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History of Law Reporting in India and its Significance

Stare decisis is a common law principle that states that an existing precedent must be observed. To put it another way, nothing that has already been established should be altered or disrupted. However, this does not rule out the possibility of new precedents being formed.

The theory of precedents lays down the principle that all inferior courts must follow the ratio decidendi of every case decided by the higher court. The justification of the theory is that it is instrumental in assuring legal certainty and that it also provides a basis for the orderly development of the common law of England.

In India, the method of law reporting to preserve judicial decisions and the principle of the authority of precedent has been adopted from England. Law reporting in India developed as an objective to provide information about the new precedents set in cases to law officials working at different posts around the country. The law reports aid in supporting cases with similar facts.

As in England, a court in India is bound by the ratio decidendi of every case decided by a higher court; but the Supreme Court and the High Courts are not bound by their own decisions. The system of precedent has a constitutional mandate in the form of Article 141 of the Constitution of India. In Bengal Immunity Company, Ltd. v. State of Bihar, The Supreme Court held that it can depart from a previous decision if it is convinced of its error and its baneful effect on the general interests of the public.

The same is the position in the High Courts also. In a number of cases, the High Courts declared the doctrine of precedent and laid down that the subordinate courts were bound to follow the decisions of the higher courts even if they did not agree with the higher courts. In P Ramaswami v Chandra Kottaya, the High Court observed:
"A court subordinate to the High Court is bound to follow the ruling of the High Court and is not entitled to rely upon the decisions of the other High Courts and decline to follow the decisions of this court."

In Jai Kaur v. Sher Singh, the court stated that a single High Court Judge is bound by the decisions of a Division Bench which is further bound by the decisions of the Full Bench of the same High Court.

The history of law reporting in India can be divided into two timelines: the first part deals with its early phases (1813-1861), and the second part deals with a more regular trajectory that is claimed to have begun with the founding of the Presidency High Courts in 1862.

Early Phase:
In 1813, the necessity of establishing the authority of precedent in India was for the first time emphasized in the following words:
"it should be enacted by a Regulation that from a given period, the judgments of the court shall be considered as precedents binding upon itself and on the inferior courts in similar cases which may arise thereafter. This will have the effect of making the superior courts more cautious and of introducing something like a system for the other courts, the want of which is now very much felt".

The East India Company systematically introduced the English laws including principles such as stare decisis and obiter dicta into the Indian judicial system. Law reporting began in India with the establishment of the Supreme Court of Calcutta in 1774. In the beginning, there was no organized system of law reporting. Practicing lawyers and judges made occasional individual attempts at law reporting and the underlying purpose was "to prevent much contrariety of judgment and to produce uniformity of decision on matters on which a conflict of decisions would be disastrous."

Certain legal publications in Calcutta incorporated Supreme Court case reports as illustrations. Sir Francis Macnaghten, a former judge of the Court, incorporated certain issues relating to Hindu Law in his 1824 book �Considerations on Hindu Law�. In his �Principles and Precedents of Mohammedan Law�, published in 1825, Sir William Macnaghten took similar efforts. Longueville Clarke's edition of the Supreme Court Rules and Orders, published in 1829, and Smoult's Collection of Orders from 1774 to 1823, published in 1834, both featured case notes.

Efforts were also made by lawyers and judges in law reporting. Some of the reports published by them include Morton�s Reports (1841) which covered the period from 1774 to 1841; Bignell's Reports (1830-31), Fulton's Reports (cases decided by the Court between (1842-44); Montriou's Reports (1846); Montriou's Select Cases from Morton's Reports known as the �Morton's Reports by Montriou�; Boulnois' Reports (1853-59), Gasper's Commercial Cases, (1851-1860); George Taylor's Reports of Cases decided from January, (1847-1848): Taylor and Bell's Reports, (1847-53); Casper's Reports of Small Cause Court Cases determined by the Calcutta Supreme Court during 1850-59.

A valuable collection of the decisions of the Bombay Supreme Court was given by Morley in the Appendix to his Digest of Indian Cases. These decisions were made available by Former Chief Justice, Sir Erskine Perry. Chief Justice Sir Thomas Strange published the only collection for the Supreme Court of Madras.

These old cases were of great historical importance and of high repute in the eyes of both lawyers and academic researchers. They depicted how the foundation of the Anglo-Indian Jurisprudence was laid. Most of the above-cited old reports became too difficult to procure as they went out of print in course of time and became rare. Due to this reason, reference to the old cases and their citation in courts became difficult. An attempt was therefore made to reprint the cases in the old reports and reissue a new series known as the Indian Decisions Old Series. They were published by Venkasawmy Row in 1911.

The Sadar Diwani Adalats were at the apex of the mofussil judicial system. The first printed reports of the cases decided in the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta were started by Sir William Hay Macnaghten, who served as the Registrar of the Adalat. The series consists of seven volumes that cover the years 1791 to 1849. Because they were authored or approved by the judges who decided these issues, the annotations appended to the two cases in this volume have a lot of weight.

