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India: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of India

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Last updated:

Hester Swift, June 2021

About the author

This guide was created in 2015 by Dr. Priya Rai, Deputy Librarian, National Law University Delhi (with contributions by Hester Swift of IALS Library).

 

Dr. Priya Rai

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Introduction

India has one of the most ancient civilizations in the world and very well-established legal traditions. The current Indian legal system is developed on the lines of the common law system of the United Kingdom.

The legal history of India is divided into four important periods: the Ancient Hindu Period, the Muslim Period, the British Period and the Post-Independence Period. 

The Ancient Hindu Period is based on Dharmashastra, consisting of the privileges, duties and obligations of a person (citizen) towards his society and country. Dharamashastra, originally written in Sanskrit, is the Indic branch of learning concerning the religious and legal duty of a citizen. It was written in several subparts by the Brahmanical community in India, who were responsible for educating people in the vedic or ancient period of India. The ancient Indian judicial system consisted of a hierarchy of courts with the King’s Court being the highest, then the Court of Chief Justice (Pradvivaka), the Council of Justices and the Village Councils of Arbitrators (Kulani), all dealing with the law on the basis of Dharmashastra.  

The Muslim Period began in the 12th century, when Muhammad Gauri invaded India and captured the sultanate in 1192 A.D. The Muslim Sultanate ruled India from 1206 A.D. to 1526 A.D. The Muslim Period is further classified in five stages: the  Slave dynasty (1206-90), the Khilji dynasty (1290-1320), the Tughlaq dynasty (1320-1413), the Sayyid dynasty (1414-51), and the Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526). The judicial system from the Muslim Period up till the British Colonial Period saw two phases: the Sultanate Period, which began in 1206, and the Mughal Period, from 1526 to mid 1700. It was headed by the Emperor’s Court, the superior court for civil and criminal matters. 

The British Colonial Period (1757-1947) is known as the foundation of the modern Indian legal system. During this period, the Privy Council exercised appellate jurisdiction and contributed to the development of different branches of law. The Government of India Act 1935 established the Federal Court of India. Appeals could be made to the Federal Court from any judgment, decree or final order of the High Courts. On January 1950, the Federal Court was converted into the Supreme Court of India.  

The main sources of modern Indian law as administered by Indian courts are divided into primary and secondary categories. The primary sources are legislation and law reports and the secondary sources are law digests, commentaries, encyclopaedias, directories and dictionaries which provide analysis and interpretation of the primary sources.

IALS Library's Indian holdings include legislation, law reports, a few journals, hundreds of books, Halsbury's Laws of India and other publications. Further details are given below, and everything is listed on the Library CatalogueThe collection is split between two classmarks: GK1 and GK2. GK1 is mainly (but not exclusively) used for pre-independence India and GK2 is used for most (not all) material relating to post-independence India. The library also subscribes to the Indian law database SCC Online.

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Constitution

The fountain source of law in India is the Constitution of India. The Constitution was framed by the Constituent Assembly established in 1946. It took two years, eleven months and eighteen days to draft the final document. The debates of the Constituent Assembly are available on the Parliament of India website and the subscription database SCC Online (available to authorised users via IALS Electronic Law Library). In its work the Assembly referred to the constitutional documents of Australia, Canada, Ireland and United States of America. 

The Constitution of India was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950. It declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty and endeavouring to promote fraternity among them. It contains 395 articles, in Parts I to XXII, and twelve schedules. Due to provision for constitutional amendments under the Constitution, to date the text has been amended many times by the Parliament of India.

Consolidated versions of the Constitution can be found on the website of the Ministry of Law and Justice, on HeinOnline (World Constitutions Illustrated module, via IALS Electronic Law Library) and SCC Online (also via Electronic Law Library)The original text of the Constitution and old consolidations are also on HeinOnline. IALS Library holds printed editions of the original text and various old consolidations (see Catalogue).  

Some important books on the Constitution of India in the collection at IALS Library:

Jain, Mahabir Prashad, Indian constitutional law: with constitutional documents. 7th ed. LexisNexis, 2018.

Basu, Durga Das, Introduction to the Constitution of India. 23rd ed. LexisNexis, 2018.

Singh, Mahendra P., V.N. Shukla's Constitution of India. 11th ed, Eastern Book Co., 2008.

