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Report No. 189

Court Fees

Yet another aspect of 'access to justice' is the system of demanding 'courtfee' from the parties who move the Courts. Lord Macaulay, who headed the Law Commission one hundred and fifty years ago declared that the preamble to the Bengal Regulation of 1795 was 'absurd' when it stated that high court fee was intended to drive away vexatious litigants. The reason he gave was that such increase will also drive away honest plaintiffs who are unable to pay court fee. Starting from the 14th Report, the Law Commission has been repeating that the argument that court fee be increased to prevent vexatious litigation, cannot be accepted.

In the Supreme Court, in P.M. Ashwathanarayana Setty v. State of Karnataka, 1989 Supp (1) SCC 696, Venkatachaliah J (as he then was), while dealing with the issue as to whether the fixation of ad valorem Court fees without any limit, as proposed by legislation in the Rajasthan and Karnataka Acts, was constitutionally valid, quoted A.P. Herbert's 'More Uncommon Law', where the following words of the Judge in the fictional case of Hogby v. Hogby were referred to:

"That if the Crown must charge for justice, at least the fee should be like the fee for postage: that is to say, it should be the same, however long the journey may be. For it is no fault of one litigant that his plea to the King's Judges raises questions more difficult to determine than another's and will require a longer hearing in Court. He is asking for justice, not renting house property."

The Judge in the fictional case asked the Attorney General:

"Everybody pays for the police, but some people use them more than others. Nobody complains. You don't have to pay a special fee every time you have a burglary, or ask a policeman the way."

Venkatachaliah J observed that the court fee as a limitation on 'access to justice' is inextricably intertwined with a 'highly emotional and even evocative subject stimulative of visions of a social order in which justice will be brought within the reach of all citizens of all ranks in society, both those blessed with affluence and those depressed with poverty'.

Thus, while upholding the constitutionality of the said legislations, the Court suggested for the rationalization of the levy of Court fee by the States and more particularly lower the fees for litigants at lower level, on the principle that those who have less in life should have more in law.

His Lordship, further observed:

"Indeed all civilized governments recognize the need for access to justice being free."

Revision of Court Fees Structure Back

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