Reminiscing 2014: 15 judgments by the Apex Court that altered the course

Reminiscing 2014: 15 judgments by the Apex Court that altered the course

Here is a list of the 15 judgments (in no particular order) that were rendered in 2014 and which set the law in a different direction:

1. Manohar Lal Sharma The Principal Secretary & Ors.

In a move that embarrassed the parties that have been a part of the Government since 1993, the Supreme Court, in August this year declared the Coal allocation between 1993 and 2009 illegal, arbitrary, non-transparent and was devoid of any procedure. The Court came down heavily on the non-transparent manner in which the allocations had been made and averred, “The  Screening Committee has never been consistent, it has not been transparent,  there  is no proper application of mind, it has acted on no material  in  many  cases, relevant factors  have  seldom  been  its  guiding  factors,  there  was  no transparency and guidelines have  seldom  guided  it.   On many occasions, guidelines have been honored more in their breach.  There was no objective criteria, nay, and no criteria for evaluation of comparative merits. The approach had been ad-hoc and casual.  There  was  no  fair  and  transparent procedure, all resulting in unfair  distribution  of  the  national  wealth. Common good and public interest have, thus, suffered heavily.   Hence, the allocation of coal blocks based on the recommendations made in all the 36 meetings of the Screening Committee is illegal”.

2. National Legal Services Authority Union of India and Other

In this judgment that was hailed by rights activists throughout the country, an apex Court bench comprising of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan directed the Centre and the State Governments to recognize transgender as the third sex and also to provide the benefits of socially and economically backward class to them.

The Bench went beyond its call of duty and directed the Government to develop social welfare schemes and run public awareness campaign to erase the social stigma attached to the community. It asserted that the nonexistence of law recognizing transgender as third gender could not be continued as a ground to discriminate them in availing equal opportunities in education and employment.

3. Shatrughan Chauhan & Anr. Union of India and Ors

Considering the commutation of death sentences of convicts whose mercy petition had been rejected by the President, a three-judge bench of the apex Court issued landmark guidelines relating to Death Penalty, while allowing all the 13 Writ Petitions. The Supreme Court even dismissed the review petition filed by the Centre subsequently.

The judgment is seen as arguably the most impactful judgment of the year, as the Court pronounced it as the duty of the judiciary to step in when the delays in disposing mercy petitions were seen to be “unreasonable, unexplained and exorbitant”.

4. People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Anr. State of Maharashtra & Ors.

The apex Court issued 16 Guidelines to be followed in the matters of investigating police encounters in the cases of death as the standard procedure for thorough, effective and independent investigation. A two Judge Bench comprising of CJI Lodha and Justice RF Nariman held that Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees “right to live with human dignity”. Any violation of human rights is viewed seriously by Court as right to life is the most precious right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It also held that killings in police encounters affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system.

Over the years the Court has considered several encounter cases, including Chaitanya Kalbagh and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Ors and Prakash Kadam and Ors. v. Ramprasad Viswanath Gupta and Anr., where it issued case specific directions. In PUCL, the Court consolidated the procedural safeguards implicit in these earlier judgments and also articulated the procedures for investigation and maintaining records in greater detail.

5. Arnesh Kumar State of Bihar & Anr.

In a judgment that was viewed as a check over abuse of power by the authorities in dowry allegations filed under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Dowry Prohibition Act. The apex Court, while deciding an appeal preferred by a husband who apprehended his arrest in a case under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860   and Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, rewrote the relationship between the Police and the public by issuing strict guidelines to the Police and Magistrate.

The Court directed all State Governments to  instruct  its  police  officers   not   to automatically arrest  when  a  case  under  Section  498-A  of  the  IPC  is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity  for  arrest  under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41, Cr.P.C, among other commendable guidelines issued.

6. Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri & Ors. State of Gujarat

In this appeal filed against the death penalty awarded under POTA and Section 302 of the India, the apex Court acquitted all the six accused in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack in Gujarat.  The accused were awarded sentences by the POTA Court in July 2006. This was the first case, in India, in which the convicts were convicted under POTA.

While acquitting the accused, the Bench comprising of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice V. Gopala Gowda had expressed its anguish over the “incompetence of investigative agencies” and observed, “Before parting with the judgment, we intend to express our anguish about the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the Nation. Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, the police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing.”

7. Arif @ Ashfaq v. The Registrar, Supreme Court of India & Others.

With a majority of 4:1, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by holding that hearing of cases in which death sentence has been awarded should be by a Bench of three Judges and the hearing of Review Petitions in death sentence cases should not be by circulation but should only be in open Court.

While delivering the judgment which altered the path that the judicial system was taking, the Bench observed “when it is a question of life and death of a person, even a remote chance of deviating from such a decision while exercising the review jurisdiction, would justify oral hearing in a review petition. When it comes to death penalty cases, we feel that the power of the spoken word has to be given yet another opportunity even if the ultimate success rate is minimal”.

8. Madras Bar Association Union of India and Anr.

A five Judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice J.S. Khehar, Justice Chelameswar, Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice R.F. Nariman declared Sections 5, 6, 7, 8 and 13 of the National Tax Tribunal Act as unconstitutional.

The National Tax Tribunal Act was seen as a mechanism to reduce arrears, as it would have taken the tax cases from the already burdened High Courts to the Tribunal. The provisions of the now declared unconstitutional act provided that the appeal from NTT could only be heard at the Supreme Court.

The majority on the Bench opined that Parliament could not take away the power of a court and vest the power in something that is not a court by nature. The provisions of the Act that were pronounced unconstitutional formed the backbone of the Act, without which the National Tax Tribunal Act cannot stand.

