Litigious Indians

The Supreme Court has again drawn attention to the serious problem of frivolous and vexatious litigation clogging the judicial system and denying the right of early justice to large numbers of those go to it with genuine complaints.

It has suggested that the legislature frame a code of compulsory costs and put in place a mechanism to make it prohibitively costly for people who deliberately pursue the legal course for wrong and ulterior ends. It is significant that it made the suggestion in the context of the hearing of the Sahara case in which arguments have gone on for over two years. The court used strong words like senseless litigation for such habituation to press illegitimate claims. Disputes which could be settled at the first court of incidence are prolonged endlessly “for years and years and from court to court.”

India has a litigant society but that does not fully explain or justify the flood of vexatious cases that courts are saddled with. One reason for the piling up of cases and the slow process of justice is the large number of such cases. The motives are many. Sometimes it is to buy time to avert a decision or action. At other times it may be to attract attention. Pure acts of malice are also common. The government and its agencies are also obsessed with litigation. Actually governments are the biggest litigants in the country. The court says this may be because they do not want to take responsibility in many cases and may be looking to shift administrative and executive decision-making to the courts. Whatever the reasons, they end up wasting the time and resources of courts.

The court wants the litigant who has succeeded to be compensated by the one who has lost in a case of frivolous litigation. It is to be noted that the court has suggested legislation for this when it and lower courts already have powers to penalise non-serious movers of courts and impose compensatory costs. But under the civil procedure code such compensation is too meagre to be deterrent. Some countries have stronger and more effective laws to compensate victims of frivolous litigation and to punish those who are guilty of abuse of judiciary. Parliament may consider the suggestion because the court feels its powers are not adequate to curb the practice. But there is the need for caution too, because the line between right and wrong litigation may not always be clear.

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