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Report No. 220

Need to fix Maximum Chargeable Court-fees in Subordinate Civil Courts

I. Introduction

1.1 Court-fees in civil courts appear to have been first levied in the 18th century by Madras Regulation III of 1782, Bengal Regulation XXXVIII of 1795 and a Bombay Regulation of 1802.1 Paradoxically, the preamble to the Bengal Regulation justified the imposition of court-fees on the ground that it would prevent the institution of frivolous litigation.1

1.2 Justice Krishna Iyer Committee on Legal Aid stated that "something must be done, we venture to state, to arrest the escalating vice of burdensome scales of court fee. That the State should not sell justice is an obvious proposition, but the high rate of court fee now levied leaves no valid alibi is also obvious".2

1.3 Notwithstanding the above, the court-fees have come to stay. It is settled law that a fee should broadly commensurate with the services and bear a reasonable correlation to the cost of services and that court-fee legislation is intended almost purely as a source of additional revenue to the State, either necessitated or even to some extent justified by the present day economic conditions, and hoped that with all-round improvement of economic condition, the State would be in a position to afford relief to the litigants by gradual reduction and ultimate abolition of court-fee.

Now the question is whether the State is inclined to follow such a course and the periodical revision of court-fee is justified either on facts or in law.

1.4 Setting out in the Statement of Objects and Reasons that it was expedient to make a general reduction in the rates of court-fee charged on civil suits and to revert to the principle of maximum fee which obtained under the former law, Court-fees Act, 1870 (Act 7 of 1870) was enacted by the Central Government. This Act was amended in its application to the Madras State in 1922, setting out the reason as to meet the increased cost of administration through additional revenue in the Objects and Reasons of the amending Act. The rates were though revised, the slab system was retained.3

1. Law Commission of India, 14th Report on "Reform of Judicial Administration" (1958).

2. Referred to in P. M. Ashwathanarayana Setty v. State of Karnataka, 1989 Supp (1) SCC 696.

3. Meenakshisundaram Panchapakesan, Court Fees At ad valorem Scale Collected in Subordinate Civil Courts, (2008) 6 MLJ 131.

1.5 The Supreme Court in Secretary to Government of Madras v. P. R. Sriramulu, 1996(1) SCC 345, observed that there should also be some measures of uniformity in the scales of court-fees throughout the country as there appears to be a vast difference in the scales of court-fees in various States of the country. The feasibility of a fixed maximum chargeable fee also deserves serious consideration.

1.6 The Law Commission had also as far back as 1958 recommended that there should be a broad measure of equality in the scales of court-fees all over the country, and that there should also be a fixed maximum to the fee chargeable.6

1.7 In view of the above, the Law Commission of India suo motu took up the study of the 'subject.

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