UPDATE: India's Legal Research and Legal System

By Megha Srivastava

Megha Srivastava is a civil and commercial attorney from India with an LLM in Intellectual Property from the George Washington University Law School. She graduated from the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow in 2015. Prior to attending GW Law, she was an Associate in the Litigation Team at Dua Associates and Solicitors, New Delhi, a top-tier law firm and have hands on experience in arguing several matters before the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, National Company Law Tribunal, Competition Law Tribunal, District Courts and other Courts in India. She was counsel for the Delhi Urban Art Commission, State Bank of India, Royal Bank of Scotland and Competition Commission of India. She has handled more than forty meditations and arbitrations and pro-bono matters with the Delhi High Court Legal Services Authority. She has been a Research Associate in the IPR Division at the National Law University, New Delhi. She is registered with the Delhi Bar Council and currently has a solo practice in Delhi.

Published January/February 2021

(Previously updated by Dr. Rakesh Kumar Shrivastava in October 2008 and in June 2010; and by Dr. R. K. Shrivastava in assistance with Versha Shah and Megha Srivastava in April 2014)

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1. Introduction

India’s first major civilization flourished around 2500 BC in the Indus river valley. This civilization, which continued for 1000 years and is known as Harappan culture, appears to have been the culmination of thousands of years of settlement. For many thousands of years, India’s social and religious structures have withstood invasions, famines, religious persecutions, political upheavals and many other cataclysms. Few other countries have national identities with such a long and vibrant history.

The roots of the present-day human institutions lie deeply buried in the past. This is also true about the country’s law and legal system. The legal system of a country at any given time cannot be said to be creation of one man for one day; it represents the cumulative effect of the endeavour, experience, thoughtful planning and patient labour of many people throughout generations. The modern judicial system in India started to take shape under British control during the 17th century. The British Empire continued till 1947, and the present judicial system in India owes much to the judicial system developed during the time of British rule.

2. Judicial Administration in Ancient India

Law in ancient India meant “Dharma” in the broader sense. The Vedas, regarded as divine revelation, were the supreme source of authority for all codes which contained what was then understood as law or dharma. The traditional records have governed and molded the life and evolution of the Hindu community from age to age. These are supposed to have their source in the Rigveda.

Justice was administered in ancient India according to the rules of civil and criminal law as provided in the Manusmriti. There was a regular system of local courts from which an appeal lay to the superior court at the capital, and from there to the King in his own court. The King’s Court was composed of himself, a number of judges, and his domestic chaplain who directed his conscience; however, they acted only as advisors and the final decision rested with the King. Arbitrators in three gradations existed below the local courts: first being kinsmen, second being men of the same trade, and third being townsmen. An appeal lay from the first to the second, from the second to the third, and from the third to the local court. Thus, under this system there were no less than five appeals. Decision by arbitration, generally of five (Panches), was very common when other means of obtaining justice were not available. The village headman was the judge and magistrate of the village community and also collected and transmitted the Government revenue.

3. Legal System in India During the British Period

India has one of the oldest legal systems in the world. Its law and jurisprudence stretch back centuries, forming a living tradition which has grown and evolved with the lives of its diverse people. The history of the present judicial system may be traced back to the year 1726, when a Charter was issued by King George I for bringing about important changes in the judicial administration of the Presidency Towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The system of appeals from India to the Privy Council in England was introduced by this Charter in 1726.

In order to bring about better management of the affairs of the East India Company, the East India Company Regulating Act of 1773 was promulgated by the King. This Act subjected the East India Company to the control of the British Government and made a provision for His Majesty by Charters or Letters Patent to establish the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William at Calcutta, superseding the then prevalent judicial system. The Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William was established by a letter patent issued on March 26, 1774. This Court, as a court of record, had full power and authority to hear and determine all complaints against any of His Majesty’s subjects for any crimes and also to entertain, hear and determine any suits or actions against any of His Majesty’s subjects in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Two more Supreme Courts, conceived along the same lines as that of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, were established at Madras and Bombay by King George III through Charters issued on December 26, 1800, and on December 8, 1823, respectively.

The role of the Privy Council has been a great unifying force and the instrument and embodiment of the rule of law in India. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was made a Statutory Permanent Committee of legal experts to hear appeals from the British Colonies in the year 1833 by an Act passed by the British Parliament. Thus, the Act of 1833 transformed the Privy Council into a great imperial court of unimpeachable authority.