Austin, Granville, Working a democratic constitution: a history of the Indian experience. OUP, 2003.

Gledhill, Alan, The Republic of India: the development of its laws and constitution. Stevens, 1964.

Other books on Indian constitutional law are also available at IALS (see Catalogue), and HeinOnline's World Constitutions illustrated includes commentary and a bibliography relating to the constitution.

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Judicial structure

India has a federal judicial system consisting of the Supreme Court of India at New Delhi, as apex court of the country, and more than twenty High Courts covering the states and Union Territories. The courts administer both Union and state laws. The Supreme Court of India is considered as 'Guardian of Fundamental Rights' for the citizens of India. Under Article 141 of the Constitution of India, 'The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all the courts of India'. 

Diagram of the Indian court system

 

Immediately below the Supreme Court, the high courts deal with the civil and criminal matters of the States and Union territories. Links to each high court are found on the eCourts Services website.

Below the high courts there exists a network of district courts and other subordinate courts. The judgments of the high courts are binding over these courts. Each state is divided into judicial districts presided over by a District and Sessions Judge, hearing civil cases as District Judge and criminal cases as Session Judge; this is the highest judicial rank below a high court judge. 

Quasi-Judicial Bodies (tribunals) in India
Apart from these judicial bodies, there are a number of quasi-judicial bodies, such as tribunals. Tribunals have been constituted as per relevant statutory provisions to work as an alternative forum for redress of grievances and adjudication of disputes. They include the Central Administrative Tribunal, the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, Debts Recovery Tribunal and Railway Claims Tribunal. Links to their websites are available from the National Portal of India.

A number of other bodies also assist in the judicial process. The Delhi State Legal Services Authority, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and Supreme Court Legal Services Committee are examples of such institutions.

 

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Case law

General background
The system of precedent - lower courts bound by decisions of higher courts, and courts bound by their own earlier decisions - is the same as in the United Kingdom. The report of a case, however old, can be referred to in support of an argument or followed in a judgment. 

Law reports
The official series for Supreme Court decisions is Supreme Court Reports (SCR), which is published by the Supreme Court of India Registry. The judgments pronounced by the high courts of the Indian states are officially published in Indian Law Reports (ILR), which is very irregular in publication. A number of private publishers also publish law reports, with editorial enhancements, covering the Supreme Court of India, the High Courts and selected tribunals; these commercially-published reports are also acceptable to the Indian courts. 

Law reports in India may be classified in two categories: general law reports and subject-specific law reports. All India Reporter (AIR), with sub-series for the Supreme Court and the High Courts; Supreme Court Cases (SCC); Judgment Today (JT) and Supreme Court of India Almanac (Scale) are some examples of general law reports publishing judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court of India. Allahabad Law Reports, Bombay Law Reports, Madras Law Journal, Kerala Law Times, Gauhati Law Times, Lucknow Law Times, Calcutta Weekly Notes and Karnataka Law Journals are some examples of general law reports publishing the judgments of the high courts. On the other side, a number of law reports focus on particular subject areas, for example: Arbitration Law Reporter, Banking Law Journal, Company Law Journal, Criminal Law Journal and Taxmann.

Sources available from IALS Library
IALS subscribes to SCC Online, which has Indian cases from 1779 to present; it covers the Supreme Court of India, the high courts, specialised commissions and tribunals, the Privy Council, the Federal Court of India and other courts. It includes the online version of Supreme Court Cases, published by Eastern Book Company. SCC Online is available to authorised users via the IALS Electronic Law Library

LLMC Digital, also available via the Electronic Law Library, includes Indian Law Reports and All India Reporter.

Both pre- and post-independence reports are held at IALS in printed format or on microfiche; all are listed on the Catalogue. They include the following series:

  • Supreme Court Reports 1950 onwards
  • Supreme Court Journal 1950-2008
  • Federal Court Reports  1939-1950 (superseded by Supreme Court Reports, above)
  • Indian Law Reports c.1876 to 1947: various parts, for different periods, on microfiche and/or online via LLMC Digital
  • All India Reporter 1914 to 1947, on microfiche (also on  the subscription service LLMC Digital and the free AsianLII website)

Free web sources
The Legal Information Institute of India (LII of India) has cases from the Supreme Court, high courts, some tribunals and other bodies.