Another kind of paper was called Select Reports on Summary Cases, and these were published as "authorized by the court." Sevestre, a barrister, published reports of cases decided by the Calcutta Sadar Diwani Adalat, mostly in summary appeals. The first volume of this collection was produced in 1842 and consisted of three parts.

The inferior courts were provided these reports to be used as precedents. From 1845 onwards, the decisions of the Sadar Adalat in Calcutta were published monthly in order to serve as precedents for the public and the profession. The Governor of Bengal gave his approval for this series. These reports were known as the Bengal Sadar Diwani Adalat Reports. They are considered to be India's oldest official series of law reports. This series was produced until 1862 when Adalat was abolished.

There are two collections available for the rulings of the Sadar Diwani Adalat in Bombay. The first is the well-known series of reports by Adalat Judge, Borradaile, which were published in two volumes in 1825. It primarily contains instances involving issues of law unique to the Bombay region. The second item is a short anonymous publication from 1843. The instances are spread out between 1820 and 1840. Sir William Macnaghten produced five volumes of criminal cases related to the Nizamat Adalat in Calcutta. In 1849, Bellasis published a valuable collection of Reports of Cases Decided by the Sadar Faujdari Adalat in Bombay, which included decisions from 1827 to 1846.

Reporting after 1861
Until 1861, law reporting was not consistent or methodical. Regular legal reporting began with the formation of the High Courts in the Presidency Towns in 1862. Since then, semi-official and private law reports have been issued on a regular and methodical basis. There is also official legal reporting at the moment.

High Court Reports:
The Indian High Courts Act, 1861 made the provisions for the establishment of the High Courts in various provinces. The judgments of the High Court got recognition in quantity and quality.

The establishment of High Courts in British India brought in their wake official reports. The Madras High Court brought with it eight volumes of Madras high court reports spanning the years 1862 to 1875. Similar reports came into existence for the High Courts of Bombay and Calcutta. There are 12 volumes of the Bombay High Court Reports for the period of 1862-1875. The Bengal Law Reports comprise 15 volumes.

They constitute a fairly well-edited series, the facts are given in full, and the judgments of the lower courts whenever necessary. Private publications also came into existence. Some of them are The weekly reporter, Indian Jurist at Calcutta High Court, covering the period 1862-1868, Madras Jurist at Madras, and Sutherland�s weekly reporter (1864-1876).

Indian Law Reports Act, 1875:
After the establishment of the high courts in different provinces, Sir James Stephen, Law Member, made it clear that reporting should be regarded as a "branch of legislation". Despite the fact that the official agency published numerous High Court Reports, there was no statute dealing with the subject of law reporting.

It was also deemed necessary to reduce the number and cost of law reports issued in British India, as well as to improve their quality. On the initiative of Law Member Hobhouse, the Indian Law Reports Act was enacted in 1875 with this objective in mind. The Act authorized the publication of the reports of the cases decided by the High Courts and also sought to control the indiscriminate citation of cases in the courts.

Section 3 of the Act states:
No Court shall be bound to hear cited, or shall receive or treat as authority binding on it, the report of any case decided by any of the said High Courts on or after the said day other than a report published under the authority of the Governor-General-in-Council.

This Act can be considered an important step toward putting the principle of precedent into practice in relation to High Court judgments. Although the Act does not provide that a High Court's decisions are binding on subordinate courts within its jurisdiction, the necessary outcome of Section 3 would be that a court would be bound to treat the report of a case decided by the High Court as binding. The Act, on the other hand, is the first legislative effort to restrict the use of in official reports. The purpose of Section 3 was to diminish the quantity of law reporting and improve its quality by regulating the indiscriminate citation of cases in the courts.

Section 4 of the Act provides that nothing in the Act "shall be construed to give any judicial decision any further or other authority than it would have had if this Act had not been passed". The Act applies only to the decisions of the High Courts and not to the decisions of the Privy Council, the Federal Court, or the Supreme Court.

The Law Commission in its 96th report has reiterated the suggestion that the Act is repealed because, if taken literally, it could create certain anomalies. If a single judge, relying on Section 3, refuses to look at an �unofficial� ruling of a division bench, then the position would be unsatisfactory. There would be a division bench ruling disregarded by a single judge.

After the enactment of the Indian Law Reports Act in 1875, it became imperative to have an official series of reports. As a result, during the time of Law Member Hobhouse, the official series of Indian Law Reports began. The Councils of Law Reporting were established in various High Courts across India, and reports began to be issued under the authority of the State Government. The Chief Justice of each High Court nominates a committee with himself or another Judge as Chairman to supervise the publication of these reports. Each High Court has a series of Indian Law Reports (ILR) to its name.