The Indian High Court’s Act 1861 reorganized the then-prevalent judicial system in the country by abolishing the Supreme Courts at Fort William, Madras, and Bombay, and also the then existing Sadar Adalats in the Presidency Towns. The High Courts were established having civil, criminal, admiralty, vice-admiralty, testimony, intestate, and matrimonial jurisdiction, as well as original and appellate jurisdiction.

Provincial autonomy was established in India with the establishment of the Government of India Act, 1935, which introduced responsibility at the provincial level and sought the Union of British Indian Provinces with the rulers of Estates in a federation. As a federal system depends largely upon a just and competent administration of the law between governments themselves, the 1935 Act provided for the establishment of the Federal Court, the forerunner to the Supreme Court of India. The Federal Court was the second highest Court in the judicial hierarchy in India.

The Federal Court was the first Constitutional Court and also the first all-India Court of extensive jurisdiction, and it had original jurisdiction in matters where there was dispute between the provinces or federal States. It was also the Appellate Court for the judgments, decrees, or final orders of the High Courts. Thus, the Federal Court of India had original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. The doctrine of precedent in India also had its roots in Federal Court as the law declared by the Federal Court and Privy Council has been given binding affect on all the courts in British India.

4. Constitution of India

The Indian Constitution is essentially federal in form and is marked by the traditional characteristics of a federal system, namely supremacy of the Constitution, division of power between the Union and State, and the existence of an independent judiciary in the Indian Constitution. The three organs of the State – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – have to function within their own spheres demarcated under the Constitution. In other words, the doctrine of Separation of Powers has been implicitly recognized by the Indian Constitution. The basic structure of the Constitution is unchangeable and only such amendments to the Constitution are allowed which do not affect its basic structure or rob it of its essential character. The Constitution of India recognizes certain basic fundamental rights for every citizen of India, such as the right to equality under the law, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, and the right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and the right to constitutional remedies. Any infringement of fundamental rights can be challenged by any citizen of India in the court of law. The Constitution of India also prescribes some fundamental duties on every citizen in India. The cherished goals of the Indian Constitution are indicated in the Preamble, which aspires for social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, and worship; equality of status; and the promotion of fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual.[1] Though, by itself, it is not enforceable in a Court of law, the Preamble to the written Constitution states the objects which the Constitution seeks to establish and promote and also aid the legal interpretation of the Constitution where the language is found to be ambiguous.[2] It came into existence on the 28th of January, 1950, two days after India became a Sovereign, Democratic Republic

5. Union and State Judiciary

Indian Judicial System

Chapter IV of the Constitution of India deals with the “Union Judiciary,” which provides for the establishment and constitution of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, since its inception, was empowered with jurisdiction far greater than that of any comparable court anywhere in the world. As a federal court, it has exclusive jurisdiction to determine disputes between the Union of India and any state and the states inter-se. Under Article 32, it issues writs for enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. As an appellate court, it could hear appeals from the state high courts on civil, criminal and constitutional matters.

It has the special appellate power under Article 136 to grant leave to appeal from any tribunal or court. Thus, it is a forum for the redressing of grievance not only in its jurisdiction as conferred by the constitution, but also as a platform and forum for every grievance in the country which requires judicial intervention. It is a “Court of Record” and it has all the powers of such a Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself, under Article 129. Under Article 143, the Supreme Court of India has advisory or consultative jurisdiction, under which it may provide legal opinion of any issue of public interest which the President may deem fit to seek opinion of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, with the present strength of 30 judges and a chief justice, is the repository of all judicial powers at the national level. Supreme Court judges holds office until they reach the age of 65 years. Presently, Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde has been appointed as the 47th Chief Justice of India (CJI)

The State Judiciary consists of a High Court for each state and subordinate courts in each district. Each high court consists of a chief justice and a number of puisne judges. The high court judges are appointed by the President of India after consultation with the chief justice of India and the chief justice of that state. The High Court judge holds office until he reaches the age of 62 years. Presently, 24 High Courts are in existence in different states. High Courts in some large states also have its Benches at the places other than its Principal Seat. 12 Benches of some High Courts are presently working. Under Article 227 of the Constitution, every High Court has a supervisory authority over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction.

The bulk of the judicial work in India is done by the subordinate judicature, i.e. the Courts below the High Courts. At the lowest level are the munsif Courts having jurisdiction to decide cases up to a few thousand rupees. Then comes the Courts of civil judges and at the top are District Courts which has both original and appellate jurisdiction. At the criminal level, at the lowest rungs are village Panchayats, then the Sessions/District Courts, then the High Courts subject to the ultimate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. In India, a significant change in the Indian legal system is the proliferation of the tribunal system. In order to ensure speedy trials with the help of subject experts, tribunals have been established outside the judicial hierarchy to decide certain types of disputes between the citizens inter se or between the Government and the citizens.

