Order, Judgment and Decree: Know the Difference

What is the deference between Judgment, Order and Decree?

One can often hear statements like “the court passed a significant Judgement…” or “In its Order the court stated….” or “the court passed a Decree of…” in relation to legal works. Many times, this difference is ignored just to get to the crux of the matter; however these words can be of crucial importance.

Knowing the difference between them is essential to understand the functioning of courts and meanings of these documents issued by the Courts.

The proper understanding of these differences is also essential to understanding of statues, especially for someone in the legal fraternity.

This article will help to crack the basics and clear the differentiation between the terms.  

  1. Order

In general terms order means an authoritative command or expression. However, in the legal sense, the meaning is a little different.

Here, order would mean a direction by the judge, on behalf of the court, which is made in writing and generally would tell the status of a case. It determines some step in the proceedings.

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as, “A mandate, precept; a command or direction authoritatively given; a rule or regulation.” It also states Order while used in practice is “Every direction of a court or judge made or entered in writing, and not included in a judgment.

The court may issue an order if a party is requesting such an order, or it may issue such an order on its own discretion. 

To take a simple example, ‘A’ and ‘B’ are two parties in a case. ‘B’ being ill could not attend the court and asks for a later date. In the case that the court agrees, it would issue an order to hear the case on a next date. Thus, this represents a direction that the court is showing the next direction in the proceedings.  

Courts also routinely issue scheduling orders, which set the timetables and procedures for managing a civil lawsuit. More substantive orders are typically made following a motion by one of the parties.

  1. Decree

The Black’s Law Dictionary describes Decree as. “The judgment of a court of equity or admiralty; answering for most purpose to the judgment of a court of common law. A decree in equity is a sentence or order of the court, pronounced on hearing and understanding all the points in issue, and determining the rights of all the parties to the suit, according to equity and good conscience.”

The Civil Procedure Code also defines decree under Sec.2 (2) as “a 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 and may be either preliminary or final. It shall be deemed to include the rejection of a plaint and the determination of any question within Sec.144, but shall not include—

(a) any adjudication from which an appeal lies as an appeal from an order, or

(b) any order of dismissal for default.”

Essentials of a decree:

  • Adjudication:  This is a decision of administrative nature or a dismissal of the case due to lack of merit in it. This is either because of fault in appearance of the party; or dismissal of an appeal due to prosecution’s absence. This is because there is no ‘judicial determination of rights in the dispute’; wherein such determination must be by a court. 
  • Suit: A suit begins with the presentation of a complaint. 
  • Rights of parties: In the dispute, there must be a determination of rights of the Plaintiff and Defendant as far as matters in the case are concerned. 
  • Conclusive determination: The decree should have a final decision of the court which issues it. 
  • Formal Expression: The parties must, as per law, compile with the prerequisites of such decree.

Examples of Decrees: Refusing one of the many reliefs asked by the party (s), a decision that the appeal is not maintainable, etc. 

Classes of Decrees:

  • Preliminary Decree-

When the rights of parties involved in the dispute are decided in respect to all or any point disputed in the matter, but the suit is not completely disposed off, then it is a preliminary decree. It is a preliminary stage in adjudicating rights. 

In cases of partition suits, such a decree may be given where in a Joint Hindu Family, shares of coparceners are to be determined, but no actual partition would take place. After a final inquiry, an actual decree of partition of property will be passed, thus disposing the suit. 

Other situations, in which preliminary decree is passed, can be suit of foreclosure of mortgaged property, a suit for mortgaged property’s redemption, suit for pre-emption, etc. 

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In the case of Phoolchand V. Gopal Lal, upon the facts and circumstances of the case, it was held that there was nothing that bars the court in passing more than one preliminary decree. This was substantiated by saying that the judgement was only concerned with partition suits and no other kinds of suits. 

Such preliminary decree can be appealed to a higher court. If such succeeds, then the final decree passed in the court origin of the preliminary decree would also fail. 

  • Final decree-  

A decree may become final by two ways – 

Either when it is not appealed in the time prescribed, or the highest court has decided the matter;

Or the decree itself is completely disposed of. 

For example, in a suit for recovery of money, when it is declared as to how a party’s outstanding amount alone would be paid, the decree becomes final. Therefore, such decree passed, which does not consider further proceedings, would be considered a final decree in its substance. 

In Gulusam Bivi V. Ahamadasa Rowther, referring to the Code of Civil Procedure, it was stated that in a case, where there is no provision for more than one preliminary decree as well as final decree, having two final decrees in the suit, would make the letter a final decree. However, this obiter dicta was overruled in the case of Kasi V. Ramanathan Chattiar. It was concluded that there cannot be a possibility of more than one final decree.

  • Partly preliminary and partly final decree-

A decree may also be partly final and partly preliminary. For instance, in a case of immovable property’s possession with mesne profits, the following decrees are passed by the court:

i. For possession of the property, which would be a final decree; 

ii. Directing the inquiry of mesne profits, which would be a preliminary decree. (This is because it is only after enquiry that mesne profits can be drawn.)

Thus, even though only one formal decree is passed, it is half final and half preliminary.

Difference between Order and Decree:

Is passed only where a case is stated by the presentation of complaint.Is passed in all other cases too, such as petitions, appeals etc.
Decrees always determine rights of partiesOrders may or may not be related to determining rights
A decree can be preliminary before a final decree. Mostly, only one decree is passed (either one preliminary and one final, or one final)There is no preliminary order. Orders can also be thought of as different marking points in a case. Thus, several orders can be passed by the court. 
All decrees are applicable for appealNot all orders can be appealed. Only those that are enumerated in a code.
  1. Judgement

A judgement is the formal pronouncement or delivery of the court’s final decision in a matter. 

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “The conclusion in a syllogism having for its major and minor premises issues raised by the pleadings and the proofs thereon.”

There are two rules to be followed while pronouncing judgements. 

  • Rule 1:

It can be delivered to either the parties or their lawyers, by the judge, in an open court, after completion of hearing, either on a future day or on the same day. A time Limit was set on pronouncing judgements after completion of hearings by way of the Amendment Act of 1976. The Supreme Court in R.C. Sharma v. Union of India, stated that an unreasonable delay in pronouncing the judgement after completing hearing, unless there was some unavoidable circumstance. 

The time limit to pronounce the judgement is generally within thirty days. However, if due to any reason this cannot be achieved in a particular case, it shall be pronounced within sixty days. It is not mandatory on the judge that they read the complete judgement. It is sufficient even if the final order is pronounced. 

  • Rule 2:

The judgement must be dated and signed. It also empowers a judge to pronounce any such prior judgement written by a predecessor judge but not pronounced by him. 

Pronouncing a judgement validates it, which is why it must be judicially performed. Any insignificant deviation in the manner or mode of delivery would be immaterial. Further, the judgement should only be based on the grounds that the parties pleaded upon in the dispute. 

Language should also be kept in mind.

Thus, it can be seen that a clear difference can be made between a decree, an order, and a judgement. Knowing this can make it easier to study and understand the directions of a court, in a sense that is why a certain direction was the way it was. 

Edited by-

Rajat Rajan Singh

Editor-in-chief at Law Trend

Advocate Allahabad High Court Lucknow

Written by Sai Kulkarni – Intern

Law Trend
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