The Supreme Court of India provides a database of its cases from the 1950s onwards.

The high courts also have cases on their websites: see eCourts Services for links.


Subscription databases
There are many Indian subscription databases which provide Supreme Court of India, high court and other judgments. IALS Library subscribes to SCC Online (see IALS Electronic Law Library), which includes Eastern Book Company’s Supreme Court Cases and many other Indian law reports.

Other subscription databases include the following (IALS does not subscribe to these):

Case-finding tools and citation guidance
Cases can be looked up on SCC Online by key word, party name, citation or legislative provision.

The abbreviations used for Indian journals and law reports can decoded using Suggested Abbreviations of Indian Legal Journals (National Law University Delhi, NLUD Law Research Series 2010, Appendix 6).

Information about constructing a citation can be found in the Guide to Legal Citation (National Law University Delhi, NLUD Law Research Series 2010, Chapter 2), via LII of India.

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Digests and Encyclopedias

Digests
Digests play an important role in legal research and advocacy. Law digests contain subject-wise and yearly arrangements of judgments delivered by various courts of judicature. Law digests in India fall into two categories: comprehensive law digests and special law digests, the latter being based on a particular subject area. 

The Supreme Court Yearly Digest (Eastern Book Company) and AIR Yearly Reference (All India Reporter, Nagpur) are two major yearly digests. Criminal Law Digest, Labour Law Digest, and Company Law Digest, are examples of subject-based digests.

A number of cumulative digests have also been published by various publishers, viz. AIR Supreme Court Millennium Digest (All India Reporter); and Decennial Digest, Quinquennial Digest, Hundred Years Digest of Indian Law Reports and Compete Digest of Supreme Court Digest, (Eastern Book Company).  

IALS has old editions of some of the digests mentioned above: see Catalogue under classmarks GK1.H and GK2.H.

Encyclopaedias
Halsbury’s Laws of India is an encyclopaedic statement of Indian law. The first edition (LexisNexis India, 1999-2009) is gradually being replaced by the second edition (2013 - ); both editions are held at IALS.

 

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Legislation

The Parliament of India is the apex law-making body. It has three sections: the President of India (Head of the State); Lok Sabha (House of People or Lower House) and Rajya Sabha (Council of States or Upper House). 

The Parliament of India is responsible for passing legislation at Union of India (central) level. The Indian states have their own legislatures, which make state legislation; links to state legislatures may be found on the official Legislative Bodies website. The Constitution of India empowers the central government and state governments to make laws on different subjects: the Central Government can make laws on the subjects given in the Union List and the State Governments are empowered to frame laws on the subjects given in the State List; there is also a Concurrent List, which specifies subjects on which both the Central Government and State Governments can formulate laws, but the laws made by the Central Government would be treated as superior in case of any conflict. The Union, State and Concurrent Lists are in Schedule VII of the Constitution.

The laws passed by the Parliament of India are known as Central Legislation. Initially a proposal called a bill is placed before any house of the Parliament. After debate over the bill and when it has been cleared by the house of introduction, it is passed to other house. After passing by both houses, the bill is sent to the President for assent, after which it becomes an act. Bills introduced in Lok Sabha (House of People Bills) and Rajya Sabha (Council of States Bills) are available on the websites of the respective houses. 

PRS Legislative Research, India, an initiative of the Centre for Policy Research (a New Delhi thinktank), provides information about legislative business, parliamentary updates, bill or act summaries and monthly policy reviews.  

Central legislation
Central acts, as passed, are published in the Gazette of India: for example, the Consumer Protection Act 2019 was published in Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part II, Section 1, 9 August 2019, pp. 1-40, issue 54. The version of an act published in the Gazette is the official, final and authentic document. The Gazette can be accessed free of charge through its website; the British Library has the printed series (incomplete). Legislation comes into force on the date of publication in the Gazette of India, or on the date mentioned in the text of the legislation. 

Central acts as amended are officially published in the India Code, which is available at https://www.indiacode.nic.in/, going back to 1836. A number of commercial publishing houses provide multi-volume collections of central legislation: titles include Current Indian Statutes (D.Suri,), held at IALS; Current Central Legislation (Eastern Book Company), AIR Manual (from All India Reporter), Universal’s Encyclopaedia of Important Central Acts & Rules (Universal Law Publishing).