5.1. Central Administrative Tribunal – Service Law

It has been “established under Article 323-A of the Constitution for adjudication of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or other authorities under the control of the Government.”[3] Presently, there are 17 Benches and 21 Circuit Benches in the Central Administrative Tribunal all over India.

5.2. National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) – Consumer Matters

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a social legislation that lays down the rights of the consumers and provides the promotion and protection of the rights of the consumers. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), India is a quasi-judicial commission in India which was set up in 1988 under the Act. Under the Consumer Protection Act, the matter first goes to the District Commission (original jurisdiction up to 20 lacs), then the State Commission (original jurisdiction from 20 lacks to 1 crore), then the NCDRC (with original jurisdiction of more than 1 crore; and also having appellate and revisional jurisdictions). An appeal lies to the Supreme Court from the decisions of the NCDRC.

5.3. Central Government Industrial Tribunal – Labour Matters

Central Government Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Courts are set up under the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 for adjudication of industrial disputes arising in Central Sphere. They have been set up with the objective of maintaining peace and harmony in the industrial sector by quick and timely resolution of industrial disputes through adjudication so that industrial growth does not suffer on account of any widespread industrial unrest. Appeal lies to the High Court and the Supreme Court.

5.4. National Company Law Tribunal – Company Matters

The NCLT was constituted by the Central Government under section 408 of the Companies Act, 2013 (18 of 2013) w.e.f. 01st June 2016. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Laws have had a much-needed overhaul with the enactment of the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code in 2016. Powers and procedures vested in NCLT is that of Court of Law and consequently, it has made an effort to provide a clearer interpretation to the laws relating to the laws under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. Appeals from NCLT lie to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).

6. Independence of Judiciary

The principle of the independence of justice is a basic feature of the constitution. In a country like India, which is marching along the road to social justice with the banner of democracy and the rule of law, the principle of independence of justice should not only be treated as an abstract conception but also a living faith.

Independence of justice deals with the independence of the individual judges in relation to their appointment, tenure, and payment of salaries, and also non-removal except by process of impeachment. It also means the “Institutional Independence of the Judiciary”. The concept of independence of justice is a noble concept which inspires the constitutional scheme and constitutes the foundation on which rests the edifice of our democratic polity.

It is absolutely essential that the judiciary must be free from executive pressure or influence and this has been secured by the constitution maker by making elaborate provisions in the Constitution of India.

7. Specialized Judicial Bodies

7.1. Law Commission of India

The Law Commission of India was started in 1955 by an executive order. In order to confront new situations and problems which arise from time to time and to amend law which calls for amendment, a body like the Law Commission is absolutely essential. This is because it is a body which is not committed to any political party and which consists of judges and lawyers, who are expert in the field and who would bring to bear upon the problems purely judicial and impartial minds. As the parliament is very busy in day-to-day debates and discussions, its members do not have the necessary time to consider legal changes required to meet the new situations and problems in a constructive manner. For that the Law Commission may be able to serve its purpose effectively.

The function of the law commission is to study the existing laws, suggest amendments to the same if necessary, and to make recommendations for enacting new laws. The recommendations for amendment of the existing laws are made by the commission either suo motu or on the request of the government.

The Law Commission in India has brought out 243 scholarly reports to date on various legal aspects. The full text for each report is available on the commission’s website. Presently, Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, is its Chairman.

7.2. National Human Rights Commission

It is because of growing concern for human rights abuses taking place within various levels of society against women, children and minorities, the Government of India has brought out a Bill for Protection of Human Rights in India. The Protection of Human Rights Act was enacted in India in the year 1993 to provide for the constitution of National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions in States and Human Rights Courts for better protection of Human Rights and for matters connected therewith. “Human Rights,” as provided in this Act, means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual (i) guaranteed by the Constitution; (ii) embodied for the International Covenant; and (iii) enforceable by courts in India. The purpose of Human Rights Commission in India is to investigate Human Rights abuses within the country. It can depose witnesses, conduct discovery, evaluate evidence and make recommendations to the Government on its findings. It is a highly respected Institution that has several legal jurists and high-profile officials as members. The National Human Rights Commission is chaired by any person who has retired as the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India. State Human Right Commissions are chaired by a person who has been a Chief Justice of High Court. H.L. Dattu former Chief Justice of India, is the current chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

7.3. National Legal Services Authority

In order to promote the justice on the basis of equal opportunity and to provide free legal aid, as enshrined under Art. 39A of the Constitution, the Govt. of India in the year 1987 enacted a Legal Services Authority Act, 1987.

