In a set of writ petitions filed before the Delhi High Court, validity of Court Fee (Delhi Amendment) Act, 2012 was questioned and the same was sought to declared ultra vires and thus liable to be struck down
In a set of writ petitions filed before the Delhi High Court, validity of Court Fee (Delhi Amendment) Act, 2012 was questioned and the same was sought to declared ultra vires and thus liable to be struck down.
The Division Bench of Delhi High Court struck down the Court Fee (Delhi Amendment) Act, 2012 as being unconstitutional. The Court held that Article 239AA of the Constitution of India does not empower the Delhi Legislative Assembly to effect amendment of the Court Fees Act, 1870, which is a Central legislation. Even if it could be held that the Delhi Legislative Assembly has the legislative competence to legislate on the subject, the NCT of Delhi (Respondent) failed to follow the legislative procedure constitutionally mandated. Respondents neither complied with the established essential pre-conditions for the Presidential consideration and assent under Article 239AA of the Constitution nor invited the Presidential attention to the repugnancy between the Central enactment and the proposed legislative amendment. There was also a failure in discharge of onus which rested on Respondents to justify the increase in the court fee. No material was placed on record to justify the exorbitant increase in the levy of court fees in most instances. The impugned legislation infact created unreasonably two well defined classes of litigants, one, who will be required to pay fixed court fees and secondly, litigants who will be required to pay court fees equivalent to a fixed percentage based on the valuation of the litigation, that is, court fee on ad valorem basis, without a maximum limit. The legislation in question was declared as ex facie substantively unreasonable, arbitrary and ultra vires Article 14 of the Constitution. The Amending Act imposing court fee by percentage without a maximum limit was held as unrelated to the cost of any service rendered. Ad valorem levy of Court fee after a particular level, loses all elements of quid pro quo and, therefore, loses the characteristics of a ‘fee’ and tantamounts to recovery of amounts towards general revenue under the guise of court fees and, therefore, partakes all characteristics of a ‘tax’ which is beyond the legislative competence of the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
The Amending Act was further held as something which disproportionately impacts the fundamental right of access to justice under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and has a deleterious impact on litigation in courts and infact is an absolute entry point financial barrier to the courts for not only those who are below the poverty line but also those on the ‘border line’ who are barely meeting the essentials of daily needs. It denies in denial of equality before the law to parties to a proceeding as it results in unequal opportunity of access to court to persons placed in different economic categories and also adversely impacts the rule making power of the Delhi High Court as well as its jurisdiction. Respondents also failed to comply with the procedure prescribed under the Government of NCT of Delhi Act, 1991 and the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1993.
Accordingly, the State was held liable to refund court fee recovered from litigants based on the prescriptions contained in the Court Fees (Delhi Amendment) Act, 2012. The concerned courts, as per the judgment, may permit appropriate endorsements to be made in the pleadings so as to appropriately clarify the court fee affixed thereon and it shall also be at the judicial discretion of the Court concerned to suo motu mould appropriate directions in this regard.
Delhi High Court Bar Association & Anr. vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi and Anr.
(Delhi HC, 9.10.2013)