Important Supreme Court Cases

UPSC Mains

For use in UPSC Mains and other exams.


Table of contents

SC Doctrines

  1. Doctrine of harmonious construction - balance between FR and DPSP.
  2. Purposive interpretation/construction - when courts utilise extraneous material and internal aids to arrive at an interpretation. Case of judicial activism.
  3. Doctrine of ancillary powers - powers to legislate on a matter also include power to legislate on matters incidental therefrom.
  4. Doctrine of colourable legislation - what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.
  5. Doctrine of pith and substance - Challenging the true nature of legislation rather than ancillary effects.
  6. Doctrine of serverability - only the offending part of the legislation is cut out.
  7. Doctrine of eclipse - any law contradictory to FRs becomes shadowed or eclipsed. It becomes active as soon as the overlying FR is removed.
  8. Doctrine of laches - limitation on the time within which one must claim their rights.
  9. Doctrine of basic structure.
  10. Doctrine of essential religious practices.
  11. Precautionary principle.
  12. Principle of reasonableness.
  13. Principle of proportionality.
  14. Principle of legality - innocent until proven guilty.
  15. Constitutional morality.

Separation of powers

Article 50: State must take steps to ensure separation of judiciary from the executive.

Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy: till 2016, 70 out of last 100 retired SC judges had taken up jobs in quasi-judicial bodies.

Bhim Singh Case: SC held that a strict separation of powers is neither possible, nor desirable. Saying this the SC upheld the validity of the MPLAD and MLALAD schemes.

Second Judges case:

  1. In case of conflict between judiciary and executive, judiciary takes precedence.
  2. Collegium system introduced.

University of Kerala case: 2 judge bench said that judiciary cannot take the role of interim parliament when relevant provisions are missing.



Parliamentary functioning

  1. In 2020, LS functioned for 74% and RS for 86% of their sanctioned hours.
  2. In 2020 question hour functioned 65% in LS and 45% in RS.
  3. Deputy speaker LS not selected 280 days post first sitting. Art 93 says this should happen at the earliest.
  4. 27% bills introduced in the 16th LS were referred to committees.
  5. PrivilegesDerived from Art. 105 and Art. 194

Federalism - competitive, cooperative

SR Bommai case: Guidelines to be followed before proclamation of President's Rule in a state.

  1. Look for the possibility of a floor test for the majority support of the council of ministers.
  2. Centre should give a warning to the state and a week's time to reply.
  3. Assembly can only be suspended by the President and is not dissolved till the Parliament gives its assent to the same. (needs to be done within 2 months)
  4. The courts cannot question advice tendered by CoMs to President/Governor but it can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President.

Govt of NCT Delhi vs LG Case: LG has no independent decision making power. 6 key notions:

  1. Renaissance,
  2. morality,
  3. pragmatism,
  4. objectivity,
  5. purposive interpretation, and
  6. good governance.

Checks and balances

  1. Ordinance Making powers under A123 and A213 of the IC.
  2. In 2020 question hour functioned 65% in LS and 45% in RS.
  3. Only 27% of bills were referred to committees in 16th LS.

Cooper case: President’s satisfaction can be questioned in a court on the grounds of malafide.

D C Wadhwa case: successive re-promulgation of ordinances with the same text without any attempt to get the bill passed by the legislature would amount to violation of the constitution and the ordinance so promulgated is liable to be struck down.

Krishna Kumar Singh case: Failure to place an ordinance before the legislature constitutes abuse of power and a fraud on the Constitution.

IR Coelho case: All laws shielded by the 9th schedule are subject to the test of Art 14, 19 and 21.

2G Spectrum case: SC cancelled allocation and said all national assets to be allocated via auction stepping into executive domain.

Transparency

SC Agarwal case:

  1. Transparency and accountability are necessary for judicial independence.
  2. CJI is a public functionary and subject to RTI.
  3. RTI needs to be balanced with privacy.

SC Agarwal vs Congress case: SC declared political parties as public functionaries under RTI. Parties have not responded positively, another case pending in SC.

DAV College Trust case: NGOs substantially funded by Govt are public authorities under RTI.

Note: RTI Amendment act 2019. FCRA Amendment Act 2019. NGOs receiving foreign aid to give affidavit that not promoting violence or sedition.


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Accountability

Youth Bar Association case: FIR for sensitive cases to be uploaded within 48 hours. Copy to be given to accused too.

Cooper case: President’s satisfaction for promulgating an ordinance can be questioned in a court on the grounds of malafide.

SR Chaudhuri case: resignation and re-appointment of minister before 6 month period is over and not standing for election is unconstitutional.

Biman Bose case: Governor cannot nominate MLCs on their own. Must have Cabinet recommendation. (Recent case of Kerala Gov'nor turning down Cabinet call for assembly session. Outside discretionary purview.)

