Court Fee – Call For Rationalisation

Court Fee – Call For Rationalisation

I have been a lawyer in the Punjab and Haryana High Court since 1990. I am baffled by the differential court fee applicable in different types of cases filed in the High Court. Many a times objections are raised by the Registry on the court fee affixed and one can loose out on precious time trying to remove such objections and re-filing the case. If I, and my clerk, end up pulling our hairs on many occasions, I shudder what the public has to go through.

Just have a look at the court fee prescribed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. There is a different court fee to be affixed on virtually every type of case. The court fee applicable on applications filed in a pending case is different and the court fee to be affixed on annexures attached with a petition is different.  The court fee is calculated as per provisions of the Court Fees Act, 1870 for certain cases, as per the High Court Rules and Orders for another set of cases, as per the Railways Claims Tribunal Act, 1987 for certain types of appeal. Revision petitions against different orders attract differential court fee. For service tax appeals the rate of court fee is different if filed by the Department and different if filed by a private party. The list is mind-boggling.

The situation arises from the archaic provisions of the Court Fees Act, 1870 and the Schedules thereto which lay down the court fee payable in different courts on different types of litigation.  While dealing with the quantum of court fee the Supreme Court in “Secretary to Government of Madras vs. P. R. Sriramulu” [1996 (1) SCC 345] observed that there should also be some measures of uniformity in the scales of court-fees throughout the country as there appears to be a vast difference in the scales of court-fees in various States of the country. The feasibility of a fixed maximum chargeable fee also deserves serious consideration. The Law Commission of India in its 220th Report recommended that “As observed by the Supreme Court, there should be some measure of uniformity in the scales of court-fees. There is no justification for any differential treatment of different suitors. The Government should, therefore, seriously consider the feasibility of a fixed maximum chargeable court-fee. We recommend accordingly”. Though these recommendations were regarding the quantum of court fee, there is no reason why a fixed court fee be not applicable atleast to the different types of cases filed in a High Court.

My take is that the court fee for filing cases in the High Court should be fixed across the board whether a writ petition, revision petition, review application or a simplicitor application. No separate court fee should be leviable on annexures attached with any sort of petition, appeal or application and the same should be included in the court fee affixed on the main petition, appeal or application. The only exception that can be possibly carved out is for first or second appeals arising out of suits where ad-valorem court fee has been affixed in the court below. Although, for this category too the ad-valorem court fee stands affixed in the trial court or the appellate court, so the litigant should be spared of this additional financial burden and a fixed court fee should ideally be applicable for such first or second appeals.

This would necessarily involve carrying out amendments to the existing Court Fees Act, 1870, the High Court Rules and Orders, and provisions of certain specific enactments. The Madras High Court has already constituted a Court Fees Rationalization Committee to streamline the current practice of levying court fees for various types of cases filed in the High Court as well as district courts.

Hemant Sarin is a Lawyer practising in Punjab and Haryana High Court.