In this article, Sagnik Chatterjee who is currently in IInd Year pursuing BA.LL.B, from Symbiosis Law School, Pune, discusses about the De Minimis Non-Curat Lex.
Meaning of the maxim
The principle De Minimis Non-Curat Lex finds it’s origin in the fifteenth century. The actual meaning of the Latin maxim is “law is not concerned with small things”. This is a legal doctrine by which a court can easily refuse to try trivial matters in the court.
It is a common law principle that ensures that judges do not have to try or take notice of extremely minor or trivial violations of the law. And when an issue like such actually appears in front of the court and the judges apply this doctrine it leads to the action being dismissed in the court. Although there are no particular characteristics of a case for it to be held as a minor one and it also varies from case to case according to the circumstances at hand but often the judges decide whether a case is trivial in nature or not by seeing the value of the suit, for instance, if one party has filed a suit for claiming a nominal amount of money from the other party the court will not entertain such matter. In addition to that, for the existence of the doctrine and the knowledge of the same parties consider an appeal for trivial matters before filing as it will most likely to be a complete waste of time and resources.
Applicability in English Law
Through all these years this principle was followed deciding the English law cases. In People v Durham, the appellant filed a suit in the court because he did not like a particular traffic citation and also asked for a remedy of 5 dollars, now the court here in observed that,
“Litigation like this brings the judiciary into disrepute. Rational citizens (not connected with the law) would consider this appeal to be a complete waste of time and resources for all concerned. The time and money already spent on bringing this appeal amount to wasting resources. We will not be a part of further squandering.”
In another leading case of Coward v. Baddeley, a fire broke out in the city and the firemen arrived at the spot and started doing their work and a bystander touched a fireman on his arm to draw his attention to another part of a building which was also burning. Now the fireman went to court and filed a suit for battery against the bystander for the battery. The court in after looking into the facts and circumstances of the case held that the by-stander was not liable for battery and applying the maxim de minimis non curat lex dismissed the suit filed.
But there were few exceptions also to this principle too. Like in the case of Helford v. Bailey , the plaintiff filed a case against the defendant for trespassing into his property as the defendant cast her net over a water body which exclusively belonged to the plaintiff, for fishing but then pulled out his net without catching any fish or harming the exclusive rights of it in any manner. Now the contention of the plaintiff in this particular matter was though the defendant had not actually caused harm to the property this time but that does not dilute the fact committed by him which was trespassing and which is still a tort. The court here actually upheld the contention of the plaintiff and declared the exclusive use of the water body to the plaintiff to avoid any such interferences even in the future.
Applicability in India
In India, this doctrine of de minimis non curat lex is embedded in Section 95 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. It says,
95. Act causing slight harm.—Nothing is an offence by reason that it causes, or that it is intended to cause, or that it is known to be likely to cause, any harm, if that harm is so slight that no person of ordinary sense and temper would complain of such harm.
This section says that if a crime under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is committed but the commission of such act is so minor that it does not necessarily lead to any harm caused to the other party or very minimal harm caused to the other party so that the party harmed is entitled to a negligible amount of compensation, then the act committed will not be regarded as a crime and hence the suit will not be entertained in the court of law. In other words, the harm resulting from an offence if it is so small and trivial that no person of ordinary sense and temper would complain about such harm.
Smt. Somawanti v. State of Punjab was one of the first cases on this principle in this country. Here in the Supreme Court pronounced that the legal maxim can be applied to the appellate courts if the appeal made is unnecessary in the view of the court and observed that,
“they are not intended to be repeated by others or used in such a way that a book can be used, but the de minimis non curat lex principle still applies to a supposed wrong in taking part in dramatic works as well as in reproducing a part of a book.”
In the case of State (Delhi Administration) v. Puran Mal there were certain evidences found of adulteration in the food by the manufacturer company, and the company contended that since the adulterated food had not been yet consumed by any human and hence no harm has been caused to any party so this would fall under the ambit of the maxim of de minimis non curat lex. But the court here observed that this act of food adulteration committed by the company was of a serious nature and it could have been very fatal to the society and hence it does not fall under this maxim.
In State of Bihar and Ors v. Harihar Prasad Debuka and Ors. it was held by the court that checking documents or filling in and submitting forms and returns in public offices and detouring to a public weighbridge and alike activities if there is no active intention of the authorities proved to deliberately delay such process unreasonably apart from what it usually takes, it falls under the maxim de minimis non curat lex.
So as we see in the above mentioned case laws that the doctrine of de minimis non curat lex is very much in practical use in this country to ensure no one takes bad advantage of the judicial system of the country and waste court’s time in solving trivial issues. But also there is no specific guidelines yet in order to determine that one case law is trivial and thus it is completely based on the discretion of the judges in each case according to the different facts and circumstances at hand.
 915 NE 2d 40
 (1849) 18 L.J.Q.B. 109
 AIR 1963 SC 151
 A.I.R. 1985 S.C. 741
 A.I.R. 1989 S.C. 1119.
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