Monday, March 17, 2008

Of Law Reports, authors and legislations

Shri.V.C. Gopalranam, who edited the commemoration volume of the completion of a century of the High Court had catchy slogans for judges and lawyers alike, for the work turned out by them through his expressions, ‘They sat and decided’ while referring to the Judges and said of the lawyers, ‘They stood and argued’. Even apart from the judges and lawyers, are we justified in trying to gauge the development of law only by the judgments rendered by High Courts and Supreme Court without minding the vast repertoire of statutory enactments and the writings of eminent authors, asked Shri.T.R.Mani, a venerable senior counsel of Madras High Court, when we were trying to trace the development of law by the Madras High Court with reference to landmark judgments of our High Court. Significant developments there no doubt have been, when through judgments, there were new interpretations of statutory law; when the principles of law have been enunciated through lucid judgments and when judgments have signaled the march of law by simplified procedure. But law reports, legislations, authors and eminent lawyers, have each made impressive contributions to the march of law, have they not?

Shri.T.R.Mani shared interesting information about the diverse facets of the development of law. First to innovative law reporting: If our High Court was constituted in 1862 the Madras High Court Reporter (MHCR) rolled out its volume even a year earlier, that is, from 1861! We have had interesting legal history through pioneering system of publication. The Madras Law Journal published Subject Noted Index of Case Laws in three volumes in 1955. The first volume consisted of digest of cases from Privy Council and Calcutta, the second volume of Bombay and Madras and the third volume of Nagpur. The index was the first citator of its kind recording ‘the cases followed’ and ‘cases overruled’. In these days of computerization, you may easily browse through cases followed and over ruled but recognise the arduous task of collecting all the cases and tracking their history through the value of precedents by a record of when each case was followed and when it was overruled. If the Madras Law Journal created history as the First Indian Law Journal in 1891, All India Reporter struck new ground when it compiled in one volume, all the judgments of various high courts in 1919, 28 years before independence. The success of the Indian experience was what gave birth to a similar publication through All England Reporter in the year 1935 in England. Labour Law Journal and Labour Law Notes were both started in our State with exclusive reporting of labour law cases. MLJ brought out the first March of Law in 1960 that captured all the important decisions that expanded the frontiers of law for better understanding. MLJ was contributed by libraries and courts in New York, Chicago and also by the Privy Council.

The Board Standing Orders of 1803 were regulations that held statutory character and now, even though the Board of Revenue has been abolished, several of the Orders still hold the field of Revenue Administration. The Madras provincial legislature had its firsts in several of the legislation that were the model for other states to follow. The Madras City Municipal Corporation Act 1919 and the District Municipalities Act 1920 were the first noteworthy enactments containing provisions for local administration. They were replicated with minor variations for other corporations and municipalities all over India. Hindu Religious Endowment Act 1927 was similarly the earliest piece of legislation governing Hindu religious institutions. Estate Abolition Acts established momentous milestones of land reforms and the first enactment came in the then Madras Presidency after Prakasam Committee report. The Act was drafted by Shri. K. Bashyam when he was the Minister of Law. The Madras City Tenant Protection Act of 1927 was the first enactment of its kind granting a right to the tenant to purchase the vacant site from the landlord, if he had put up a super structure on the demised land. The act was periodically extended to other major cities also. Sales Tax Act and Debt Relief Legislations were innovations from the Madras Province.

There have been great authors also in various fields from Madras. John D. Mayne brought out the first compilation of Hindu Law in 1878. Mayne wrote in his first edition on Hindu Law about his own inadequacy, which he called as painful consciousness of the disadvantage under which he had laboured from his ignorance of Sanskrit. Mr. Colebrooke had been a Sanskrit scholar and translated many important Hindu texts for the understanding of Hindu Family Law but did not have an inclination to write a comprehensive treatise. The first Indians to edit Mayne’s book were Shri. Srinivasa Iyengar and Shri. Raja Iyer. Ramaswamy Iyer on Torts was unique in that when it was published in 1932, it traced the law of torts from Fiji to America, that is, in diverse legal regimes of many of the English speaking countries, including all the now common wealth countries and of USA. Ramaiya’s Company Law in 1956 was truly epochal in the sense that the book became so popular with successive editions that the name Ramaiya has become synonymous with the subject that he wrote. Bashyam and Adiga’s Negotiable instruments in 1909 traced the development of law not merely from the case law cited in Madras High courts and other courts in India but had huge references to cases from England, Canada and even Singapore. Ganapathi Iyer on Trusts and Sundararaja Iyengar on Land Tenure were major contributions to the understanding of the land laws from the days of Manu to the borrowal of Roman law concepts of property holdings. Shri.V.G. Ramachandran began his practice from a mofussil court at Tirukkoilur to be later a member of the Languages Commission and still later in the editorial board of the Supreme Court Cases. His books on Land Acquisition Act, Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Remedies, Law of Writs, Contempt of Court, Declaratory Judgments and Contract Act are excellent contributions of a lawyer from Tamil Nadu to the legal literature in India.

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