Report No. 189
The approach of the Law Commission
The Commission is aware that it is taking up for consideration, the question of revising court fee structure, and consequently the relevant legislation(s), that has been in vogue for over 130 years. It is not safe to proceed on an assumption that a legal regime that may be chronologically ancient is necessarily irrelevant or an anachronism. In many significant areas, the contrary is true as the Commission itself realised recently when it took up the revision of the Evidence Act, 1872. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an instance of a legislation that is seemingly 'timeless' and of universal application. Therefore, the mere fact that the Court Fees Act, 1870 is a preindependence legislation or has survived for over a century, cannot by itself necessitate its wholesole revision.
On the other hand, the reference itself is premised on certain other parameters. These can be usefully delineated as under:
(i) The court fees, which has not been revised for a very long time, at present covers only a fraction of the administrative costs of the judicial process. This premise, in its turn, presupposes that the cost of administration of justice have necessarily to be met from user charges or court fees. It is proposed to closely examine such a presupposition;
(ii) There is a need to build financial disincentives in order to discourage vexatious litigation. The premise here is that court fee can be used as a device to curb frivolous litigation. In other words, increase in court fees would deter the frivolous/vexatious litigant. This premise also requires to be examined and tested for its legal tenability.
(iii) The steady devaluation of the rupee over the years has not been accounted for in the present court fee structure which has remained frozen in time. Therefore, notwithstanding the aforementioned impelling reasons, court fees would nevertheless have to be revised to reflect the present value of the rupee.
The first and second premises throw up important constitutional and legal issues touching upon the right of access to justice. The third issue delineated falls in the realm of law and economics.