This Act has been brought out with the purpose of constituting the “Legal Services Authority” to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the Society in order to ensure that the opportunity for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reasons of economic or other disability, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. The National Legal Services Authority was constituted on 5 December 1995. After this enactment, Lok Adalats are being constituted at various places in the country for the disposal, in a summary way and through the process of arbitration and settlement between the parties, of a large number of cases expeditiously and with lesser cost.

The Institution of Lok Adalat, which was earlier functioning as a voluntary and conciliatory agency without any statutory backing is now working with a statutory support. Now the awards given by the Lok Adalats have statutory force. The Lok Adalats not only reduce the burden of arrears of work in regular Courts but also take justice to the doorsteps of the poor and the needy and make justice quicker and less expensive. Hon. Mr. Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, the Chief Justice of India is the Patron-in-Chief and Hon. Mr. Justice N. V. Ramana, Judge, Supreme Court of India is the Executive Chairman of the Authority.

7.4. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a very important and growing field of contemporary relevance in India. It is an alternative to litigation as a method of dispute resolution. The ADR methods are negotiation, mediation, conciliation and arbitration, as well as hybrids of these. The term ADR has been used to describe various systems that attempt to resolve dispute through methods other than litigation in Courts or Tribunals. India has a very rich tradition of ADR methods, which were existent in the form of Panchayats. ADR methods bring about a satisfactory solution to the dispute and the parties are not only satisfied, the ill-will that would have existed between them also ends. ADR methods especially Mediation and Conciliation not only address the dispute: they also address the emotions underlying the dispute. The ADR methods are participatory in nature and there is a scope of the parties to the dispute to participate in the solution finding process. As a result, the parties honour the solution with commitment. Above all, the ADR methods workout to be cheaper and affordable to the marginalized sections of the society.

7.5. Gram Nyayalayas

In order to provide access to justice at the grassroots level in furtherance to the directions under Art. 39A of the Constitution, the Govt. of India has enacted Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008 which received Presidential assent on 7th January 2009. This Act provides for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas at grassroots level for the purposes of providing access to justice to the citizen at their doorsteps and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reasons of social, economic or other disability.

The Gram Nyayalayas will be established in every Panchayat at intermediate level at district level. These Nyayalayas will be a mobile court and shall exercise the powers of both criminal and civil courts.

8. Legal Profession

The first step in the direction of organizing a legal profession in India was taken in 1774 with the establishment of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The Supreme Court was empowered “to approve, admit and enroll such and so many advocates, Vakils and Attorneys-at-law” as to the court “shall seem meet.” The Bengal Regulation VII of 1793 for the first time created a regular legal profession for the Company’s courts. Other similar regulations were passed to regulate the legal profession in the Company’ courts in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madras, and Bombay.

The Legal Practitioner Act of 1879 was enacted to consolidate and amend the law relating to legal practitioners. This empowered an advocate/Vakil to enroll on the roll in any High Court and to practice in all the Courts subordinate to the High Court concerned, and also to practice in any court in British India other than the high court on whose roll he was not enrolled.

After India’s independence, it was felt that the judicial administration in India should be changed according to the needs of the time. Presently, the legal profession in India is governed by the Advocates Act of 1961, which was enacted on the recommendation of the Law Commission of India to consolidate the law relating to legal practitioners and to provide for the constitution of the Bar Council and the All India Bar. Under the Advocates Act, the Bar Council of India has been created as a statutory body to admit persons as advocates on its roll, to prepare and maintain such roll, to entertain and determine instances of misconduct against advocates on its roll and to safeguard the rights, privileges, and interests of advocates on its roll. The Bar Council of India is also an apex statutory body which lays down standards of professional conduct and etiquette for advocates, while promoting and supporting law reform. Presently Mr. Manan Kumar Mishra, Senior Advocate is the Chairman of Bar Council of India.

