History of Law Reporting in India

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Priyansi Vijay Patil: History of Law Reporting in India


The law pronounced by the Apex Court of the country is followed by the courts subordinate to it by the theory of stare decisis, the theory of Precedent and ratio decidendi.

In India, the Supreme Court of India is the Apex Court and its judicial precedents are authoritarian in relation to all the High Courts and subordinate Courts in India. And the record of a judicial decision on a point of law which sets a precedent is called a law report.

It is to be noted that all the decisions taken by in the Apex Court do not set a precedent. Law reports are published in volumes of the decisions of Courts.

The Statutes at times cannot explain all the matters related to the case and this creates some lacuna. Such lacunas are filed up by precedents of the superior courts in some extra-ordinary cases.

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The major reason for the easy availability of these precedent cases is law reporting. Law reporting makes precedent case-laws easily available to judges, legal practitioners, researchers, academics and law students. The purpose of a law report is to distribute the judgements of courts to judges and lawyers to widen the base of legal knowledge and to prevent two different theories on the same issue.

1) Law Reporting in Pre-British India:

British ruled in India for a couple of centuries and accordingly brought the English judicial system in India. East India Company and the British Crown established and modified the courts in India. The theories of Precedent, Ratio Decidendi, Stare decisis, Obiter Dicta which have been developed in England were introduced in India. British played an important role in creating a law system in India. The concept of Law Reporting was also introduced by them In India.

Supreme Court:

In the year 1774, the Supreme Court was established in Calcutta. It marked the beginning of the system of Law Reporting in India. In the beginning, the system of law reporting was highly unorganised and unreliable. Law reporting was done by private individuals.

The government did not take any steps in law reporting. The decisions on the cases of the Supreme Court were covered by private reporters and even they were left unassisted and unsupervised. Despite these unorganised reports of some private reporters there survived certain authentic reports as well.

In the year 1824, the consideration upon Hindu Law by Sir Francis Macnaghten & Dissertations of Mohammedan Law by Sir William Macnaghten contained important decisions on personal laws. Smoult’s collection of orders from 1774 to 1833 published in 1834 contained notes of cases. Many other reports like that of Longuevilla Clarke’s rules and orders, Mortion’s reports, Bignell’s reports, Fulton’s reports, Taylor’s reports, etc. were published and they made a rich contribution in the development of Law Reporting in India.

Like the Supreme Court of Calcutta, an attempt was made to start law reporting in the Supreme Court of Bombay. The cases decided by the Supreme Court of Bombay were published by Perry’s Oriental Cases. Sir Thomas Strange published in three volumes the cases of the Supreme Court of Madras covering the period from 1798 to 1816.

Sadar Diwani Adalats:

Sir William Hay Macnaghten started the reporting of the cases decided by the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta. He published those reports in seven volumes covering the period from 1791 to 1849. Law Reporting in Sadar Diwani Adalat was started on the recommendation of the First Law Commission Report. The Act XII of 1843 suggested the Company to record and publishes the judgements monthly in English from Sadar Diwani Adalats. Therefore, from the year 1845 onwards, the decisions of the Sadar Diwani Adalat of Calcutta were published monthly. In 1843, a volume entitled ‘Decrees’ was published which contained the selected decrees of the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Madras from 1805 to 1826. Borradaele published reports containing decisions of the Sadar Diwani Adalats at Bombay.

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Sadar Nizamat Adalats:

A Law Report containing only sentences of the Sadar nizamat Adalat at Calcutta was published in five volumes. Monthly reports were published from 1851 onwards of cases from Sadar Nizamat Adalat of Calcutta. The reports containing criminal cases decided by the Sadar Faujdari Adalat at Bombay from 1827 to 1846 were published. Publication of monthly reports from the Sadar Faujdari Adalat at Madras was started in around 1850s.

High Courts:

The High Courts in various provinces were established by the Indian High Courts Act, 1861. The establishment of the High Courts started the regular Law Reporting in India. The Reports of the Madras High Court were published in eight volumes and it included cases from 1862 to 1875. The Law reports from the High Court of Bombay were published in twelve volumes. In a similar manner, the reports from the High court of Madras were published in fifteen volumes. The private publications also published a number of law reports; the important ones were Indian Jurist at Calcutta, Marshall’s reports, Bourke’s reports, Weekly reporter, Madras Jurist at Madras, etc. These reports contained well-edited and highly valuable judgements of the High Courts.

The Indian Law Reports Act, 1875

With the establishment of courts, law reporting was started in India. These reports were of different degrees of merits i.e. some reports were very good in quantity and quality while others published either the facts of the case or only the judgements. To regulate the law reporting in India, the Indian Law Reports Act, 1875 was passed. This act intended to control the indiscriminate citation of the cases in the courts. Sec. 3 of this Act provided, “No court shall be bound to hear, cite or shall receive or treat as an authority binding on it the report of any case other than a report published under the authority of the Government.” This act made rich contribution to the development of law reporting in India. After this Act, an official series of reports was started which was known as Indian Law Reports.

Non-Official Reports:  

The publication of non-official reports continues even after the Indian Law Reports Act, 1875. In short, the Act of 1875 was unsuccessful in suppressing the publication of non-official reports. The reasons behind this were delay in official reporting, costliness, incompleteness, non-availability, etc. of official reports. The non-official law reports contributed significantly to the development of law reporting in India. Some of the non-official law reports who have contributed significantly are Madras Law journal, Allahabad Law journal, Calcutta weekly notes, All India Reporters Company Cases, Income tax reports, Taxation Law Reports, Sales tax Cases, Labour Law Journal, Criminal Law Journal, Supreme Court Cases, etc. The system of law reporting in India was examined by the Fifth Law Commission. The Commission was not in favour of monopoly created by the official reports.

Federal Court:

The Federal Court of India was established in 1937 under the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935. It functioned until the establishment of Supreme Court of India till 1950. All the important judgements given by the Federal Court were published in the Federal Court Reports.

Privy Council:

The Privy Council heard appeals from various courts of the British Colonies including India. The reports of the judgements from Privy Council were published in 77 volumes from the time period in between 1872 to 1950.

2) Law Reporting in India after Independence:

After Independence, law reporting became an organised sector in India. The number of institutions involved in law reporting increased in number. Now the law reports published by various institutions are highly precise and reliable. Today, there are various law reporting journals for every high Court and also for the Supreme Court of India.

High Courts:

The High Court of a State is the highest court of the State and all other courts of the State work under it. The judgements of all the High Courts are published by various law reporting journals. Some important Law Reporting Journals are All India Reporter, Andhra Legal Decisions, Gujarat Law Reporter, Kerala Law Journal, The Calcutta Law journal, Delhi Law Times, etc.

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of India was established at Delhi in 1950 in the place of Federal Court and Privy Council. The law reporters covering the judgements of Supreme Court are All India Reporter, Supreme Court Journal (SCJ), Supreme Court weekly Reporters, etc.

Law Commission and Law Reporting:

The question of Law reporting in India is dealt by Law Commission of India which was established in 1955. Law Commission also gives certain valuable suggestion for improvement of law reporting. The Law Commission has omitted to consider the desirability of undertaking the reprinting of old law reports. It is submitted that in the interest of administration of justice, it is necessary that this project should be undertaken by either the Government or some private agency under the supervision of the Government.


Law reporting in India is developing day-by-day. The law reports are playing an important role in the Legal Education system. Today there are many law reports available for a particular case. So it is very important to use these journals carefully. The precise law reports are of great help to the Judges, lawyers and students.

History of Law Reporting in India History of Law Reporting in India History of Law Reporting in India

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