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Property Lawyer: Documents subsequent to date of disputed document cannot be used for comparison of signatures by expert; SC.

Supreme Court of India

Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, Justice N. V. Ramana and Justice Ajay Rastogi

The SC { Chennadi Jalapathi Reddy v. Baddam Pratapa Reddy (Dead) & Anr.} holds that it is well­ settled that the Court must be cautious while  evaluating   expert   evidence,   which   is   a   weak   type   of evidence and not substantive in nature.  Further holds that it is also settled that it may not be safe to solely rely upon such evidence,  and the Court may seek independent and reliable corroboration in the facts of a given case. Generally, mere expert evidence as to a fact is not regarded as conclusive proof of it.


The SC holds in the present case, that it is the duty of the Court to approach opinion evidence  cautiously while determining its reliability and that the Court may seek independent corroboration of such evidence as a general rule of prudence. The expert evidence should   rarely   be   given   precedence   over substantive evidence.


It was held, merely because the plaintiff’s signature was not present on the agreement of sale, this would not ipso facto nullify the agreement altogether. It was held in present case,  the agreement was signed by the first defendant and clearly reveals that he had agreed to sell the property to the plaintiff for a due consideration of   Rs.   1,20,000/­.   This   agreement   was   followed   by   Ext.   A­2, which shows the payment and receipt of the earnest money. In addition to the signature of the first defendant, this receipt bears the signature of the plaintiff on revenue stamps. It was held, Ext. A­1 and Ext. A­2 are part of the same transaction. Thus, the contention that absence of the plaintiff’s signature on Ext. A­1 nullifies the agreement altogether, cannot be accepted and accordingly rejected by the SC.


The SC further holds that it would be apposite to observe that the weight to be accorded to such an opinion depends on the extent of   familiarity   shown  by   the   witness   with   the   disputed handwriting. This, in turn, depends on the frequency with which the  witness   has   had   occasion   to   notice   and   observe   the handwriting, his own power of observation, and how recent such observations were.


In the facts of the present case it was held by the SC - the evidence on record of DW 3 who is brother of the defendant no. 1 go on to show the familiarity of DW­3 with the handwriting of the first defendant, it was held by the SC that the testimony of DW­3 may safely   be   relied   upon,   and   must   be   accorded   similar,  if   not greater,   weight   than   the   expert   evidence   adduced   by   the defendants   to   advance   their   case. It was held that  this   conclusion   is   further strengthened   by   the   fact   that   the   first   defendant neither challenged   DW­3’s   admission   nor   his   acquaintance   with   the disputed handwriting, although it was open for him to do so by way of re-­examination. 


The SC holds in present case the admission by DW­3 is further supported by the cogent and consistent testimony of the plaintiff (PW­1) and attesting witnesses (PWs 2 and 3), and the fact that the first defendant has not denied his signature on Ext. A­2 (the receipt of payment of earnest money). Having regard to the totality of the facts and circumstances, it was held by the SC that the disputed signature of the first defendant on Ext. A­1 is genuine. Moreover, keeping in mind the principle that expert evidence should not be given precedence over substantive evidence, it was held by the SC, the High Court was not justified in giving precedence to the opinion of the expert (DW­2) and solely relying upon his testimony to set aside the judgment and decree of the Trial Court. Accordingly, the judgment of the HC was set aside and the suit for specific performance stands decreed by the SC.


It was held by the SC that there is another reason why reliance on the opinion of the expert DW­2 cannot be placed as from a perusal of his report Ext. B­2, it is evident that barring the signature on a written statement in a prior suit, all other admitted signaturesof the first defendant are of a period subsequent to the filing of the plaint (i.e. on the vakalatnama and the written statement filed in this suit itself). It was held that these admitted signatures taken subsequent to the filing of the suit could not have been used as a  valid basis of comparison, and their use for this purpose casts serious doubt on the reliability of the entire report Ext. B­2. Thus, the report was liable to be discarded on this ground alone,and was wrongly relied upon by the High Court.


The SC holds that the High Court has wrongly observed that the plaintiff   has   not   produced   any   evidence   to   prove   that   he demanded the performance of sale after the execution  of the agreement of sale. It was held that the filing of a suit for specific performance of an agreement of sale is governed by Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, read with Article 54 of the Schedule of the Limitation Act, 1963. In addition to this, Forms 47 and48 of Appendix A of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 prescribe the format of the plaint for such a suit. Thus, a plaint which seeks the relief of specific performance of an agreement/contract must comply with all these requirements. It was held, in the matter at hand, the plaintiff has specifically averred in his plaint that he was ready and   willing   to   perform   his   part   of   the   contract   under   the agreement   of   sale   dated   20.04.1993.   It   was   also   specifically stated   that   the   plaintiff   had   been   demanding   that   the   first defendant receive the balance consideration of Rs. 58,800/­ and execute a regular registered sale deed at his cost, but the first defendant   had   been   avoiding   the   specific   performance   of   the agreement of sale. In light of this, the SC observed that, all the formalities which are to be pleaded and proved by the plaintiff for getting a decree of specific performance have been fulfilled.


Lastly, it was held that there cannot be any proof of oral demand.  The SC was satisfied from the evidence that the plaintiff had sufficient money to pay the balance consideration to the first defendant and was ready and willing to perform his part of the contract. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was restored.

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