State legislation
Laws passed by the State Governments are called subordinate legislation. Collections of state legislation are available on the Laws of India website(an initiative of PRS Legislative Research, India). 

Sources available at IALS
‚Äč
SCC Online (see IALS Electronic Law Library) has 
Central acts as amended, plus repealed acts; rules and regulations as amended; circulars, notifications and instructions; and selected state acts as amended.

Printed central legislation is also held at IALS Library-

  • Current Indian Statutes (cited as 'CIS'), 1958 onwards: central acts as passed, together with secondary legislation; also brief details of state legislation and a few state acts in full (GK2.E.2)
  • Collection of the Acts of the Central Legislature, 1948 to 1957: central acts, as passed (GK2.E.2); continued by Current Indian Statutes 
  • India Reprint Acts: compilation of central legislation revised to various dates, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s; not published as a set - consists of individual revised acts bound alphabetically by title in 13 volumes (GK2.E.1). Two earlier compilations also held: India reprint acts: as modified 1947-1948; and India reprint acts: as modified 1949.
  • A.I.R. Manual, 3rd edition, published in 22 volumes, 1960 to 1975, containing revised acts with annotations (GK2.E.1)
  • General Statutory Rules and Orders: revised secondary legislation arranged by subject; published in 30 volumes, 1960 to 1980, with supplements to 1971 for some volumes (GK2.E.3). Various other old revised sets of secondary legislation are also held, at the same classmark.

The library also has pre-independence legislation: see Catalogue under classmark GK1.E. 

IALS does not collect legislation of the Indian states. To locate state legislation held at libraries in the UK, use the FLAG database.

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Law reform reports and public inquiry reports

A number of statutory bodies have been set up to evaluate and analyse laws before enactment in the Parliament. There are also a number of organizations that evaluate and interpret old laws in order to  recommend amendments. The reports, research series and other documents of these institutions are very useful for legal education and research, as detailed below. 

Law Commission of India: the first law commission of independent India was established in 1955; its reports are available on the Law Commission of India website, 1956 (first report) onwards. IALS Library has the printed reports from 1956 to the mid-1980s.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): an autonomous public body constituted on a statutory basis by the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 to protect and promote human rights in India; NHRC reports and other publications are available on its website.

National Commission for Women (NCW): established under the Indian Constitution, the NCW advises the government on matters affecting women, represents the rights of women in India and provides a voice for their issues and concerns. The Commission publishes research reports, annual reports and a newsletter, Rashtra Mahila (National Women) on its website.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)set up under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005 with a mandate to ensure that all laws, policies, programmes, and administrative mechanisms are in consonance with children's rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The NCPCR website provides important judgments relating to child rights, as well as guidelines, recommendations and reports.

Commissions of inquiry: reports of public inquiries and various committees may be found on the website of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.

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Journals

IALS Library holds the Journal of the Indian Law Institute from 1958 to 2012 in printed format; more recent years, but not the latest volumes, are on JSTOR and SCC Online. The library also has The Indian Journal of International Law from 1960 onwards, and a few short historical runs of other Indian law journals.

SCC Online, available to authorised users via the IALS Electronic Law Library, includes articles from about thirty Indian law journals, including Supreme Court Cases (journal section), Journal of the Indian Law Institute and Journal of National Law University Delhi (JNLUD). 

HeinOnline (via the Electronic Law Library) has sixteen Indian titles in its Law Journal Library.

Most of the academic legal journals in India are published by the law schools and advanced legal research institutions. Key titles include:

Academy Law Review

Annual Survey of Indian Law

Cochin University Law Review

Indian Journal of International Law

Indian Journal of Public Administration

Indian Socio-Legal Journal

Journal of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies

Journal of the Indian Law Institute 

Journal of Intellectual Property Rights

Journal of National Human Rights Commission

Journal of National Law University, Delhi 

Madras Law Journal

NALSAR Law Review

NUJS Law Review

Srinagar Law Journal

A number of academic journals and scholarly writings published in India are available on open access and usable under Creative Commons Licences. The Legal Information Institute of India (www.liiofindia.org/in/journals/) provides articles from back issues of about fifteen academic law journals or collections of scholarly writings.

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Books

IALS Library holds hundreds of books on Indian law, all listed on the Library Catalogue. Recent titles include the following:

Dave, Dushyant, Hunter, Martin, et al (ed.s), Arbitration in India, Kluwer Law International, 2021.

