The Sovereign, Democratic, and Republic state of India (also known as Bharat) has been a free nation since it declared its independence from British rule in 1947. It adopted its constitution on January 26,1950. In addition to outlining the powers of the branches of government, the constitution defines protected fundamental rights (see Part III), and outlines the policy directives of the state and the fundamental duties of Indian citizens (see Part IV). With more than 450 articles, India has the longest constitution of any sovereign nation in the world.
India is governed by a federal parliamentary system. In addition to the Central Government, each of the country's 28 states has its own government. There are also eight Union Territories (UTs) administrated by Central Government appointees. For information about each of the states and UTs, along with links to their respective government websites, visit https://knowindia.gov.in/states-uts/.
As is the case with other former British colonies, India has a common law legal system that recognizes the principles of judge-made law and stare decisis.
The Harvard Law School Library has an extensive print collection of historical and current primary and secondary sources for Indian legal research. In addition, the library subscribes to two databases: Manupatra and SCC Online. This guide provides instructions and tips for navigating these resources.
A quick introductory video on the features of this guide is below.
Photo: Supreme Court of India, taken by Jennifer Allison on Dec. 14, 2019.
Information about all the Harvard libraries' print and electronic materials can be found in the HOLLIS online library catalog (http://hollis.harvard.edu). This guide includes links to HOLLIS searches that use either general keywords, Library of Congress Subject Headings, or both.
HOLLIS search links in this guide appear in this format:
Most searches are deliberately broad. Limit the search results by adding additional keywords to the search query, refining the results using the options listed on the right side of the HOLLIS screen, or both.
The Bluebook's citation rules for Indian primary law materials are available online at https://www.legalbluebook.com/bluebook/v21/tables/t2-foreign-jurisdictions/t2-18-india. These rules indicate preferred case law reporters by court, as well as instructions for citing the constitution and legislation.
Manupatra is a subscription database for Indian legal resources. It includes both primary sources (judicial opinions, statutes and other legislative materials, administrative agency materials, and more) and secondary sources (including treatises and law journals).
To access Manupatra:
You should see the homepage of the Manupatra database, which looks like this:
Searching and Browsing in Manupatra
To browse by source type, use the menu on the left side of the screen.
To search, click one of the options in the blue search bar at the top of the screen:
As an example, assume that you have the following information about a case from the Bombay High Court:
State vs. Panduran Tatyasaheb Shinde, AIR 1956 Bom 711.
Find this case in Manupatra as follows:
You will see one result. Click the link provided to view the case.
SCC Online is a subscription legal database. You can browse or search for cases from a wide variety of Indian courts, including the Supreme Court, the Privy Council, high courts, district courts, and tribunals and commissions. It also includes selected case law from other jurisdictions in the region, including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and from several African jurisdictions. SCC online also includes other Indian legal materials: acts and rules, articles, secondary sources, treaties, and more.
SCC Online can be hard to log into, especially if you have done so on your computer in the past and have not cleared your browser cache. If the directions below do not work for you, contact a research librarian for help (https://asklib.law.harvard.edu).
You should now be on the main search screen. If this is not the type of search you want to do, return to the dashboard by clicking the icon with 9 little boxes in it at the top of the screen. The dashboard provides all the options you need for finding cases by citation, party name, or topic, in addition to browsing law reports, judgments, acts and rules, secondary materials and more.
According to Part V, Chapter I of the Indian Constitution, the head of state is the President, who appoints the members of the Council of Ministers (headed by the Prime Minister, in whom executive power is, for all intents and purposes, considered to vest) and the judges who serve on the Supreme Court.
Also falling under the executive branch of the Indian government are the Union Ministries (including the Ministry of Law and Justice), Union Government Departments (including the Department of Legal Affairs), and Commissions (including the Law Commission of India).
The executive is granted certain powers related to legislation. For example, the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law and Justice is responsible for drafting legislation for the Central Government. Other ministries also contribute to the drafting of bills based on their subject matter.
In addition, under Article 123 of the Indian Constitution, the President can enact ordinances when Parliament is not in session, although these ordinances can only become permanent law if the Parliament approves them after returning from its recess.
