Kanoon conundrum: locating court judgments in India
Kanoon conundrum, locating court judgments in India
One of India’s largest conglomerates, the Sahara Group found itself at the heart of a large-scale investment scandal when it emerged that two of its firms had raised money from investors throughan investment scheme deemed illegal by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The group’s chairman, Subrata Roy, has been in Delhi’s Tahrir jail since March last year, after failing to follow an order of the country’s Supreme Court to repay its investors - nearly 22 million, many of them from the rural areas.
Court records covering the Sahara case provide valuable information about the scam and the company’s inner workings. As elsewhere, litigation information in India is a useful resource for investigators as it serves to identify potential red flags. While it can take quite some time for a case to be decided - thirty million cases are reportedly pending in Indian courts - records are both extensive and comprehensive in India. However, the large number of databases, the stability and quality of which vary, can sometimes prove challenging.
In this blog, using the Sahara case as an example, we give you a snapshot of India’s litigation sources, indicating where and how to obtain information that investigators would typically be looking for. We also highlight a few recurring features.
High Courts are the top-level courts at federal state level and exercise jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. Judgments are generally made available on the courts’ websites and can be searched by party name and/or keyword, which is what most investigators will find useful. Bearing in mind the high occurrence of certain Indian names, it can be helpful to combine keywords with names in a free text search field to limit results.
The Allahabad High Court, for instance, allows searching by keyword within a period of maximum six months. A search for Sahara India Real Estate, one of the two Sahara firms involved in the scandal, provides the full text of the court’s 2010 order asking SEBI not to take any action until the government’s Registrar of Companies investigates the company.
Typically, court websites will ask to provide a date range, which mostly is a merely technical requirement and can span decades. In a few cases, such as the one of the Allahabad High Court, this is limited to six months. Case status searches do generally have to be limited to one year at a time.
Only a few court websites we have analysed do not provide any of these search features. The Calcutta High Court, for instance, only allows searching by case number, name of judge or date of judgment. This makes it difficult to retrieve judgments from this court, although records can be retrieved through independent search platforms, such as Indian Kanoon, which we discuss below.
In addition to a judgment search, all courts provide the option to identify the status of a particular case, which is useful as it may take years until a verdict is rendered. Case status searches are generally limited to one year at a time.
India’s Supreme Court makes full-text decisions available reaching back to 1950. These can be searched by party names, keywords and case number, in combination with date. A party name search for Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Limited provides the following results.
The full text of the decision regarding Sahara’s appeal against SEBI’s order to pay back investors is available on click-through.
Jurisprudence search engines
Given the difficulties around searching the system of state-level courts, a centralised platform would be a very useful development for investigators. India’s judiciary are working to implement a centralised search service through the JUDIS Judgment Information System, but this is currently far from comprehensive. Third party providers are further ahead: Indian Kanoon (‘kanoon’ is the Hindi word for law) and Legal Crystal are two search engines designed to provide straightforward access to all litigation records available online. Both have advanced search functions that help to narrow down searches.
While it is certainly useful to be able to search across all of India’s litigation sources, both websites return a different number of search results and are not up-to-date for some courts. For instance, the website of the Guwahati High Court provides judgments from as recent as June 2015, while Legal Crystal has judgments up to February 2015 and Indian Kanoon only up to 2008. Judgments for the same court can be obtained via the government-sponsored JUDIS system, but only up to 2011. On Arachnys, users will be able to obtain the most recent information available.
Indian Kanoon supports exact searches using quotation marks, significantly limiting the noise around results. However, it covers fewer sources than Legal Crystal, which also includes information from specialised courts, such as the Securities Appellate Tribunal. Also, Legal Crystal does not allow users to conduct an exact search, returning a high number of results.
Indian courts provide free access to litigation records, which are generally published in full and searchable using keywords and party names. However, due to the number of courts and the somewhat tricky design of their websites, it is not always easy to find the appropriate search option. Indian Kanoon and Legal Crystal are more user-friendly solutions that facilitate searching for records but, as yet, no single service is able to provide a comprehensive search solution.
Written by Radu Botez, Researcher at Arachnys. Arachnys is a digital platform that consolidates and aggregates business information from sources like the ones featured here to make due diligence research quicker and more effective. Contact the author at email@example.com to find out more.