Law Reporting in India – Past, Present and Future

Law Reporting in India started soon after the codified English law was applied to what in time came to be called as India. Since our legal system honours precedent (ie, follows ratios of earlier judgments of superior courts) via the doctrine of stare decisis, there is a need for capturing and making easily available the full text and headnotes (summaries) of judgments, so that the ratio (reason for the decision) of earlier decisions can be examined and applied to later cases of lower or peer courts. How will judges, advocates and the public at large come to know about pre-existing precedents? That is what reporting journals make possible. Any law reporters such as All India Reporter (AIR), Supreme Court Cases (SCC) or Income Tax Reports (ITR) all perform the same function and serve the same core purpose. 

Generally, a few judgments are reported every quarter, month, week or day in an issue called a “part” of a volume, with page numbering for the issue as well as the volume. After the last part of a volume was issued, subscribers were encouraged to bind all parts with continuous page numbering into a volume. This made it possible and easy for advocates, lawyers, judges and law students to ‘cite’ individual cases easily.

Where did it all begin? A Brief History of Law Reports

The first-ever compilation of law reporting was done in seven volumes of Sadar Diwani Adaalat at Calcutta between 1791 and 1849. Several law reporters were published during that era, including Morton's Reports, Montriou’s Reports, Boulnois’ Reports, Gasper’s Commercial Cases, and George Taylor’s Reports of Cases decided from January 1847 to December 1848.

These private publishers covered the entire publication business and reported cases decided by various courts of that era. Soon, however, the Courts and the government felt that too many private publications created complexity, unhealthy competition and manifold drawbacks. To overcome these, various ‘official’ reporters surfaced from the 1850s to 1947. These included Privy Council Reporter between 1872 to 1950 and the Federal Court Reporter till 1949.

Over the decades, All India Reporter, which started in 1914, became trusted for its authenticity and editorial excellence and grew to become (and is still) one of the leading law reporters of India.

Where is India today?

Today India has several law reporters who report cases decided by various High Courts and the Supreme Court. When cases decided became too numerous, the different journals started picking and choosing decisions to report. The biggest decision an Editor faced was to select the judgments whose ratios were most useful to its readers which would be published. As pointed earlier, now, there are journals that specialize in decisions pertaining to branches of law. There also are journals specializing in decisions of particular Courts. All India Reporter (AIR) is the journal that covers the widest area. Other journals circulating widely currently are Supreme Court Cases (SCC), Supreme Court Journal (SCJ), All MR (All Maharashtra Law Reporter), ALJ (Allahabad Law Journal), Income Tax Reports (ITR) and many more, which can be seen in this list

Many reporting journals sprouted “Journal Section” or “Magazine section” which carry articles, and other items of general interest in every ‘part’. Yet others have a “Statutes” section in which 

What is the future of Law Reporting in India?

So far, we have spoken of only printed journals. However, we know that no area of human endeavour has escaped the overpowering impact of technology. Today, some ‘winnowing’ has happened, and reporting journals that could not adjust to technology fell by the wayside. Of those still in business, all except very few journals have by now switched to the web or electronic versions of their journals. 

It is quite possible that with the increasing penetration of technology in our courts and law offices, print reporting journals will completely disappear, as manual typewriters have, within a few years. Already, thanks to Courts and Tribunals publishing their own orders, cases decided by courts are available within a day or two of them being passed. Reporters now have to spot the diamonds and survive on the strength of their lucid analyses of landmark judgments. Many reporting journals flourishing today were born electronic and are becoming more sophisticated by the day. They differentiate themselves by the features they develop using cutting-edge technology for legal practitioners, like forwarding citations and hyperlinks. Important examples of such journals are Indian Kanoon and Manu Patra. 

Technology has brought legal research to our fingertips, as it were. It has entirely recast the landscape of legal reporting in India. Now it is up to the legal fraternity – on both sides of the Bench – to measure up to optimally use the buffet of technology offerings.

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A qualified lawyer enrolled with Bombay High Court, Nayan is an enthusiastic reader, mostly of Indian Mythology and World History. Also a binge watcher and enjoys travelling to new places.


Co-Author
Rajesh Haldipur
Rajesh Haldipur

Founder, Law Gyani

Rajesh is a qualified CA & CWA. He has served as a Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Director of a large urban co-operative bank and Dean of a B-School over the years. He has taught Finance for over 20 years & trained participants from several Companies and B-Schools. He is an educator and a learner (he believes both are inextricably intertwined), and a knowledge product developer. Law Gyani, which he has founded to help Law Students with their exam preparations, and to understand nuances of the law.


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