G RATI A E N J.—Kirikitta Saranankara Thero v. Medegama
Dha m mananda Thero
Present: Gratiaen J. and Gunasekara J.
KIRIKITTA SARANANKARA THERO, Appellant, andMEDEGAMA D HAMM AN AND A THERO et al., Respondents
8. C. 266—D. G. Gampaha, 605/5643L
Buddhist temple—Claim to incumbency thereof—Reference to ecclesiastical court—Binding force of decisions of extra-judicial tribunals—Computation of prescrip-tive period—Prescription Ordinance (Cap. 5,5), e. 10.
Persons who voluntarily submit a dispute to an extra-judicial tribunalmust abide by its decision unless it be vitiated by misconduct or substantialirregularity of procedure or by a violation of the principles of natural justice.
Plaintiff sued the 1st defendant for a declaration that he, and not the 1stdefendant, was the incumbent of a certain Buddhist temple. This disputehad been previously referred to an ecclesiastical court whose decision the rivalclaimants had (by necessary implication, if not expressly) agreed to regard asbinding on them. After the decision of the ecclesiastical court in favour ofthe plaintiff, the 1st defendant requested him to refrain from enforcing hisrights for about a year “ until it is settled amicably without getting intolitigation Afte ’ the period of indulgence asked for had expired, 1stdefendant repudiated his obligation to obey the decision of the ecclesiasticalcourt and reasserted his false claim to the incumbency.
Held, (i) that the decision of the ecclesiastical court was binding on theparties and could be enforced in a Court of law.
(ii) that the conduct of the 1st defendant in repudiating the decision of theecclesiastical court gave rise to a fresh cause of action entitling the plaintiffto claim the protection of a declaratory decree against further interferencewith his enjoyment of the rights which had been vindicated in the ecclesiasticalcourt. As the present action was instituted within three years of the date onwhich this fresh cause of action arose, the plaintiff’s remedy, which fell withinsection 10 of the Prescription Ordinance, was not barred by limitation.
^^.PPEATj from a judgment of the District Court, Gampaha.
H. V. Perera, Q.G., with Kingsley Herat, for the plaintiff appellant.
N. E. Weerasooria, Q.C., with S. W. Jayasuriya and W. D. Gunasekera,for the defendants respondents.
Cur. adv. milt.
February 2, 1954. Gbatiaen J.—
The plaintiff instituted this action against the defendants on23rd March, 1949, for a declaration that he was the incumbent of aBuddhist temple at Gampaha called the Swamatilleke Ramaya. Healso asked for consequential relief in the form of an order of ejectmentagainst the defendants. The defendants filed answer disputing thevalidity of the plaintiff’s claim to the incumbency. They alleged thatthe 1st defendant (and not the pla'ntiff) was the lawful holder of thatoffice,' and pleaded that in any event the plaintiff’s claim was barredby prescription.
-J. N. B 33438-1,590 (1/54)
314GRATIAEN J.—Kirikitta Saranankara Thero v. Medegama
With, regard to the merits of the dispute relating to the incumbency,the learned Judge has recorded -very clear findings that (subject onlyto his ruling on the issue of prescription) the plaintiff was the lawfulincumbent of the temple in succession to Walhalla Ratnapala Therowho died in 1944.
he plaintiff’s appointment had previously been upheld on 15thSeptember, 1945, by an inter partes decision of the ecclesiastical courtof the Malwatte Chapter to whose disciplinary jurisdiction the plaintiffand the 1st defendant, as Buddhist priests, were admittedly subject.In my opinion the learned Judge was perfectly justified upon the evidencein holding that the 1st defendant was bound by that decision. It isno doubt correct to say that the ecclesiastical court was not strictly ajudicial tribunal to whose judgments the principles of res adjudicatacan be applied—Swmangala v. Dhammarakittax. Nevertheless, thereis an analogous and equally well-established rule of law whereby personswho voluntarily submit a dispute to a non-judicial or domestic forummust abide by its decision unless it be vitiated by misconduct orsubstantial irregularity of procedure or by a violation of the principlesof natural justice—Dharmarama v. Wimalaratne 2, ^liadasi Unnanse v.Hewata Unnanse 3.
In the present case, as the learned Judge has pointed out, the1st defendant unequivocally submitted himself to the jurisdiction ofthe ecclesiastical court as a proper tribunal for adjudicating upon thequestion as to who was the lawful holder of the office in question. Hetook part in the proceedings without protest of any kind and placedhis case fully before the tribunal whose members were specially qualifiedto appreciate the merits and demerits of the rival claims. His subsequentallegation that the decision was tainted by bias was rejected by thelearned Judge. In that state of things, the decision dated 15th September,1945, confirming the validity of the plaintiff’s appointment is clearlybinding on the first defendant.
