Doctrine of lis pendens

The Doctrine of Lis Pendens is based on the Latin maxim ‘ut lite pendente nihil’, which means: ‘nothing new should be introduced into a pending litigation’. It is enshrined in Section 52 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 titled ‘Transfer of Property pending suit relating thereto’.

The doctrine is essentially a common law principle, and its origin can be traced to Lord Justice Turner’s observation in Bellamy v Sabine[1].

The doctrine comes into play from the point of institution of the suit till the satisfaction of the decree. It renders all voluntary transfers effect by the parties to a suit during the pendency of the suit, subservient to the rights of the parties to the litigation. (Thompson Press v Nanak Builders[2])

The effect of the decree is binding on the transferee if they are a third party (pendente lite purchaser), even if they are not party to it. The transfer is valid, however to the result of the suit.(KA Khader v John Madathil[3]) The Supreme Court in Jayaram Mudaliar vs. Ayyaswami[4] has held that the objective of this section is not to deprive the parties of any just or equitable claim but to ensure that the parties subject themselves to the jurisdiction and authority of the court which shall decide the claims that are put before it. In a nutshell, since parties to a suit are bound or affected the principle- whoever takes property which is under litigation, that person is automatically bound by the decision of the court, whether he is/was a party to the suit or not.

ILLUSTRATION: A sues B in respect of a house which was in the possession of B. During the pendency of the suit B sells the house to C. If A’s suit is dismissed, the transfer to C holds good. Thus, here, the purchaser (C) is bound by the result of the litigation. However, if it is decided in A’s favour, the transfer to C is voidable and A’s right to take the house is not affected. 

The purpose of this Section is to prevent transfer of title of any disputed property to prevent endless litigation and successfully bring a lawsuit to termination. Moreover, the doctrine of Lis Pendens does not fall under principles of equity, but refers to matters of public policy. It works on principle of necessity rather than actual or constructive notice, to maintain the status quo. A pending litigation acts as a constructive notice of the defective title and dispute to the world. For administration of justice, it is necessary that that when a suit is pending in a court of law with regard to immovable property, the litigants should not be allowed to take decision themselves and  transfer the disputed property. As a matter of public policy, it does not allow parties to interfere with the Court’s proceedings. Thus, it is immaterial whether the transferee had notice or not.

Therefore, the Doctrine works on the principle of necessity and notice. It is based on the English principles of justice, equity and good conscience and is essential to ensure justice.

[1] (1857) 1 Dec. & 566

[2] (2013) 5 SCC 397

[3] AIR 1994 Ker 122

[4] AIR 1973 SC 569


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