summons (on the address of the Defendant via courier and registered post). Failing the Defendant’s presence, despite summons being served on him, the court gives a last chance for appearance, by ordering a newspaper advertisement to be published informing him about the case. After this the case proceeds without the Defendant. (called “Ex parte” proceedings).
3. FILING OF WRITTEN STATEMENT:
The written reply filed by the Defendant, presenting his side of the story, is called a Written Statement. Once the Defendant appears in court he is given time to file his Written Statement along with all supporting documents.
4. FRAMING OF ISSUES:
After reviewing both the Plaint and Written Statement, the judge will pose questions that he/she feels need to be answered to reach a decision. This process is called Framing of Issues. Furthermore, these issues . These issues are either for the Plaintiff to prove (Onus to Prove on Plaintiff [OPP]) or for the Defendant to prove [OPD]. Thereafter, the parties call witnesses who give evidence in light of these questions.
This is also the last stage (within seven days of framing of issues) at which the parties must submit a list of persons who they intend to call as witnesses to the court.
5. EVIDENCE OF PLAINTIFF:
Anything you present to the court to support your case is evidence and it is of two types, oral (what you say in court on oath as a witness) and documentary (the documents you present in court as a witness). The evidence of Plaintiff is conducted in two stages, firstly examination in chief (your lawyer asking you questions to bring out your story) and secondly, cross examination (other party’s lawyer asking you question to discredit your story).
6. EVIDENCE OF DEFENDANT:
Same as point no 5 above, except that it is now the Defendant’s turn to give evidence.
7. FINAL ARGUMENTS OF PLAINTIFF:
Final Arguments are a summary of the entire case including evidence and relevant law. The Plaintiff has the first turn.
8. FINAL ARGUMENTS OF DEFENDANT:
Defendant’s turn to give summary of his version of the case.
9. JUDGMENT PRONOUNCED:
The Judge decides the case according to the issues framed and answers them according to the evidence he/she has heard. He/she gives his/her detailed reasons for concluding the case for or against the Plaintiff.
10. DECREE DRAWN UP:
A decree is the formal expression of the final outcome of the case in light of the Judgment.
Note: A civil trial is rarely as straightforward as the above process shows. At different stages one party or the other, often file applications under different provisions of the procedural rules (for e.g. Application for rejection of plaint due to either being barred by law, or the plaint not disclosing a cause of action). When this happens the other party files a reply to that application. Thereafter, the judge hears arguments on that particular application and gives an order either accepting or dismissing the application. Only after disposal of applications does the case proceed.
The detailed procedure to be followed in civil cases is contained in the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 available here. The law relating to evidence is found in the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order 1984 available here.