Reports of the Privy Council:
The Privy Council was established in 1833 and it served as the highest court of appeal in India its decisions were binding on all courts of India. In Mata Prasad Vs Nageshwar Sahaya, the Privy Council declared that courts in India are not free to dispute the legal principles laid down by the Privy Council.

The decisions of the Privy Council on appeal from India were originally compiled by Jerome William Knapp in three volumes (1829-36). Later on, they were published separately under the title �Indian Cases�. Another collection of the Privy Council cases is by Knapp and E.F. Moore. From 1862 to 1873, Moore issued a series of reports of the Privy council cases known as Moore�s P.C. F.F.

Moore produced a series called Moore's Indian Appeals (MIA) that was solely dedicated to reporting Privy Council judgments on appeals from India. The reports of the cases in this series are very useful and are still of importance to an Indian lawyer. The series (MIA) starts in 1836 and continues till 1972 and consists of 14 volumes in all. Thus, it can be seen that all cases of the Privy Council from 1829 to 1873 are contained in volumes 12 to 20 of the English Reports.

Reports of the Federal Court:
The Federal Court of India was established in 1935 under the Government of India Act enacted in the same year. An official series of reports, known as the Federal Court Reports, was published for the first time in 1939 and their publication lasted until 1949. These reports covered decisions decided by the Federal Court of India as well as by the Privy Council on appeal from that Court. There were additional unofficial reports in addition to the official ones. In 1937, The Federal Law Journal was launched. The Journal�s principal purpose was to report the proceedings of the Federal Court and the Federal Legislature of India with editorial commentary.

Reports of the Supreme Court:
In 1950, the Supreme Court of India was established replacing the Federal Court. The Federal Reports Reports were renamed the Supreme Court Reports which is the official series reporting cases of the Supreme Court. These issues are published monthly.

The Supreme Court cases are also reported in several other non-official reports, such as the All India Reporter, Madras Law Journal which reports cases of the Supreme Court that arise on appeals from the Madras High Court. The federal Law Journal was renamed the Supreme Court Journal. Supreme Court Cases started publication in 1969 and are published fortnightly.

Significance of Law Reporting
The courts, in different timelines, have always reiterated the importance of precedents and how they are binding on the subordinate courts. Recognition in law to previous judgments has been given under the Government of India Act, 1935 wherein under section 212, it is provided that decisions of the Privy Council and Federal Court are binding on all courts in India. Similarly, Article 141 of the Constitution of India mandates that Law declared by the Supreme Court Of India shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.

The Apex court in order to illustrate the principle underlying the provisions under article 141 Constitution of India observed in State of Bihar Vs Kalika Kaur that:
"Earlier judgment may seem to be not correct yet would be binding on later Bench of coordinate jurisdiction considering the question later, on the ground that a possible aspect of the matter, was not considered or not raised before the court deciding the matter earlier, but it would not be a reason to say that the decision was rendered per incuriam and is liable to be ignored."

The matter, thus, will have to be resolved only in two ways:"Either to follow the earlier decision or refer the matter to a larger bench to examine the issue, in case it is felt that earlier decision is not correct on merits." Therefore, easily saying that an earlier decision was rendered per incuriam is not permissible.

Thus, to ensure compliance of the requirement of Article 141 and to supervise the legal system accordingly, the publication of judgments and keeping the record updated is the need of the legal system so as to create harmony in the decisions of various courts on the principle of law. Individual business and corporate sectors are involved in the reporting of judgments of various superior courts such as the Supreme Court of India and the state High Courts.

Law Reporting has come a long way in India. There have also been attempts in recent decades to use technology and the Internet to report on legal developments and make accessing reports hassle-free for all. Several legal databases, such as Manupatra, LexisNexis, Indian Kanoon, SCC Online, and a few more, have sprung up that operate as search engines for anything and everything relating to the legal realm. Since these databases are available online, they may be viewed at any time, and the information that they contain is limitless.
However, there is still a lot that can be done to improve present reporting methods.

Unfortunately, official law reports have not been able to deliver efficiently. Furthermore, law reporting journals can be rather costly for an individual. The Internet and technology have advanced to the point that any new precedent established can be reported on the same day. Detailed reports, of course, need time to study and write. At last, the point is that legal reporting can be made far more efficient and appealing to a wider audience if more people have access to it.

  1. The Constitution of India
  2. Indian Law Reports Act, 1875
  3. 96 th Law Commission Report, 1984
  4. Jain M P, Outlines of Indian Legal & Constitutional History (LexisNexis, 7th edn, 2014)
  5. �History, Necessity and Importance of Law Reporting in India� (lawyersclubindia, 10 January 2011) accessed 19 November 2021
  6. Mittal J K, �Law reporting in India� accessed 21 November 2021
  7. Sharanya Ghosh, �Law reporting in India� (iPleaders, 6 October 2020) accessed 19 November 2021

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