9. Legal Education

For a sound legal profession, a sound legal education is a sine qua non. The imparting of legal education in India began during the British period. Law courses were started in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras as early as 1855. Since independence, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of students studying law a well as the number of law schools. The establishment of a NLU at Bangalore in 1986 marked a notable development in the field of Legal Education in India. A number of National Law Universities have come up in India viz. Delhi, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Patiala among others. These top-notch law schools with advanced infrastructure and excellent faculty produce quality law graduates. These law schools run a 5-year integrated law course, and the students are selected based on merit through an All Indian Common Law Admission Test.

Legal education in India is regulated by the Bar Council of India, which is a statutory body constituted under the Advocates’ Act of 1961. There are two types of graduate level law courses in India:

The Bar Council of India has significant functions in relation to legal education in India. One of the most important functions of the Bar Council is “to promote legal education and to lay down standards of such education in consultation with the Universities in India and the State Bar Councils.” The Bar Council of India has a great leverage to influence the contents, standards and quality of legal education in India. The Bar Council of India rules prescribe norms for recognition of the universities/colleges imparting legal education. A graduate from a recognized law college, under the Advocates Act of 1961, is only entitled to be registered as an advocate with the Bar Council. Prior to 2010, a law graduate registered with the Bar Council was eligible to practice in any court of law in India. From 2010, the Bar Council of India resolved that “No Advocate enrolled under Section 24 of the Advocates Act, 1961 shall be entitled to practice, unless such advocate successfully passes the All India Bar Examination conducted by the Bar Council of India.”[4] It has been mandatory for all law students graduating from academic year 2009-2010 onwards.

10. Manifestations of Legal Literature

Legal fraternity may need different types of information, such as case laws, statutory provisions, rules framed under any act, object and reasons of any act, amendment of any act, notifications issued under any particular statute, debates in parliament at the time of enactment of any particular act, or academic articles on a given topic in different situations.

Legal literature manifests itself in many forms such as:

11. Law Reporting in India

The theory of binding force of precedent is firmly established in England. A judge is bound to follow the decision of any court recognized as competent to bind him, and it becomes his duty to administer the law as declared by such a court. The system of precedent has been a powerful factor in the development of the common law in England.

Because of its common law heritage, the binding force of precedents has also been firmly established in India, meaning thereby that the judgments delivered by the superior courts are as much the law of the country as legislative enactments. The theory of precedent brings in its wake the system of law reporting as its necessary concomitant. Publication of decisions is a condition necessary for the theory of precedent to operate; there must be reliable reports of cases. If the cases are to be binding, then there must be precise records of what they lay down, and it is only then that the doctrine of stare decisis can function meaningfully.

The Indian Law Reports Act of 1875 authorizes the publication of the reports of the cases decided by the high courts in the official report and 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 decided by any of the said High Courts on or after the said day other than a report published under the authority of the Governor-General-in-Council.”

Though the Law Reports Act gave authenticity to the official reports, it did not take away the authority of unpublished precedents or give a published decision a higher authority than that possessed by it as a precedent. A Supreme Court or high court decision is authoritative by itself, not because it is reported.

The practice of citing unreported decisions thus led to the publication of many private reports. The unusual delay in publication of official reports and incompleteness of the official reports made the private reports thrive, resulting in a number of law reports in India being published by non-official agencies on a commercial basis.

In India, there are more than 300 law reports published in the country. They cover a very wide range and are published from various points of view. A “union catalogue” compiled by the Supreme Court Judges’ Library of the current law journals subscribed by the libraries of various high court and Supreme Court judges (appended at the end of this paper) gives details of various law reports published from India. It also gives details of various foreign law reports submitted by law libraries in India, which gives an idea of the “foreign journals” being used by the legal fraternity in the country.

12. Legal Research Methodology

The legal fraternity may require different types of information for different purposes. One’s search strategy for retrieving the desired information has to be formulated on the basis of the “information requirement” at hand. The most common types of information sought by the legal fraternity are:

12.1. Finding Case Law

The most common methods for finding the case laws on a subject are “digests” and “commentaries” on particular subjects. Subject indexes given at the end of the commentaries are a very useful aid to find out the desired case law on specific aspect. If there is no commentary on any particular enactment, “AIR Manual” published by M/s All India Reporter, Nagpur can be treated as a very useful source for finding out the case law on any Central Statute. In the electronic era, legal databases both online and on CD-ROM are very useful for finding any particular case law or case laws on specific topics.

12.2. Legislative Intent

In case of any ambiguity while interpreting the provision of any statute, judges have to examine the “legislative intent” of the legislature for enacting a particular legislation. The legislative intent of any provision can be ascertained with the help of the following tools:

Objects and reasons are published in the bill introduced in the Parliament for ascertaining the legislative intent of any particular provision; they are considered very important and, for that reason, the corresponding bill of any particular act has to be examined.