Parthasarathy, Srinivasan, Competition law in India, 5th ed., Kluwer Law International, 2019

Basu, Durga Das, Introduction to the constitution of India, 23rd ed. , LexisNexis, 2018

Satish, Mrinal, Discretion, discrimination and the rule of law: reforming rape sentencing in India, Cambridge University Press, 2017

Cullet, Philippe, Water law in India: an introduction to legal instruments, Oxford University Press, 2017

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Websites and subscription databases

Free access to law movement: the Legal Information Institute of India
The development of the movement for free access to law was initiated by representatives of Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) in 2002 during the International Conference on Law via the Internet, in Montreal. Legal Information Institutes act as providers of legal information that are independent of government and provide free access to multiple sources of essential legal information on a non-profit basis.

The Legal Information Institute of India is part of the global free access to law community, making Indian law more accessible to the world. LII of India provides the below-mentioned Indian law information:

Case-law - cases from the Supreme Court, high courts, several district courts and various tribunals

Legislation - Indian acts from 1836 onwards; state and territory legislation (dates vary)

Legal scholarship - articles from fifteen Indian law journals or collections of legal scholarship 

Law reform reports and bilateral treaties 

LII of India provides over 150 databases, searchable simultaneously or separately, including cases and legislation from every state or territory. Search results can be ranked by relevance, date, citation and so on. The LawCite citator tracks citations of cases and journal articles from India (and elsewhere).

Other websites disseminating Indian legal material

India Code:  official website providing central acts, in force and repealed; also has state legislation.

Indian Kanoon - website developed by computer scientist Sushant Sinha, providing cases from the Supreme Court, High Courts, a few district courts and numerous tribunals

Indian Treaties Database (Ministry of External Affairs) - database of treaties involving India from 1950 onwards

Public Domain Resources (Justice T.P.S. Chawla Library, National Law University Delhi) - links to selected law websites for India and other common law jurisdictions

Legally India - news website for lawyers and law students

Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India: acts, rules and policy documents relating to law and justice

IALS subscriptions to databases covering Indian law    

SCC Online has Indian cases (1779 to present)Central (Federal) Statutes; rules and regulations; circulars, notifications and instructions; some state statutes; bills from the Parliament of India; debates of the Constituent Assembly; articles from about twenty journals; bilateral treaties involving India; reports of the Law Commission of India and Indian official committees; historical trials.

LLMC Digital  includes All India Reporter from 1914 to 1947. 

Other commercial databases

A number of other Indian commercial databases cover Indian legal information; please note that IALS does not subscribe to these services.

Westlaw Asia, a Thomson Reuters product, provides judgments of the Supreme Court of India, High Courts and various tribunals; central and state legislation; and several journals.

Lexis India, a LexisNexis service, provides judgments of the Indian Supreme Court and High Courts; legislation; journals, including the Journal of the Indian Law Institute; and the commentaries on Indian law published by Wadhwa Law Company (now part of LexisNexis India).

Manupatra contains judgments of the Supreme Court of India and High Courts of the Indian states; commission and committee reports; Gazette notifications and circulars; acts; rules and regulations; ordinances; pending cases; and legal materials on particular subjects. 

Corporate Law Advisor (also known as CLA Online) is an online library of corporate and business law; it covers all volumes since inception of both Corporate Law Advisor and Business Law Supplement, as well as cases, legislation and other material.

Taxmann Online is a tax and company law database covering cases, legislation and forms. 

Dictionaries

IALS has P. Ramanatha Aiyar's The Law Lexicon (Wadhwa and Co., 1997).

Other Indian legal dictionaries include the following (not held at IALS):

Aiyar, K.J., K J Aiyar's Judicial Dictionary, 17th edition. India: LexisNexis, 2017.                                                 

H.K. Sahara, H.K., and Saharay, M.S., K.P Chakravarti's Words & Phrases Under the Constitution, 2nd edition. Kolkata, Eastern Law House, 2003.

Singh, L.P. and Majumdar, P.K., Judicial dictionary. New Delhi: Orient Publishing, 2009.                                          

Saharay, H.K, Parliamentary and Constitutional Law Dictionary, 3rd edition. New Delhi, Universal Law Publishing, 2016.

                                              

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