Mohori Bibee v. Dharmodas Ghose By Harshit Sharma from Amity University, Madhya Pradesh
(1903) 7 Cal.Weekly Notes 441)
(Corum: Lord Macnaghten, Lord Dicey, Lord Lindley, Sir Ford North, Sir Andrew Scorle, Sir Arthur Wilson)
The present case is titled as “Mohori Bibee v. Dharmodas Ghose”, in which, Mohori Bibee (on behalf of late Brahmo Dutt) and Dharmodas Ghose were, appellant and respondent, respectively. In this case, the Appellant was represented by Advocate Watkins and Advocate Lempriere, and on the other hand the Respondent was represented by Advocate W.W. Box.
The background of this case is such that, there was a minor called Dharmodas Ghose(herein referred as Respondent), whose mother was appointed his guardian by the Calcutta High Court. The respondent executed a mortgage deed of Rs. 20,000 with interest at 12% p.a., in favour of Brahmo Dutt on 20th July 1895 when he was minor. Furthermore, Brahmo Dutt carried on a business of money lending, but it was managed by an appointed manager, named, Kedar Nath and at the time of execution of the above-mentioned mortgage deed, Kedar Nath was Brahmo Dutt’s attorney.
Before the execution of the mortgage deed, the mother-cum-guardian of the respondent gave a notice in writing to Brahmo Dutt through his counsel Kedar Nath who was acting in the matter of Brahmo Dutt, which was dispatched by her attorney Mr. Bhupendra Nath Bose, explicitly informing Brahmo Dutt about the status of minority of the respondent while executing the mortgage deed in his favour. On the same, Kedar Nath took the infants declaration and took his signature on the same, providing a reasonable explanation showing his majority. The argument that was put forward to nullify the effect of minority was that, the respondent heard from his mother and various relatives that he was born on 4th day of Asarh savant 1281, B.S., corresponding to the date as per the Gregorian calendar as 17th June 1874, which shows that he was 21 years, 1month, 3 days old on the date of the execution of the mortgage. While executing the deed, Brahmo Dutt transferred a sum of Rs. 8,000 in favour of the respondent.
On 10th September 1895, the respondent through his mother-cum-guardian instituted a suit against Brahmo Dutt for cancellation of the mortgage deed that was executed between them, because, at the time of its execution, he was minor and prayed before the court to declare the same as void and imperative against him.
As the case continued for years, during the pendency of the same, Brahmo Dutt died, and on his behalf Mohori Bibee contested the case for further proceedings.
Trial Court’s Decision
The Trial Court after hearing the arguments for both the sides held that, as the deed was executed by a minor, the mortgage deed should stand as cancelled.
Appellate Court’s Decision
Aggrieved by the order of the trial court, an appeal was filed by Appellant in the Calcutta High Court. The Court upheld the findings of the Trial Court and held that as on the date of execution of the deed, one of the parties was a minor, the deed is subject to cancellation.
Another appeal was filed by the aggrieved party (herein referred to as the appellant) before the Privy Council, against the decision of Calcutta High Court, to be decided in its true spirit.
- Whether contract by a minor is void?
- If it is void, whether the respondent is bound to refund the money that was advanced to him by the appellant in lieu of the mortgage deed?
Appellant: Brahmo Dutt, contested the case, putting forward the arguments that, the respondent was major at the time of execution of the Mortgage deed and that he, as well as his attorney Kedar Nath had no information regarding his minority. The fraudulent declaration made by the respondent as to his age should disentitle him to gain any relief therefrom, because it should be regarded as estopple, as per section-115 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, and court should order him to repay the advanced money that was forwarded by the mortgagee in lieu of the mortgage deed.
Respondent: Dharmodas Ghose and his mother raised the arguments on their behalf, that as per section 10 and 11 of the Indian Contract Act 1872, a minor is not entitled to be a party in a contract.
Sir Ford North wrote and pronounced the judgment relying upon the arguments that were put-forward by the respondent and taken following facts into consideration that, Kedar Nath was in full charge of this transaction on behalf of Brahmo Dutt in the capacity of an agent and principal.
The court held that section-115 of the Evidence Act does not apply in the present case because both the parties were aware of the truth and the Appellant was not misled. Relying on this, Privy Council held that, there was no contract between the parties as attaining majority is essential to form a contract. Hence, this contract was void ab-initio and in furtherance to it, as there was no contract in existence, so all the transactions that took place during that course doesn’t exist in the eyes of law.
Therefore the respondent is not liable to give the proceeded money back. The appeal filed by the appellants was dismissed and the decision of the trial court and 1st Appellate Court was upheld.
The following is the ratio decided in the case:
- An agreement by a minor is not voidable rather it is void ab-initio.
- Section-64 of the Indian Contract Act applies only to the contract which was made between the competent parties (in this case, age of majority) and is not applicable to a case where parties have entered into invalid contract.
- The principle of estopple does not apply to a case where the statement relied upon is made to a person who knows the real matter as well as is not misled by such information.
- An act and knowledge on part of the agent will be deemed to received by the principle also, if it is in the knowledge of his agent or representative.
- It is evident that this case was a clear depiction of misuse of the provisions of Indian Contract Act and Evidence Act of 1872. Furthermore, it should be noted that ignorance of law is no excuse. This case is a clear depiction of the immunity provided to a minor and fully supports the fact that, case is won only by mastering the technicalities involved in the question of law that is disputed.
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