Highlights of the Madras High Court Order Restraining Synod From Giving Effect to Special Synod Resolutions

As most readers know by now, the Madras High Court in an order dated 10th March 2022 has slapped an interim stay on the Synod. This from taking further actions to inter alia raise the retirement age of presbyters and bishops from 67 to 70.

A resolution to increase the retirement age was declared passed by Moderator Dharmaraj Rasalam amidst much bedlam at a raucous session of the Special Synod held in Trichy on March 7, 2022. This after pleas for a secret ballot were ignored. Clearly not holding a secret ballot despite a sizeable number of delegates demanding it, makes it highly questionable legally as to whether the two-thirds majority requirement for passing constitutional amendments was fulfilled by the so-called voice vote.

On March 10, Judge P. Velmurugan of the Madras High Court gave a detailed interim order in a case filed by Franklyn James, former treasurer of Karnataka Central Diocese and a delegate to the Special Synod and Dr Jayakaran Isaac, former Secretary of the Vellore Diocese and a veteran of many legal battles for upholding CSI member rights. The two gentlemen had filed a suit inter alia seeking an interim stay on the holding of the special synod. In fact the plea for interim stay was to be heard on the 7th itself but the Synod authorities cut short a scheduled two day meeting and wound up the proceedings in a little over two hours.

Below is a brief outline of how the judge dealt with the main objections of the Moderator and the Synod:

1) To the Synod plea that the suit has become infructuous as the meeting has already happened and resolution passed the order says: “Even though it is contended that the respondents/defendants have convened the meeting and passed resolutions and the application has become infructuous, the applicants/plaintiffs have made out prima facie case. The balance of convenience is in favour of the applicants/plaintiffs.”

2) To the plea that the plaintiffs did not obtain permission under Order 1 Rule 8 (filing of cases in a representative capacity) before filing the suit the court held that it was “a curable defect which can be cured at any point of time before deciding the suit.”

The order went on state “the very next day of filing of the suit itself, the applicants/plaintiff have filed an application under Order I Rule 8 seeking leave of this Court, which is pending with Registry. “The judge held that the holding of the Special Synod and “whether members were served with all particulars and the defendants acted in accordance with byelaws are all matter for trial.”

He ordered “there shall be an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents/defendants from giving effect to the resolutions passed in the meeting convened by the first respondent on 07th and 08th March 2022 with regard to the fixation of upper age for the Bishops and Terms of elected members till the disposal of the above suit. List the main suit and connected other applications on 30.03.2022 for filing of written statements in the suit.”

Meanwhile a Senior Civil Judge at Karimnagar has on March 7, 2022 given another interim stay restraining the Synod and its officers from making constitutional amendments and directing that “amendments taken if any [be] put on hold” till the next date of hearing which is April 7, 2022.