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[Section 377 Verdict] No Presumption Of Constitutionality Attached To A Pre-constitutional Statute Like Indian Penal Code: Justice Nariman

6 Sep 2018 11:59 AM GMT
[Section 377 Verdict] No Presumption Of Constitutionality Attached To A Pre-constitutional Statute Like Indian Penal Code: Justice Nariman
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Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, in his concurring opinion, has observed that there is no presumption of constitutionality attaches to a pre-constitutional statute like Indian Penal Code.

Justice Nariman made this observations while he was addressing the question whether the two Judge  judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal is right or not.

He observed as follows;

"Suresh Kumar Koushal’s judgment first begins with the presumption of constitutionality attaching to pre- 89 constitutional laws, such as the Indian Penal Code. The judgment goes on to state that pre-constitutional laws, which have been adopted by Parliament and used with or without amendment, being manifestations of the will of the people of India through Parliament, are presumed to be constitutional. We are afraid that we cannot agree".

Article 372 of the Constitution of India continues laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution. That the Indian Penal Code is a law in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution is beyond cavil. Under Article 372(2), the President may, by order, make such adaptations and modifications of an existing law as may be necessary or expedient to bring such law in accord with the provisions of the Constitution. The fact that the President has not made any adaptation or modification as mentioned in Article 372(2) does not take the matter very much further"

According to Justice Nariman the presumption of constitutionality of a statute is premised on the fact that Parliament understands the needs of the people, and that, as per the separation of powers doctrine, Parliament is aware of its limitations in enacting laws – it can only enact laws which do not fall within List II of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India, and cannot transgress the fundamental rights of the citizens and other constitutional provisions in doing so.

"Parliament is therefore deemed to be aware of the aforesaid constitutional limitations. Where, however, a pre-constitution law is made by either a foreign legislature or body, none of these parameters obtain. It is therefore clear that no such presumption attaches to a pre-constitutional statute like the Indian Penal Code".

"It is a little difficult to subscribe to the view of the Division Bench that the presumption of constitutionality of Section 377 would therefore attach", he said.

Other Observations And Conclusions by Justice RF Nariman

LGBT persons are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them.

  • Persons who are homosexual have a fundamental right to live with dignity, which, in the larger framework of the Preamble of India, will assure the cardinal constitutional value of fraternity.

  • Such groups are entitled to the protection of equal laws, and are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them.

  • Section 377 insofar as it criminalises homosexual sex and transgender sex between consenting adults is unconstitutional.

  • Union of India shall take all measures to ensure that this judgment is given wide publicity through the public media, which includes television, radio, print and online media at regular intervals, and initiate programs to 96 reduce and finally eliminate the stigma associated with such persons. Above all, all government officials, including and in particular police officials, and other officers of the Union of India and the States, be given periodic sensitization and awareness training of the plight of such persons in the light of the observations contained in this judgment.

Below are some observations made by the judge:

    • The definition of mental illness in the 2017 Parliamentary statute makes it clear that homosexuality is not considered to be a mental illness. This is a major advance in our law which has been recognized by the Parliament itself.

    • Given modern psychiatric studies and legislation which recognizes that gay persons and transgenders are not persons suffering from mental disorder and cannot therefore be penalized, the Section must be held to be a provision which is capricious and irrational. Also, roping in such persons with sentences going upto life imprisonment is clearly excessive and disproportionate.

    • Morality and criminality are not co-extensive—sin is not punishable on earth by Courts set up by the State but elsewhere; crime alone is punishable on earth. To confuse the one with the other is what causes the death knell of Section 377, insofar as it applies to consenting homosexual adults.

    • The rationale for Section 377, namely Victorian morality, has long gone and there is no reason to continue with—as Justice Holmes said in the lines quoted above in this judgment—a law merely for the sake of continuing with the law when the rationale of such law has long since disappeared.

    • Given our judgment in Puttaswamy (supra), in particular, the right of every citizen of India to live with dignity and the right to privacy including the right to make intimate choices regarding the manner in which such individual wishes to live being protected by Articles 14, 19 and 21, it is clear that Section 377, insofar as it applies to same-sex consenting adults, demeans them by having them prosecuted instead of understanding their sexual orientation and attempting to correct centuries of the stigma associated with such persons.

    • The fact that only a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians and gays or transgenders, and that in the last 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted for committing the offence under Section 377, is neither here nor there. When it is found that privacy interests come in and the State has no compelling reason to continue an existing law which penalizes same-sex couples who cause no harm to others, on an application of the recent judgments delivered by this Court after Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra), it is clear that Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 have all been transgressed without any legitimate state rationale to uphold such provision.

    • After 2013, when Section 375 was amended so as to include anal and certain other kinds of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, which would not be criminalized as rape if it was between consenting adults, it is clear that if 93 Section 377 continues to penalize such sexual intercourse, an anomalous position would result. A man indulging in such sexual intercourse would not be liable to be prosecuted for rape but would be liable to be prosecuted under Section 377. Further, a woman who could, at no point of time, have been prosecuted for rape would, despite her consent, be prosecuted for indulging in anal or such other sexual intercourse with a man in private under Section 377. This would render Section 377, as applied to such consenting adults, as manifestly arbitrary as it would be wholly excessive and disproportionate to prosecute such persons under Section 377 when the legislature has amended one portion of the law in 2013, making it clear that consensual sex, as described in the amended provision, between two consenting adults, one a man and one a woman, would not be liable for prosecution. If, by having regard to what has been said above, Section 377 has to be read down as not applying to anal and such other sex by a male-female couple, then the Section will continue to apply only to homosexual sex. If this be the case, the Section will offend Article 14 as it will discriminate between heterosexual and 94 homosexual adults which is a distinction which has no rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Section - namely, the criminalization of all carnal sex between homosexual and/or heterosexual adults as being against the order of nature.8 Viewed either way, the Section falls foul of Article 14.

Read the Judgment.

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