Law Commission Reports, while proposing any new enactment or proposing any amendment in the existing statute, review the legal position on that particular aspect in India as well as in other countries. Hence Law Commission reports are treated as useful tools for ascertaining the legislative intent. When a bill is introduced in the Upper House or Lower House, sometimes it is referred to a Parliamentary Committee which examines the bill and submits a report to the Parliament. Hence, these reports also contain the background material of any act and can be treated as a useful source for determining legislative intent.

Parliamentary debates on any bill are always helpful in assessing the legislative intent of the enactment of any particular statute because they contain the speech given by the law minister at the time of introducing the bill and the specific discussions in the House thereafter.

12.3. Legislative Intent of Tax Statutes/Excises and Customs, Tariffs, Excise Tariffs and Service Taxes, etc.

Tax Statutes are amended on a year-to-year basis by the “Finance Act” passed by the Parliament/State Legislatures after the budget session. Whenever the constitutionality of any provision is challenged or there is any dispute in the interpretation of any provision in any taxing statute, courts have to ascertain the legislative intent of that provision. Legislative intent of any taxing statutes may be ascertained with the help of the following documents:

In every finance bill there is a note for each clause under the heading “Notes on Clauses,” which gives an indication of the purpose for which the corresponding provision is introduced. Speeches delivered by the Finance Minister of the Union government while presenting the budget in the Parliament or by the State Finance Ministers, while presenting the budget in the state legislatures, are important instruments for ascertaining the purpose of levying a particular tax and serve as an important source of information for the honorable judges for interpreting the provisions of a taxing statute while rendering a decision in any case.

12.4. Research for the Material for Preparing Speeches

Articles published in the law journals on any specific topic are necessary informational resources for writing speeches and can be searched by browsing through the journals, browsing through the legal databases, and browsing through the indexes of the legal articles. Besides articles, legislative histories of the enactment relating to the topic, objects and reasons, law commission or committee reports, if any, on the topic concerned, and statistics, are important. The internet is a useful tool for retrieving the statistical information on the relevant topic through various governmental websites.

The legislative history of any particular enactment can be traced with the help of the latest Bare Act. After identifying the amendments in a particular act, original amendments are to be retrieved from the government gazettes or journals containing statutory information. Objects and reasons of the particular amendment also give useful insight for the purpose of amendment in any particular act. The legislation database, developed by the Supreme Court judges’ library, is also a very useful tool for ascertaining the legislative history of any central act in India. This database is going to be made available very soon on the website of the Supreme Court.

Corresponding foreign law to any statutory provision in India can be traced with the help of any international legal database containing statutory information, such as Westlaw or LexisNexis. Commentaries on the foreign case laws on the subject may also be examined for identifying the corresponding statutory provisions.

12.5. Law Lexicons/Legal Dictionaries

When the meaning of a particular word or phrase used in any statute is to be interpreted, in case of any dispute between the parties on the interpretation of a particular word, law lexicons/legal dictionaries are to be consulted in order to find out whether that particular word has been interpreted by any court. And if that word has been interpreted in any decision by any court, the court has to give its decision on the basis of the appropriate meaning of that particular word defined in any decision of any court.

13. Legal Sources in India

13.1. Commentaries

Administrative Law


Code of Civil Procedure

Code of Criminal Procedure

Company Law

Constitutional Law

Contract Law

Cyber Law


Income Tax

Indian Penal Code

13.2. Statutory Interpretation and Rules

13.3. Secondary Sources


Encyclopedias and Law Lexicons

Manual of Central Acts

Law Reporters in India

There are approximately 350 law journals, which are being published in India. The most cited law report containing Supreme Court decisions is “Supreme Court Cases (SCC)” followed by “All India Reporter (AIR)” and “Supreme Court Report (SCR)”. Major Law journals containing the Supreme Court judgments are as under:

An analysis of the citations in the Supreme Court shows that “Supreme Court Cases” is the most used law report cited by about 60% of the advocates in the Supreme Court.

Academic Law Journals

14. Legal Websites in India

The Supreme Court of India contains information about the full text of the Constitution of India, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, golden jubilee celebration, Rules, former CJI’s, present CJI and judges, calendar of the Supreme Court, registrars, and former judges. This site also has links to “Indian Courts,” “JUDIS,” “Daily Orders,” “Case Status,” “Cause List,” “Courts Websites” and India Code. Home page of "Judges Library” can also be accessed through this website.

