Important Judgements For Judicial Services Examination Part 2

Here is the continuation of the list of important cases which you can add to your bucket of resources for the judicial services examination. These cases are important for both preliminary and Mains examination. Therefore, not only keywords should be kept at your fingertips by you, but also you shall get yourself well acquainted with the concepts and legal provisions involved therein.

  1. Aghnoo Nagesia vs. State of Bihar, AIR 1966 SC 119 

The question raised in this case was whether a confessional statement in a First Information Report is banned by Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act. Here, the Appellant was convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 for the offence of murder. In this case, the First Information Report was lodged by the appellant himself in which he made a full confession of guilt. However, there were no eyewitnesses to the murder and evidence on record was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It was contended by the defense that whole statements to police were not admissible as evidence and are protected under section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. On the other hand, the prosecution argued that only those parts of statements that disclose killings by the appellant are protected under the said provision. Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 provides that ‘no confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence’. Law regarding confession has been dealt with under section 24 to section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 and Section 162 and section 164 of The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973.

The ban under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 makes a confession inadmissible which is made to a police officer irrespective of the circumstances in which it was made. The ban is partially lifted by section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 which provides that ‘when any fact is deposed to as discovered in consequence of information received from a person accused of any offence, in the custody of a police officer, so much of such information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, maybe proved’. Section 162 of The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 also prohibits the use of statements made to police and provides that ‘no statement made by any person to a police officer in the course of an investigation or any record thereof, whether in a police diary or otherwise, or any part of such statement or record, be used for any purpose. However, section 162(2) of The Code of Criminal Procedure Code 1973 expressly excludes section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 from the application of this provision. 

Hence, the parts which come under the purview of Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 can be used and the rest of the confessional statement can not be proved against the appellant.  The issue was raised that Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 applies only to information from a person who is accused of an offence and is in the custody of a police officer and in this case the appellant was arrested after the First Information Report was lodged which led to the discovery of dead bodies and weapons. It was observed that the accused is deemed to have submitted to the custody of a police officer and thus is in constructive custody of police once he reaches the police station to give information. Here, it has to be kept in mind that the First Information Report is not a substantial piece of evidence but can be used for corroboration and contradiction. The appellant, in this case, was acquitted because the evidence was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

  1. Satyabrata Ghosh vs. Mungneeram Bangur & Co., AIR 1954 SC 44

In this landmark case of Indian Contract Law, the scope of Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 and meaning of the Doctrine of Frustration of the contract. The subject matter of the contract was land over which the defendant promised to build a residential flat and earnest money was paid by the plaintiff but after the contract was entered, there was temporary requisition of that land by the Government for military purposes. Plaintiff was given options to either take back the earnest money or to wait for the period it would be vacated. Plaintiff compelled for the performance of a promise. The issue was raised whether the contract became frustrated and an additional issue was importing English law of Frustration and applying it in the Indian scenario.

Court asserted that in India, we have positive law in the form of Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 which deals with the Frustration of Contract and English law has only persuasive value. Section 56 Para 2 provides that ‘A contract to do an act which, after the contract is made, becomes impossible, or, by reason of some event which the promisor could not prevent, unlawful, becomes void when the act becomes impossible or unlawful. This provision talks about practical impossibility where the foundation 0f contract becomes impossible or unlawful. The doctrine of Frustration in the Indian legal scenario works on the ground of subsequent impossibility or unlawfulness when the contract becomes impossible or unlawful because of the occurrence of an unexpected event or change in circumstances that were beyond contemplation or control of parties.

Unlike English law, the intention of parties is not involved here. On intention point, Section 56 Para 3 provides that ‘where one person has promised to do something which he knew, or, with reasonable diligence, might have known, and which the promisee did not know, to be impossible or unlawful, such promisor must make compensation to such promisee for any loss which such promisee sustains through the non-performance of the promise’. Here, in this case, the requisition was for a temporary period only, and thus, the contract did not become impossible or unlawful.

  1. Common Cause (A Registered Society) vs. Union of India, (2018) 13 SCC 440

 In this landmark case in the Constitutional history of India, the issue was dealt with whether the right to die with dignity is one of the facets of the Right to Life guaranteed as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This Civil Writ Petition was filed in the year 2005 under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court recognized in this case that the Right to Live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes the right to die in the case of a terminally ill patient or a person in a permanent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Apex Court also recognized the idea of ‘Living Will’ which provides that a person of sound mind and in good health may record his wish of not being kept alive with the help of a life-supporting system or that the life-supporting system shall be withdrawn. However, in such cases, the process of natural death has begun and is accelerated by withdrawal and law does not support ending life in an unnatural way. Here, the court paved way for passive euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide. This case partly overruled the ratio of Gian Kaur’s case that Right to Life does not include Right to die by allowing passive euthanasia in case of a terminally ill patient with no hope of recovery. The referred case has been discussed below.

