Frivolous and Vexatious Litigation: An overview

Vexatious and frivolous litigation killsIndian courts face a big challenge of pendency of cases filed therein. The common man does not want to involve himself in legal proceedings. However, being aggrieved, he has no other option but to seek reliefs in the courts. In such situation, initiation of huge amount of litigation and the resultant pendency of cases in courts is a natural consequence.

The Report no. 221 of the Law Commission of India, submitted in April 2009 is dedicated to the “Need of Speedy Justice”.  Forwarding this report to the Union Minister of Law and Justice, the Government of India, Dr. Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, Hon’ble Chairman of the Commission observed that “Mounting of arrears of cases in courts, particularly in High Court and District Courts, has been a cause of great concern for litigants as well as for the State.

Undoubtedly, there are many factors responsible for huge pendency of litigation in courts, including the fact that the courts lacking sufficient resources and man power to handle the quantum of litigation that is initiated therein. It is true that frivolous and vexatious litigation also plays an important role in creating backlog. Looking at the gravity of the situation, the Law Commission of India has made credible efforts to prepare its 192nd Report on Prevention of Vexatious Litigation in June 2005 (hereinafter “the 192nd Report”). Till date, the essential recommendations of the Law Commission made in the said Report have not been complied with. The 192nd Report refers to worldwide legislations and judicial precedents on the subject and recommends enacting an effective statute at the central level to curb the problem of vexatious litigation.

It is pertinent to mention that in the early years of independence, the Madras Vexatious Litigation (Prevention) Act, 1949 was passed. In 1971, the state of Maharashtra passed the Maharashtra Vexatious Litigation (Prevention) Act, 1971. In the year 2005, though the state legislature of Madhya Pradesh passed the Madhya Pradesh Vexatious Litigation (Prevention) Act, the same has not yet come into force because the Government of M.P. has not issued any notification in this regard. In Rajasthan, the Rajasthan Vexatious Litigation (Prevention) Bill, 2015 has been recently introduced, which bill awaits the nod of the assembly.

It is also relevant that the word ‘frivolous’ should not be equated with the word ‘vexatious’. The concepts of the legal terms in the 192nd Report are well described in the following words:

“The concepts are also quite different. As will be seen in the ensuing chapter, ‘vexatious’ litigation means habitually or persistently filing cases on the issues in which have already been decided once or more then once or against the same parties or their successors in interest or different parties. But as for as ‘frivolous’ litigation is concerned, a litigation may be frivolous, – without the need for persistent filing of similar case, – even if it has no merits whatsoever and is intended to harass the defendant or is an abuse of the process of the Court.”

Though the Government of India has not introduced any bill in the Indian Parliament on the subject, but the supreme court and high courts of the country have taken this issue seriously and it is noted that in many cases, heavy costs have been imposed on the finding of ‘frivolous’ and ‘vexatious’ litigation. Some instances are below:

  1. In the case of Pradip Nanjee Gala v. STO, (2015) 13 SCC 149, the Hon’ble Supreme Court imposed the cost of Rs. 5,00,000.00 on the appellant for filing a frivolous appeal.
  2. In the case of Vijay Malya v. Enforcement Directorate, AIR 2015 SC 2726, the Hon’ble Supreme Court imposed the cost of Rs. 10,00,000.00 on the appellant for abuse of process of law.
  3. In the case of PGF Lit. v. Union of India, AIR 2013 SC 3702, the Hon’ble Supreme Court imposed the cost of Rs. 50,00,000.00 on the petitioner for abuse of process of law.

Even though the 192nd Report proposes statutory remedies to deter vexatious litigants from initiating futile legal proceedings, it does not suggest any measures to control litigants who are habitually abusing due process of law.

It is ironic that in our parliamentary setup, we still do not have a regulation that effectively deals with the issue relating to frivolous and vexatious litigation. Having said that, there are provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974 that provide some legislative remedies on the issue. The said provisions are summed up herein below:

  1. In the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, Order VII Rule 11 gives powers to courts in certain circumstances to reject the plaint. If courts exercise these powers strictly, the frivolous petitions may be thrown out at the threshold.
  2. In the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, Section 35-A provides for compensatory costs in respect of false or vexatious claims or defenses. The maximum limit of the costs is Rs. 3000 or not exceeding the limits of its pecuniary jurisdiction, whichever amount is less. Though, this maximum limit of the cost must be increased and fixed up to two lakhs. In this regard, the necessary legislative amendments must be done by the legislature.
  3. In the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974, Section 250 provides that in case of discharge or acquittal, the Magistrate may pass an order to pay such amount by way of compensation, not exceeding the amount of fine he is empowered to impose. This statutory provision still needs amendments in these manners:
    • It should be mandatory in each criminal case to award compensation if the Learned Magistrate records acquittal or discharge of the accused.
    • The amount of compensation must be fixed minimum Rs. 5000 and maximum Rs. 50000 in appropriate cases and the powers to award such compensation must be in addition to imposition of fine.

It is pertinent to note that the problem of vexatious litigation has persisted since the ancient age. During Mahabharata, Lord Krishna had killed Shishupal on being aggrieved with frivolous accusations. In 1795, Lord Macaulay, who was the chairman of the Law Commission of pre-independent India, had observed that It is undoubtedly a great evil that frivolous and vexatious actions should be instituted. But it is an evil for which the Government has only itself and its agents to blame, and for which it has the power of providing a most sufficient remedy.” It is indeed an essential requirement that the Indian Government soon sets forth an effective legislation to curb the menace.

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