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Report No. 96

9. Indian Law Reports Act, 1875 (18 of 1875)

The Act, in effect, provides that courts are not bound to hear cited any unauthorised series of law reports. The Act is the first legislative measure restricting the citation of unofficial reports. The Act (so far as is material) provides that no court shall be bound to hear cited, or shall receive or treat as an authority binding on it, the report of any case other than a report published under the authority of the government. The enactment of this Act, which can be described as an attempt at creating a partial monopoly in favour of official reports, was strongly opposed, Sir George Combell, the then Lt. Governor of Bengal, expressed his opposition in these words:

"If you put into the hands of any one authority the power of deciding which of these to be rejected and snuffed out, you give that authority an enormous power over the superior courts of the country."

Section 3 of the Act reads as follows:-

"3. No court shall be bound to hear cited or shall receive or treat as authority binding on it the report of any cases decided by any High Court other than a report published under the authority of any State Government."

Section 4 of the Act provides that nothing in the Act shall be construed to give any judicial decision any other authority than it would have had if the Act had not been passed. The Act, if taken literally, could create certain anomalies. If a single judge, relying on section 3, refuses1 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. Of course, in practice, the single judge will consult the decision of the division bench, an reported in the unofficial series or-though this is rare-the original judgment from the records of the Court.2 This itself shows that the Act has to be often disregarded if serious anomalies are to be avoided.

The subject-matter of the Act seems to fall within the Concurrent List, Entry 11A, "Administration of justice". Concurrent List, entry 39, "Newspapers, Books and Printing Press" may not cover it. Nor would current list "recognition of laws, public acts and records and judicial proceedings" cover it. Reasons for recommending repeal.-It is well known that notwithstanding the passage of the Act, unofficial law reports published in India have, for many years, been cited before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the High Courts and the Supreme Court and have been referred to and relied on in their judgments. The Act has indeed been a dead letter. The Law Commission, in its Report on the Reform of Judicial Administration,3 observed with regard to this Act as follows:-

"42. In view of the recommendations made by us the Indian Law Reports Act (XVIII of 1875) will have to be repealed. As pointed out above, by reason perhaps of the delays in the publication of the Indian Law Reports series the provision of section 3 have not been observed by the courts. Indeed, the judgments of all courts, including those of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Supreme Court, have referred to decisions published in private series as authoritative and binding. Further our recommendations involve the cessation of the publication of the Indian Law Report series itself."

It has been held by one High Court4 that all that the Indian Law Reports Act, 1875, ensures is that the Judges who have no access to the decisions themselves shall be provided with their accurate copies. Mere reporting of a ruling does not give any greater sanctity than it had before a court. A certified copy establishes its authenticity and correctness. On such a copy being produced, the lower courts are bound to treat the certified copy in the same way as reported judgments. Section 3 provides merely that the court should not look into unauthorised reports. What is binding is the decision of the High Court, and not a report. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that the Law Reports Act does not apply to the decisions of the Privy Council, the Federal Court or the Supreme Court, though section 84, second paragraph, Evidence Act, applies to them (as it applies to other judicial decisions of superior courts). Because of these anomalies also, the Act should be repealed. Parliament has legislative competence to do so.5

1. Law Commission of India, 14th Report, Reforms of Judicial Adminstration, Vol. 1.

2. Compare discussion in Vinayak v. Moreshwar, AIR 1944 Nag 44.

3. Law Commission of India, 14th Report, Reform of Judicial Administration, Vol. 1.

4. Tarok Prasad v. Shanti Late, (1975) 2 ALR 501 (as summarised in the Yearly Digest 1976, Col. 1509).

5. Concurrent List, Entry 11A, "Administration of Justice".



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