“Judges Library” Home Page of the Supreme Court of India has developed some very useful in-house legal databases, namely “JUDIS,” “SUPLIS,” “SUPLIB,” “LEGISLATION,” “CATALOGUE,” “EQUIVALENT CITATION TABLE,” “UNION CATALOGUE” and “CURRENT LEGAL JOURNALS.” In addition to these in-house databases, links for many open-source law journals and websites have also been provided on “HOME PAGE” of Judges Library which may be useful to the legal fraternity. These databases can be accessed through the website of the Supreme Court of India by clicking the link “Judges Library”. Home Page of “Judges Library” appears by clicking this link.

SUPLIS (Database of Case Laws) SUPLIS is an indexing database of case laws decided by the honorable Supreme Court. This database consists of more than 42,000 case laws since 1950. This database is very useful in finding out the desired case laws. As soon as a cyclostyled copy of any judgment is received in the library it is immediately entered in this database after assigning subject headings and a famous case name (if any). This database is unique, as it contains some important features that are not available in other legal databases developed by commercial vendors. Besides retrieval of case laws by subject and case title, it also provides search capability by a “famous case name” (if any) assigned at the time of the entry – for example: “Bhopal Gas Case”, “Rajiv Gandhi assassination case,” “Mandal Commission Case,” etc. SUPLIS also provides “equivalent citations” of case laws so that, in the event that a particular journal is unavailable, that case law could be made available from another journal with the help of this facility. The retrieval menu of the SUPLIS is shown in the picture below:

SUPLIB (Database of Legal Articles) compiles research articles published in various law reports and academic journals contain valuable information as they are written after comprehensive research on the aspect they deal with. SUPLIB is a database of legal articles published in about 200 foreign and Indian law reports subscribed to by the library. Presently, this database consists of more than 12,000 articles. Immediately after receipt of a journal in the library, important articles are identified, indexed, and entered in this database under all possible subject headings. This database is very useful for the library staff for identifying the articles needed by the honorable judges on a particular aspect and is one of the most used databases in the Supreme Court Judges Library. Retrieval menu of SUPLIB database is shown in the picture below:

LEGIS (Database of Legislation of Acts, Rules & all Statutory Materials): Statutory materials such as bills, acts, joint committee reports, select committee reports, law commission reports, parliamentary and assembly debates, rules, by-laws, schemes, etc., are among the most important and sought-after library materials in any law library. The Legislative Database is a database for central government acts including amendments, rules, bills, and all subordinate legislations relating to central as well as state acts. This database is very useful for tracing the complete legislative history of any particular central or state act. All the amendments in acts, rules, schemes and by-laws framed under any particular enactment could be readily identified and retrieved with the help of their citations / source given in this database. If the text of any particular central act is desired, a link for “India Code,” which is a database of the Ministry of Law, is also provided to access the full text of the desired central act. The retrieval menu of this database is shown in the picture below:

Equivalent Citation Tables is a useful tool to know the “Parallel Citations” of cases published in different journals. Presently, no equivalent citation table is available which may provide equivalent citation of the cases published in different journals. If a person has a citation of the law report not accessible to him, he may require the parallel citation of that case in other journals, so that he may find the required case in any other journal. Supreme Court Judges Library has developed an “Equivalent Citation Table” through which one can find the parallel citation of the cases reported in five major journals reporting the supreme court cases namely Supreme Court Reports (SCR), Supreme Court Cases (SCC), All India Reporter, Supreme Court Part [AIR (SC)], Judgments Today (JT) and Supreme Court Almanac (SCALE). This database is updated from time to time and contains the equivalent citations of Supreme Court judgments from 1950 till date. All the citations have been arranged in chronological sequence in descending order.

Union Catalogue of Current Legal Journals: This database contains a complete catalogue of current journals subscribed in Supreme Court Library and all the High Court Libraries in the country. This Catalogue serves as a “Location Tool” for finding out the availability of any Law Journal. If any journal cited by the Advocate is not available in the Supreme Court Library, through this catalogue availability of that journal in different High Court libraries is ascertained and immediate telephonic request is sent to the respective High Court for sending a copy of the required judgment immediately through “FAX” so that the cited judgment may be provided to the courts.

