While insufficient bench strength means that there are not enough judges to hear cases, frivolous litigation is also a factor behind the jam in India’s courts—which explains why the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government would bring a Vexatious Legislation (Prevention) Bill. As per the proposed law, the state’s advocate general may file an application in the High Court to declare a person “a vexatious litigant” and stop him from initiating any civil or criminal proceedings without prior permission of the court. If a person is declared a vexatious litigant, it would also mean that all cases filed by him have to be withdrawn. And once one is declared a vexatious litigant, that tag would stick—the litigant may only get relief from the Supreme Court.
But MP’s solution seems worse than the problem. There is a strong chance of it being misused, for instance, in a situation where the powers that be find themselves in the dock. Besides, the fallout could be akin to the story of the boy who cried wolf. Once a litigant is declared vexatious, he would have to start with a pre-trial hearing, where he has to convince the court that his matter merits the court’s attention and time. Also, the government could find itself on the wrong side of such a law—the tax department, given its litigation history, could be a likely candidate. While the Law Commission, in a 2005 report on curbing vexatious litigation, proposed a similar penalty for such litigants, it would be wiser to go with the solution proposed by the Supreme Court—the apex court, in 2011, had suggested hiking the penalty by a whopping 3,000%, to R1 lakh. While it may not be a deterrent for litigants with deep pockets, those who incessantly file purported public interest litigations, in which the “public interest” bit seems frequently missing, would think twice.