What Are the Guidelines Pertaining to Legal Reporting?

Introduction

Every day, law students log in and read cases that go back as old as the 1800s. These cases are reported on various websites that are a click away. But why do these cases get reported? What are the rules that they follow while reporting? Are there any laws that govern the reports? When was the first legal report published?

Before we look into the answers to these questions, let us understand what is meant by Legal Reporting. Legal reporting looks into documenting relevant cases and the judgment that is pronounced by the judges. The first proper legal report in India was published in 1825 when the First Law Commission suggested that a proper report of all the cases were to be made. The main objective behind this reporting lies in spreading the judicial opinion of the Judges to the general public. The idea behind recording and reporting the cases is very simple.

legal reporting

Stare decisis is a common principle that follows the idea that precedents that are established by the relevant courts need to be followed. Courts are supposed to apply the decisions of their peers in matters they find relevant. However, there are more than five hundred courts all across India. It is difficult for courts and legal practitioners to know what decisions have been made in other courts. Legal Reporting makes this step simple. By reporting cases around the country, they are able to keep a track of all the precedents that are set by courts regularly and help fellow people from the industry know the same as well. 

The Law Governing Legal Reporting

With the importance of Legal Reporting growing, multiple publishers started coming up with their reports. They would record and sell the cases in bulk. This led to competition and chaos in the market. They would sell the bulk of cases at high rates which led to the exploitation of the buyers who majorly included the advocates. To control the same, the Indian Law Reports Act of 1875 was established.

The primary problem that the Act tried to look into was the sheer number of cases that were being reported. As per the principle, due to which the idea of Legal Reporting was brought, publishers were supposed to record cases that included valuable opinions of the judges. However, for the sake of money, private publishers were selling cases that had no relevance or had similar points being repeated at high charges. Some would include cases with no facts. This displayed clear exploitation of the legal practitioners in the name of necessity.

The main provision of the Act suggested that no court was obligated to hear, cite or take into consideration the legal reports that were published by any publisher except the reports that were made by the authority of the Governor-General-in-Council. The Act believed that by bringing in such clauses, it would be able to control the dip in the standards of the law reports that were being mass–published by several private reporters.

This Act however was unsuccessful at its attempt. Several scholars and people from the legal industry were unhappy with the provisions that were made. Since the act was subject to only High Courts, no decision could be ascertained with regards to the lower or upper courts. The core principle behind the creation of this legislation also failed due to their own mistakes. This happened because official records took too long to publish. Private records published were thus seen as the only successful source of finding precedents. The Act was repealed and private reports were allowed to be used in the courts.

Today, even though the Act is not in effect, all high courts in India report their cases on their own in a yearly manner as a practice that began when private law reports were banned.

Legal Reporting in Today’s Time

Referring to legal reports has become a part and parcel of every legal practitioner and student’s life. There are plenty of law reports that are available and that can be looked into. They are now even available seconds away due to the advent of the internet and the infusion of technology into reporting. However, even though all reports are readily available to us, there is still plenty of issues that need to be addressed.

To begin with, the reports that are published today are not for spreading information to the public but are rather focused on earning commercial benefits. This leads to the essence of true legal reporting being dead. The reports that are available today are very expensive and are a benefit not every person can avail of. Moreover, since the rates of these reports are so high, they accommodate cases that are similar and repetitive to make their database look vast. Cases with no legal precedent but a repetition of principle are also published. This leads to them being very poor in quality yet being large in numbers.

When we look towards the alternative, that is, the official reports, they are also in a very messy situation. One would assume that after years of publishing, the cases are now reported as soon as they are winded up. But cases are still not reported on time leading to advocates citing private law reports. There has been no improvement in the system of Official Reports in India to date.

When we look at these matters holistically, it is very disappointing. Law students and legal practitioners who do not come from a background of economic privilege find it difficult to search cases that they can look up and cite. The high rates of the private reports and the delay by the government in releasing their reports put a toll on them. Since 1875, no change has been brought to the current situation. It is high time that either legislation or a committee is set up to look into the high rates of the private reports and the poor management of the official reports. Only once this is resolved, will the true essence of legal reporting- ie, the idea of creating awareness and making law accessible to the common person, be fulfilled.

Author: Maitreyi Shishir, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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