The Law of Torts in India

Under the Hindu law and the Muslim law tort had a much narrower conception than the tort of the English law. The punishment of crimes in these systems occupied a more prominent place than compensation for wrongs. The law of torts in India is mainly the English law of torts which itself is based on the principles of the common law of England.

This was made suitable to the Indian conditions appeasing to the principles of justice, equity and good conscience and as amended by the Acts of the legislature. Its origin is linked with the establishment of British courts in India.

The expression justice, equity and good conscience was interpreted by the Privy Council to mean the rules of English Law if found applicable to Indian society and circumstances. The Indian courts before applying any rule of English law can see whether it is suited to the Indian society and circumstances. The application of the English law in India has therefore been a selective application.

On this the Privy Council has observed that the ability of the common law to adapt itself to the differing circumstances of the countries where it has taken roots is not a weakness but one of its strengths. Further, in applying the English law on a particular point, the Indian courts are not restricted to common law.

If the new rules of English statute law replacing or modifying the common law are more in consonance with justice, equity and good conscience, it is open o the courts in India to reject the outmoded rules of common law and to apply the new rules.

For example, the principles of English statute, the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act, 1945, have been applied in India although there is still no corresponding Act enacted by Parliament in India.

The development in Indian law need not be on the same lines as in England. In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India , Justice Bhagwati said, we have to evolve new principles and lay down new norms which will adequately deal with new problems which arise in a highly industrialized economy.

We cannot allow our judicial thinking to be constructed by reference to the law as it prevails in England or for the matter of that in any foreign country. We are certainly prepared to receive light from whatever source it comes but we have to build our own jurisprudence.

It has also been held that section 9 of The Code of Civil Procedure, which enables the civil court to try all suits of a civil nature, impliedly confers jurisdiction to apply the Law of Torts as principles of justice, equity and good conscience. Thus the court can draw upon its inherent powers under section 9 for developing this field of liability.

In a more recent judgement of Jay Laxmi Salt Works (p) ltd. v. State of Gujarat , Sahai, J., observed: truly speaking the entire law of torts is founded and structured on morality. Therefore, it would be primitive to close strictly or close finally the ever expanding and growing horizon of tortuous liability.

Even for social development, orderly growth of the society and cultural refineness the liberal approach to tortious liability by court would be conducive.

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By Hassham

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