Ashwini Upadhyay case: parties must publish criminal cases pending against candidates and publish reasons for selecting them.

Judicial activism - examples

Nilabati Behera case: Necessary compensation to victims of custodial torture as it violates Art 21.

Hussanara Khatoon case: relaxation of locus standi. Free legal aid. Later integrated as Art 39A.

Ashwini Upadhyay case: parties must publish criminal cases pending against candidates and publish reasons for selecting them.

Arjun Gopal case: Banning fireworks in Delhi NCR with exceptions.

Sabarimala case:

  1. SC allowing entry of women into temple against essential religious practice.
  2. Human dignity above religious freedom.

Kesavananda Bharati case: created doctrine of basic structure.PIL as an innovation.

Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum case: SC gave the Precautionary principle. When threats of serious and irreversible damage exist, the absence of scientific certainty shouldn't be the reason for delaying measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Babita Puniya case: permanent commission for women in the Armed forces.

Vineeta Sharma case: daughters have equal right to inherit under Hindu Succession act. Karta in HUF.

Judicial overreach - examples

Sabarimala case:

  1. SC allowing entry of women into temple against essential religious practice.
  2. Human dignity above religious freedom.

Shyam Narayan Chouksey case: National anthem mandatory before film screening. Neglected Bijoe Emmanuel ruling. Imposing patriotism via fiat.

Arrive Safe Society case: SC banned sale of liquor 500 m from national higways leading to confusion. Accidental death from drunk driving at 4% while from over speeding at 44%, no empirical reason.

2G Spectrum case: SC cancelled allocation and said all national assets to be allocated via auction stepping into executive domain.

Secularism

Shirur Mutt case: Essential religious practices to be determined from the doctrines of the religion itself. (Shamim Ara case derived from this)

Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo case: In 1995 a 3 judge bench ruled that Hindutva is a way of life, appeals based on Hindutva not disqualified under section 123(3) of RPA.

Abhiram Singh vs CD Commachen case: In 1996 a 7-judge bench held that appealing to the ascriptive identities of any candidate and that of the voters constitutes a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123(3) of the RPA.

Sabarimala case:

  1. SC allowing entry of women into temple against essential religious practice.
  2. Human dignity above religious freedom.
  3. Common thread of human dignity runs through part III.

Basic structure

Golak Nath case: Difference between legislative and constituent powers of the Parliament.24th Amendment: Article 368 says that judiciary can't review Amendments.

Kesavananda Bharti case: Basic structures doctrine.

Minerva Mills: 42nd Amendment struck down because it violates basic structure. Parliament can't use it's limited power to amend to give itself unlimited powers.

IR Coelho case: All laws shielded by the 9th schedule are subject to the test of Art 14, 19 and 21.

Emergency

ADM Jabalpur case: All writs stand suspended under emergency.

Justice Puttaswamy case: over-ruled ADM Jabalpur. Right to life existed before the constitution.

Preamble

Berubari Union case: Preamble is not part of the consitution.

Kesavnanda Bharati case: previous view overturned, Preamble part of the constitution.

LIC case: Again held that preamble is part of the constitution.

Directive Principles of State Policy

Kerala Education Bill case: Doctrine of harmonious construction. FRs and DPSPs go hand in hand.

Minerva Mills case: Laws under Art 31C protected only if made to implement Art 39(a), (b).

Olga Tellis case: DPSPs are fundamental to the governance of the nation.

Dalmia Cements case: DPSP are the conscience of the constitution.

Ashok Kumar Thakur case: DPSP are not enforceable doesn't mean they are subordinate. Art 46 says state must endeavour to promote interests of SC/ST and other weaker sections.

Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties

Kesavananda Bharati case: Connected Art 14, 19 and 21 and introduced test of reasonableness.

Puttaswamy Case: Test of reasonableness and proportionality.

Anuradha Bhasin case: Internet use protected under A19. An FR. (Bans under S 144 of CrPC - unlawful assembly). Ban should stand test of proportionality.

Subramanium Swamy case: SC upheld criminal defamation under S.499 and 500 of IPC.

Bijoe Emmanuel case: Disrespect is said to occur when it is wilfully done to show disrespect (mens rea). Not standing or not singing does not necessarily constitute disrespect.

Faheema Shirin case: access to internet a basic right. Kerala HC.

Schedule X - norms and cases

Kihoto Hollohan: Schedule X is constitutionally valid.

Keisham Singh case: Parliament should create an independent tribunal for adjudicating disputes under Schedule X.

Karnataka MLA disqualification case: SC said speaker has right to disqualify but cannot set term. Disqualified members eligible to fight bye-elections.

Constitution Review Commission: defectors shouldn't be allowed to hold political office for the remainder of the term.