Indian national and state legislation has been published by a lot of different entities under a lot of different names, so you may need to do several searches in HOLLIS to find the publication that has the law you are looking for. The searches below include the various ways Harvard's library catalogers have named and described Indian publications that include legislation over the years.
In addition to the subscription databases Manupatra and SCC Online, there are several freely-available online sources for Indian legislative materials.
Part V, Chapter IV of the Indian Constitution establishes the Union Judiciary, at the head of which is the Supreme Court of India. As India is a common law jurisdiction, opinions issued by the Supreme Court are binding on all other Indian courts (see Art. 141).
India's judiciary is also comprised of regional courts throughout the country, including High courts and District courts. For disputes involving government employees, India has a network of Administrative Tribunals.
Note: In Indian legal bibliography, the term "law journal" can mean many different things, including a case law reporter.
Over time, there have been hundreds of publications reporting cases decided in India's courts, and some of them have changed their names several times. The Supreme Court of India's Equivalent Citation Table can help a researcher not only make sense of the various case reporter names, but also determine parallel citations if necessary.
Harvard has been collecting Indian case law reporters for many, many years. To find Indian judicial decisions in the law library's print book collection, try the searches below, which include the various ways Harvard's library catalogers have named and described the relevant publications.
Most Indian government websites are in the "gov.in" domain. You can search for materials on government websites using Google using this query format:
This search will return all sites that include the word "circulars" on Indian government sites. ("Circular" is a name used for a document that a government entity releases to describe its activities.)
Some Indian government sites are in the "nic.in" domain ("NIC" is the Central Government's National Informatics Centre). So if your "gov.in" domain search does not return the results you are looking for, try the same search using "nic.in" instead.
In Indian legal bibliography, the term "law journal" can mean many different things, including a case law reporter or a legal periodical that publishes article-length scholarly works (like what is called a "law review" in the United States).
A helpful overview of law journals, including abbreviation tables, is provided in the Union Catalogue of Legal Journals, maintained by the Judges' Library of the Supreme Court of India.
Scholarly Law Journals
Many scholarly law journals in India are published by law schools. Depending on the journal and the publication date, they can be found open-access through a law school website, through a subscription database (such as HeinOnline, Sage, Jstor, or Taylor and Francis), and/or in the library's print collection.
To find journals in our collection, you can search the HOLLIS library catalog. However, it might be easier and faster to check the list of journals published at Indian law schools below, in case the one you want is available open access online.
If you need help finding an article, please contact a librarian.
The Kluwer Online subscription database's International Encyclopedia of Laws includes an entry for India in each of the subject areas listed below. Click the link, provide your HarvardKey credentials if necessary, and then click India under National Monographs.
Below are some suggested HOLLIS searches for materials on Indian law, with the results limited to books in the collections of Harvard's libraries. Click a link to view the search results.
Searches by Subject or Source Type
Searches by Publisher
The searches listed below represent major Indian and international publishers of books on law. Some Indian publishers have general names like "Law House," and the searches below attempt to incorporate all of the possible name options. The search queries with international publishers like Brill, Cambridge, Elgar, Oxford, Routledge, and Springer are likely to include several comparative law titles in which India is one of the jurisdictions that is compared.
In the past, the Harvard Law Library used a proprietary classification system for foreign materials, the Moody System. To learn more about it, visit https://guides.library.harvard.edu/moodysystem.
You should know about this system if you are doing historical legal research in our collection for India. Many of the older materials in the library's offsite storage facility (which cannot be browsed by researchers) still have Moody call numbers, even though the library switched to using the Library of Congress classification system for foreign materials several years ago.
Moody Call Numbers
Call numbers in this system are compiled as follows:
Browsing by Moody Call Number in HOLLIS
For example, if you would like to browse the older treatises about the criminal law of India in our collection, do this:
1. Go to https://hollis.harvard.edu/.
2. Above the search box, click STARTS WITH/BROWSE.
3. In the Browse by drop-down menu, click Call Number - Other.
4. In the search box, enter IN 980
(Note: this means "India + Treatises  + Criminal Law ")
5. Click Search.
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