The reference to the ecclesiastical court did not, perhaps, preciselycomply with all the formalities which are appropriate to a formalsubmission to the jurisdiction of an arbitrator. But that by no meansconcludes the argument. The parties were (as the 1st defendant admits)Buddhist priests owing allegiance to the Malwatte Chapter, and heconcedes in his evidence that their traditional procedure for the settle-ment of disputes relating to the title to an incumbency is for one partyor the other to start proceedings before the Chapter by sending a petition ;the Chapter thereupon issues notice to the party against whom thecomplaint was made ; and a preliminary investigation of a quasi-judicialnature is then held by one or more priests selected for the purpose,after which a final decision is reached by the Sangha Sabha.
The analogy to be applied is that of a member of an institution whois. bound hy its rules as to the. procedure whereby disputes areconveniently settled without the intervention of the Courts. In thei (1908) 11 N. L. B. 860.2 (1913) 5 Bal. N.. C.57
(1928) 29 N. L. B. 361.
GRATIAUN J.—Kirihitta Saranankara The.ro v. Medegama
present case, the proceedings which led to the decision relied on by theplaintiff had been conducted regularly and with due formality. Itis true that, apart from certain disciplinary sanctions, the Chapterhas no power directly to enforce its commands, but it is at this -stagethat the aid of a Court of law is made available to compel obedienceto decisions which have been reached by extra-judicial tribunals inaccordance /ith the principles of natural justice—see per Jayawardena J.in Terunanse v. Terunanse 1, and the English authorities examined byMorris L.J. in an article entitled “ The Courts and Domestic Tribunals ”in 69 L.Q.R. 318.'
So far, then, the judgment under appeal cannot be challenged, butthe learned Judge has dismissed the plaintiff’s action on the groundthat the plaintiff’s remedy is barred by the provisions of section 10 ofthe Prescription Ordinance. This issue must now be considered.
An action to be declared entitled to the incumbency of a Buddhisttemple is an action for a declaration of a status. As the cause of actionin proceedings of this nature has not been “ otherwise provided for ”in the Ordinance', section 10 applies, and the action must therefore beinstituted " within three years from the time when such cause of actionshall have accrued”—Rewatte Unnanse v. Ratnajoti Unnanse2 andTerunanse v. Terunanse 3. The “ cause of action ” is the “ denial ”of the plaintiff’s status because it constitutes either an actual or seriouslythreatened invasion of his vested rights.
The earlier authorities certainly seem to indicate that, if a trespasserwho disputes the status of the true incumbent of a temple continuesthereafter to remain in adverse possession without interruption for aperiod of three years, the dilatory incumbent’s right to relief in theform of a declaratory decree becomes barred by limitation undersection 10. We must, of course, regard ourselves as bound by thesedecisions, but with great respect, I think that, On this particular point,the question calls for reconsideration by a fuller Bench on an appropriateoccasion. It is clear law that an impostor cannot acquire a right to anincumbency by prescription ; nor can the rights of the true incumbentbe extinguished by prescription. Although the operation of section10 may destroy the remedy accruing from a particular “ denial ”, theright or status itself still subsists. It is true that the lawful incumbentcan take no steps after three years to enforce his remedy if it is basedexclusively on that particular “ denial ” of his status, but there is muchto be said for the argument that a continuing invasion of a subsistingright constitutes in truth a continuing cause of action. Indeed, thecontrary view would indirectly produce the anomalous result of convertingthe provisions of section 10 into a weapon for the extinction of a rightwhich cannot in law be extinguished by prescription.
Be that as it may, the circumstances of the present case, interpretedby reference to the conduct of the parties, are clearly distinguishablefrom those which arose in the earlier decisions. The dispute as to thei (1928) 6 T. C. L. B. 22 at 25.2 (1916) 3 C. W. B. 193.
(1927) 28 N. L. B. 477.
Thepanisa v. Haramanisa
plaintiff’s title to the incumbency had been left in a state of abeyancepending an extra-judicial investigation by the ecclesiastical courtwhose decision the rival claimants had (by necessary implication, ifnot expressly) agreed to regard as binding on them. After the decisionof the Malwatte Chapter in favour of the plaintiff was communicatedto the parties, the 1st defendant wrote a letter dated 8th October, 1945,(P12) to the plaintiff requesting him in effect to refrain temporarilyfrom enforcing his rights and “ to be patient for about a year untilit is settled amicably without getting into litigation In compliancewith that request (to use the 1st defendant’s own words) “ the plaintiffkept quiet for an year After the period of indulgence asked for hadexpired, the 1st defendant repudiated his obligation to obey the decisionof the Malwatte Chapter “ without getting into litigation ”, andreasserted his false claim to the incumbency. Such conduct necessarilygave rise to a fresh cause of action entitling the plaintiff to claim theprotection of a declaratory decree against further interference with hisenjoyment of the rights which had been vindicated earlier in theecclesiastical court. As the present action was instituted within threeyears of the date on which this fresh cause of action arose, the plaintiff’sremedy was not barred by limitation. The judgment under appealwas wrongly decided on this point, and should therefore be set aside.I would enter a decree in favour of the plaintiff as prayed for with costsboth here and in the Court below.
Gunasekaba J.—I agree.