9. Pramati Educational & Cultural Trust ® & Ord. Union of India & Ors.

A five-Judge Constitutional Bench in May upheld the Constitutional validity of the 93rd amendment to the Constitution of India and RTE Act to the extent that it makes a provision for unaided educational institutions to provide education to economically and socially weaker sections, through 25 % reservation in their educational institutions. The Court however, excluded minority institutions from the purview of the Act.

The judgment has in effect has reduced the rigor of TMA Pai case (T.M.A Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2003)6 SCC 697) as to the supremacy of 19(1) (g) as interpreted in 11 bench judgment.  TMA Pai  which was widely criticized for its stand for advocating the rights of Unaided Private Educational Institutions keeping away the Government from implementing social welfare legislations in the field of education.

10. Subrata Roy Sahara Union of India & Others

The SEBI v. Sahara saga saw a catena of orders being delivered. However, the strongest amongst them was the judgment delivered by a bench comprising of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice J.S. Khehar on May 6th. Coming down heavily on the senior counsels for their “posturing antics, aimed at bench-hunting or bench-hopping”, Supreme Court bench made it clear that “affronts, jibes and carefully and consciously planned snubs” would not deter them from discharging the Court’s onerous duty.

The judges were clearly aghast with the attitude adopted by the counsels for the petitioner and said that, “During the course of their submissions, learned counsel for the petitioner, chose to address the Court by using language, which we had not heard (either as practicing Advocates, or even as Judges in the High Courts or this Court).” The stalwartly judgment was clothed all over with the caveat that no one is above the law.

11. Krishan State of Haryana

Getting rid of the shackles that had been holding the justice system when it came to handling rape cases, apex Court bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice N.V. Ramana ruled that bodily injuries on victim are not necessary to prove the offence of Rape.

Counsel for the appellant submitted before the Supreme Court that when such a forcible assault is committed on a girl, one would expect some sort of injury on any part of her body, but the prosecution story is totally concocted as it is unbelievable that in spite of all the alleged forcible rape, the victim did not sustain any injury and it is evident from her Medical Report that there was no external mark of injury anywhere on her body. He further contented to rule out rape by the accused, that the victim is habitual of sexual intercourse and there were no signs of recent forcible sexual intercourse or injuries on her body. The Bench however, ruled that the charge of rape will sustain even if there is no injuries on the body of the victim, observing that, “The findings of the medical experts clearly established that there was a rape committed against the victim. One cannot expect every rape victim to straightaway go to police station and lodge complaint”.

12. Animal Welfare Board of India A. Nagaraja & Ors.

In a judgment that later won PETA “Man of the Year” Award to Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, a ban was placed on Tamil Nadu’s centuries-old Jallikattu bull fights.

Acts of cruelty on the bulls during these races, as submitted by the AWBI in its three reports, included ear cutting/mutilation, fracture, dislocation of tail bones, frequent defecation, urination, injuries leading to death, biting or twisting a bull’s tail, poking bulls with knives and sticks, using irritants, using nose ropes, cramped conditions, spectators beating and agitating bulls, restraining, roping and other cruelties meted out to the bulls within the arena including mental torture.

The Bench, also comprising of Justice P.C. Ghose, concerned itself with the issue of seminal importance with regard to the Rights of Animals under the Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology, which had to be examined in connection with Jallikattu, bullock cart races, etc in the States of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Besides, 12 declarations and directives were spelled out by the Court.

13. Charu Khurana & Others Union of India & Others

The petition, as the Court observed, “exposes with luminosity the prevalence of gender inequality in the film industry, which compels one to contemplate whether the fundamental conception of gender empowerment and gender justice have been actualized despite number of legislations and progressive outlook in society or behind the liberal exterior, there is a façade which gets uncurtained on apposite discernment.”

The Bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice U.U. Lalit finally struck down the provision putting restriction on women make-up artists and hairdressers in the film industry.

14. Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod State of Maharashtra & Anr.

The Supreme Court in this case overruled the two Judge Bench Judgment in K. Bhaskaran v. Sankaran Vaidhyan  Balan  (1999)  7 SCC 510 wherein  it was held that “the offence under Section 138 of the Act can be completed only with the concatenation of a number of acts. Following are the acts which are components of the said offence: (1) Drawing of the cheque, (2) Presentation of the cheque to the bank, (3) Returning the cheque unpaid by the drawee bank, (4) Giving notice in writing to the drawer of the cheque demanding payment of the cheque amount, (5) failure of the drawer to make payment within 15 days of the receipt of the notice. If the five different acts were done in five different localities any one of the courts exercising jurisdiction in one of the five local areas can become the place of trial for the offence under Section 138 of the Act.”

A three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court finally held that  a Complaint of Dishonor of Cheque can be filed only  to  the  Court  within  whose  local jurisdiction the offence was committed, which  in  the  present  context  is where the cheque is dishonoured by the bank on which it is drawn. The Court clarified that the Complainant is statutorily bound to comply with Section 177 etc. of the Cr.P.C and therefore the place or situs where the Section 138 Complaint is to be filed is not of his choosing. 

15. Shabnam Hashmi Union of India & Ors.

A Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjana Gogoi and Justice S.K. Singh pronounced that Muslims have a right to adopt a child, despite their personal law barring it. The Bench observed that the laws of the land will have priority over personal law, until the country attains a Uniform Civil Code.

The apex court said the time is not suitable to declare the right to adopt a fundamental right, even though it said all individuals have a legal right to adopt a child.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. Let us know about any other judgment that you think had a similar effect on the judicial system, in the comments section below!