Related Links: The Home Page of the Judges Library provides some “Related links” which are frequently used in Judges Library for catering to the information requirements of the Courts and the Hon’ble Judges. It pulls together:

The websites of the Supreme Court of India provides information on the judiciary, access to all the cases of the Supreme Court and High Courts (reportable/non-reportable), decided or pending. It contains:

Parliament of India consists of three parts:

TRAI (TheTelecom Regulatory Authority of India) was established on 20 February 1997 by an Act of Parliament to regulate telecom services. The main objective of TRAI is to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition. The telecom policy service provides registered agency regulations, which can be retrieved through this site. This site is important for retrieving tariff orders as well as the judgments delivered by the authority. The TRAI Act was amended by an ordinance, effective from 24 January 2000, establishing a Telecommunications Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to take over the adjudicatory and disputes functions from TRAI.

Central Electricity Regulatory Commission: CERC is a statutory body functioning under Sec. 76 of the Electricity Act 2003. It was initially constituted under the Electricity Regulatory Commissions Act, 1998 on 24 July 1998. All the orders and decisions of the authority are available on this site, listed in chronological order.

SEBI Securities and Exchange Board of India: The website provides information on the legal framework of the SEBI, including auto rules, regulations, orders/rulings of the tribunal and chairman/members and reports and documents of the boards.

Ministry of Company Affairs: Reports of various committees such as company law, notifications and circulars issued by the Ministry of Company Affairs and Information about the vanishing companies, corporate groups and concept paper are available on this site.

Ministry of Law & Justice: This is a very important site as it contains a link to the India Code, which provides online access to the full text of any central act of Parliament. It also provides a link to various important legal websites.

Law Commission of India: The website contains the full text of all the law commission reports and a list of all law commission reports in the country on be found on it as well. It also contains consultation papers of the law commission on various legal aspects.

Indian Code Information System (incodis): This website belongs to the legislative department of India. It is an important site for retrieving the full text of any of the central acts which are being regularly updated after amendment. The full text of the Constitution of India is also available on this site. It also contains the text of the parliamentary bills/legislative bills, as well as information regarding the bills which are being introduced or passed in the current session of the Parliament. A CD-ROM version of the Constitution of India and the election laws manual could also be ordered with the help of a requisition form available on this site.

India Image, developed by NIC, is described as “[a] gateway to the government of India information over the web.” This is a very comprehensive site which verbally provides something on everything about the government of India. It contains a Government of India directory, India fact file, and information about any district in India with facts and statistics. Results of various examinations and important documents such as the union budget, economic survey, and India vision 2020 are also available. It also contains government policies, provides links to Indian Railways and Indian Airlines and all other important Indian websites. Other related information could also be retrieved with the help of this site.

15. Proposed Digitization Projects

A website named “National Legal Information System” (NLIS) is going to be launched soon. The National Legal Information System is a portal for a single window search for legal information. It is intended to serve as national gateway of legal information in the country. This website will contain an “Online Public Access Catalogue” (OPEC) of the Supreme Court Judges Library and all High Court libraries in the country for the benefit of the legal fraternity to know about the availability of a book in any library. In addition to that it will also provide access to “In-House Databases” developed by the Supreme Court Judges Library and the other High Court libraries.

One of the significant features of providing a NLIS portal is to provide access to the “Digital Law Library” developed by the Supreme Court Judges Library. A digital library has been developed by the Supreme Court Judges Library which presently contains more than 2500 full-text documents/articles available as open sources in different websites. This digital library is developed by creating a “metadata” of the documents scattered in different websites. More than one keyword is assigned to search a document through this digital library. Presently, this digital library is available on intranet only but after launching of NLIS, it will be made available on this website for the benefit of the legal fraternity in India and abroad. The intended purpose of this digital library is to provide free access to something on everything related to the field of law by a click of the mouse.

[1] Justice P.K. Goswami Memorial Law Lecture on Common Man and the Constitution of India by Shivaraj V. Patil, (2005) 2 SCC J-21.

[2] Basu D.D.: Introduction to the Constitution of India, VI Edition 1976, pg. 21.

[3] Administrative Tribunals, Know India, https://knowindia.gov.in/profile/the-union/administrative-tribunals.php (last visited January 8, 2021); Introduction to the Central Administrative Tribunal (citing article 323-A of the India Constitution)

[4] John Varghese, All India Bar examination – Facts, Reality and Law (July 7, 2010), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1636104.

[5] Supreme Court of India, Judgments.

[6] Supreme Court of India, Daily Orders.

[7] Supreme Court of India, Daily Orders.

[8] India Code, Digital Repository of All Central and State Acts.