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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 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 court’s 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Though the Law Reports Act gave authenticity to the official reports, it did not take away the authority of unpublished precedents or give a published decision a higher authority than that possessed by it as a precedent.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 a large number of 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.

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