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Report No. 189

Civil Justice - collection of Court fee cannot impede access to justice

This subject is discussed generally in this chapter and the question whether in relation to civil justice, full cost recovery should be made or not, is discussed separately in Chapter V.

In respect of administration of civil justice system, the Law Commission in its 128th Report on Cost of Litigation (1988) has observed at para 3.12 as follows:

"When it comes to civil justice, the approach has to undergo a change. Civil disputes include disputes between an individual and individual, between individual and groups of individuals, between group of individuals on one hand and group of individuals on the other hand and between individuals and group of individuals on one hand and State on the other. A writting (sic written) Constitution with an inbuilt chapter on fundamental rights and division of powers amongst Federation and States provide a fruitful ground for disputes coming into existence. These disputes have to be resolved because a continuous simmering dispute is not conducive to growth and development of society.

However, when the disputes are between two individuals, say an employer and an employee, a husband and a wife, or between members of the same family, it is open to them to choose their own forum to get the dispute resolved. An arbitrator appointed by the parties for resolution of dispute partakes the character of the court because parties agree to treat its decision binding. The costs of such arbitrator has to be met by the parties who agree to refer the disputes to arbitrator. The arbitrator renders service to the disputes and charges fees. The position of the State is identical to that of an arbitrator.

All parties cannot go continuously in search of an arbitrator. Parties to a dispute may not agree to go for arbitration. The State, therefore, sets up courts for administration of civil justice which term will comprehend all disputes other than those comprehended in administration of criminal justice. The court would be a readily accessible forum for a party complaining of violation of his right or a threatened invasion of his right or denial of his right and he may approach the court and seek redress of his right grievance. The court enjoys the judicial power of the State and can force the attendance of the other side to the dispute and adjudicate the dispute. Nonetheless, the court renders service. And to the extent this is service, fees, for service is chargeable."

The Supreme Court has pointed out that while Court fee can be collected for purposes of civil justice, this should not be confused with the obligation to collect Court fee. There is no such obligation. In P.M. Aswathanarayana Shetty v. State of Karnataka (supra), it was clearly observed (at para 96):

"The power to raise funds through the fiscal tool of a 'fee' is not be confused with a compulsion so to do. While 'fee' meant to defray expenses of services, cannot be applied towards objects of general public utility as part of general revenues, the converse is not valid. General public revenues can with justification, be utilized to meet, wholly or in substantial part, the expenses on the administration of civil justice." (emphasis supplied)



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