Kerala Legislative Assembly
In a significant move, the Kerala State Government in its budget presented on 03-02-2023 proposed to limit the Court fees for filing Suit for compensation for defamation and Suit for compensation for negligent and tortious act to 1% of the claim instead of advalorem court fees. The budget proposal requires an amendment to the Kerala Court Fees and Suits Valuation Act 1959. The budget proposal when becomes law, would enable a person to approach the courts for damages for defamation and negligent and tortious Act with cheaper Court fees.
"The Court Fee Charges will be limited to 1% of the claim amount to Suit for compensation for defamation and Suit for compensation for negligent an tortious act"- the Budget proposal.
The existing provision to charge court fee on an ad-valorem basis on the claim dissuaded several affected parties from seeking civil remedies for defamation and tortious actions, as the court-fee so computed would be a hefty amount.
Present court-fee structure
The computation of the Court fees as per the existing law is as follows
Section 22 of the Kerala Court Fees and Suits Valuation Act 1959 is as follows
Suits for money.—In a suit for money (including a suit for damages or compensation, or arrears of maintenance, of annuities, or of other sums payable periodically), fee shall be computed on the amount claimed.
The ad valorem Court fees calculated as per Schedule 1 to the Act is as follows :
When the amount or value of the subject matter in dispute up to ₹ 15,000, it is calculated at 4%;
Between ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 50,000 at 8%;
Between ₹ 50,000 and ₹ 10 Lakh at 10%;
between ₹ 10 Lakh and upto ₹ 10 million at 8% and above ₹ 10 million 1% of the amount claimed.
To illustrate, if damages is claimed in a defamation suit for Rs.10 lakhs, the plaintiff is required to pay an amount of ₹ 98,400/- as court fees. As per the budget proposal, the plaintiff needs to pay an amount of ₹ 10,000 only instead of ₹ 98,400/-. Likewise, if damage is claimed for Rs. 1 crore, the plaintiff is required to pay an amount of ₹ 818,404/- as court fees but when the budget proposal becomes law, plaintiff needs to pay an amount of ₹ 1 lakh instead of ₹ 818, 404.
Every person has a right to reputation and is a part of right to privacy. The right of reputation is acknowledged as an inherent personal right of every person and as part of the right of personal security. It is a jus in rem, a right good against the entire world. Reputation is a property and is more valuable than any other property. Defamation is a Constitutionally recognized reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free speech as per Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
In the landmark Puttaswamy case, the Supreme Court emphasised the bounden duty of the State to safeguard the right to privacy, dignity, self esteem, reputation and individual autonomy of individuals. In this backdrop, the proposal is significant as it has come at a time when there is an increased and unbridled attack on individual reputation in social media and mainstream media. Many such derogatory contents go unquestioned because the expensive litigation cost discouraged aggrieved individuals from invoking civil remedies. The proposal to do away with the prohibitive court-fee valuation formula for Suits seeking damages will ensure that defamation and tortious acts will be compensated properly.
(The author is an advocate practising at the High Court of Kerala. He may be reached at [email protected]).