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Representation of People Act,1951

Lily Thomas case: MP/MLA/MLC convicted of crime with min 2 year punishment are immediately disqualified.

Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo case: In 1995 a 3 judge bench ruled that Hindutva is a way of life, appeals based on Hindutva not disqualified under section 123(3) of RPA.

Abhiram Singh vs CD Commachen case: In 1996 a 7-judge bench held that appealing to the ascriptive identities of any candidate and that of the voters constitutes a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123(3) of the RPA, 1951.

PUCL case: SC held that voting is a statutory right only.

ADR case: Voters have a right to know the antecedents of people running for elected office.

Election Commission of India

Ashwini Upadhyay case: parties must publish criminal cases pending against candidates and publish reasons for selecting them.

Chandrababu Naidu case: VVPAT verification in 5 polling stations per constituency.

Harbans Singh Jalal case: MCC comes into force the moment elections are announced.

Ram Deo Bhandari case: issuance of ID cards to voters.

Vulnerable sections

Indira Sawhney case:

  1. SC upheld OBC reservation.
  2. No reservation in promotion for Group A/B.
  3. Struck down 10% reservation for economically backward sections.

Ashok Kumar Thakur case:

  1. SC upheld OBC creamy layer. Creamy layer not applicable to SC/STs.
  2. No separation made between 2 sets of rights. FRs give civil and political rights, DPSPs give socio economic right.
  3. DPSP are not enforceable doesn't mean that they are subordinate.

Hema Vijay Menon case: Bombay HC said that even commissioning mothers, having a child through surrogacy, are entitled to maternity leave.

Olga Tellis case: Squatting illegal but BMC must provide alternative housing to slum dwellers.

Almitra Patel case: Giving accommodation squatters is like rewarding a pick pocket. Land grabbers should be dealt with an iron fist.

Rajeev Kumar Gupta case: 3% reservation in direct recruitment and promotions for people with disabilities. Upheld section 33 of Persons with Disabilities Act.

Minorities

Shah Bano case: muslim women have right to maintenance. Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act 1986 brought to counter this.

Shamim Ara case: invalidate instant and triple talaaq based on the understanding that triple talaaq is not an essential part of Islam. Muslim women rights in marriage act 2019.

Naz foundation case: LGBTQ rights in India. Decriminalised S.377 of IPC.

PA Inamdar case: reservation norms not applicable to MEI.

Azeez Basha case: Institutes established by Parliament cannot be MEI under A30.

St. Stephens case: Upto 50% reservation for minority community in MEI.

WB Madarsah Service Commission case: regulation to ensure excellence doesn't interfere with rights under A30.

TMA Pai case:

  1. Status of minorities under Art 30 has to be considered state wise.
  2. Rights under A30 cannot override national interest. Any regulation so framed would apply to minority institutions as well.
  3. Government regulations cannot destroy the minority character of any insitution.
  4. Right to administer doesn't include right to mal-administer.

Alternative Dispute Redressal Mechanism

Vishnu Lochan Madan case: Sharia courts are not courts because the Indian legal system does not recognise a parallel judicial system. But the SC also refused to deem them unconstitutional. As ADR mechanism similar to Lok Adalats.

Civil services

Nagaraj Case: State not bound to provide for reservations in promotion. However, it can do so after collecting quantitative data on representation of various communities.

DK Basu Case: Guidelines for arrest.

  1. Arresting personnel should carry ID tags with their designation.
  2. Particulars of all personnel handling the arrest should be recorded in the register.
  3. Arrest memo to be prepared in the presence of a witness.
  4. The person arrested shall have the right to inform one person of his arrest and location.
  5. If next of kin/friends live out of district then the police bears the responsibility of informing them within 8-12 hours of arrest.
  6. Person arrested should be informed as soon as arrested of his right to inform someone about the same. (Miranda warning in US)
  7. Entry should be made in the diary about the person informed about the arrest.
  8. Arrestee should be examined by a trained doctor every 48 hours while under detention.
  9. Arrestee to be allowed to meet their lawyer during interrogation, but not throughout the interrogation.
  10. Copies of the arrest record should be shared with the Magistrate and the Police Control Room. PCR should display the same conspicuously.

Intellectual Property Rights

RG Anand case: a concept is not entitled to copyright protection.

Rameshwari Photocopy Services case: Copyright is intended to increase and not impede knowledge. No law can be interpreted so as to result in any regression of the evolvement of the human being for better.

E-Governance Guidelines

  1. Improved delivery and efficiency. Dashboards.
  2. Streamlined interaction between government and beneficiaries. GeM portal.
  3. Empowerment through access to information. RTI online.
  4. Increased transparency. Proactive information sharing on websites.
  5. Cost savings in operations. Files monitored digitally.
  6. Increased accountability. Delays can be tabulated and weak links identified.


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