  1. Smt. Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648

In this case, it was argued that Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is unconstitutional. Section 306 provides that ‘if any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine’. The issue was raised after the Apex Court held in the case of P. Ratings vs. Union of India [(1994) 3 SCC 394] that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 which provides that ‘whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both’ as unconstitutional.

It was argued that since Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is unconstitutional for being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 which provides punishment for abetment of suicide should also be held unconstitutional. In the Gian Kaur case, the Supreme Court held that both section 306 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and section 309 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 provide for punishment for distinct offenses and are mutually exclusive. The case also overruled the P. Rathinam case and the constitutional validity of both provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 was upheld. 

  1. Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh, (2014) 2 SCC 1

This is a landmark case in the arena of Criminal Law where the Supreme Court of India issued guidelines for registration of First Information Report in case of a cognizable offense under section 154 of The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. Section 154(1) provides that ‘every information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence, if given orally to an officer in charge of a police station, shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction, and be read Over to the informant; and every such information, whether given in writing or reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it, and the substance thereof shall be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf.

The Apex Court held that registration of First Information Report is mandatory under Section 154 of The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 if the information disclosed about the commission of a cognizable offence and preliminary inquiry is not required. In case the information does not disclose about cognizable offense, then preliminary enquiry can be conducted only to ascertain whether the offence committed is cognizable or not. The preliminary enquiry must be completed within seven days. The Supreme Court gave an illustrative category of cases in which preliminary enquiry may be done before the registration of the First Information Report. These categories are- matrimonial offenses, commercial offenses, medical negligence cases, corruption cases, cases in which unreasonable delay is there in initiating criminal proceedings. The result of the preliminary enquiry shall be recorded in the General Diary and the informant should be given notice thereof.

  1. Joseph Shine vs Union of India [Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 194 Of 2017]

The Supreme Court, in a momentous instance, invalidated Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, thus decriminalizing the 158-year-old Victorian era Adultery Law. The judgment holds immense significance insofar as it has resulted in overruling all existing jurisprudence which made adultery a criminal offence.

This judgment resulted from a petition filed by a Kerala NRI, Joseph Shine. His primary motivation to file the Public Interest Litigation was to safeguard Indian men from being penalized by vengeful women or their spouses. He made the following contention in his petition – “Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is prima facie unconstitutional insofar as it discriminates against men and hence violates the Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21.” 

The issues for deliberation framed by the Court were –

i) Section 497 is violative of Article 21(2) i.e. “Right to Privacy”
ii) Section 497 is violative of Article 14 and Article 15.

The Center argued in favor of retaining the provision on the ground that Adultery constitutes a “public wrong that results in mental and physical injury to the spouse”. The Apex Court, while referring the matter to a constitutional bench, had made the observation that the provision seemed to emanate from certain “societal presumptions”. 

The court did acknowledge that preserving the sanctity of marriage was an issue, but it noted how Adultery law was antithetical to the Right to Equality insofar as it reduced married women to be commodities of their husbands. In five(5) separate yet concurring judgments, the court emphatically declared Adultery Law as being invalid in its purport and reiterated how the husband could not act as master of the wife.

The constitutional bench made certain pertinent observations in relation to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860:

  • That in granting relief to a woman, it reduced them to victims, which resulted in discriminatory treatment insofar as although Adultery was capable of being committed by both the husband and wife, one was penalized while the other completely absolved.
  • That insofar as Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 carried a saving provision where consent and connivance of the husband could be used as a defence, it went against the conception of a woman’s individual identity.

The court posited the following points to ultimately rule against the validity of the provision

  • Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is Archaic

Section 497 results in the subversion of the autonomy as well as personal freedom of women while making decisions regarding their sexuality. The ideal of Equality is infringed by allowing criminal sanctions to have a gender-specific approach as their basis. “Human sexuality is a fundamental facet of identity” and the provision criminalizing Adultery acts to restrict it by regulating a woman’s autonomy in matters of sexual desires. Owing to sexual autonomy falling within the scope of personal liberty, Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 infringes the Constitutional guarantees of the Right to Life vide Article 21.

Section 497 infringes Article 14 owing to its arbitrary and discriminatory rationale 

  • Husbands do not constitute masters of their wives

The law on Adultery results in placing men and women on unequal pedestals insofar as it emanates from the notion that “women are chattels of their husbands” and effectively grants the husband a right to regulate the sexual autonomy of his wife. The constitutional bench discarded this notion and in clear terms posited how a woman enjoys equal status vis-à-vis a man in every societal aspect.

  • Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is arbitrary

Section 497 was considered as being arbitrary in its purport, because, Firstly, it does not serve to preserve the “sanctity of marriage”, which purportedly was the primary objective of the law, as no adultery is committed in case the husband acquiesces to the wife’s extra-marital affair. Secondly, there exists no legal provision that permits a wife to launch a complaint against her husband where he engages in extra-marital relations.

The court additionally advanced that section 497 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 reeks of manifest arbitrariness and requires being invalidated. Further, Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, which prescribes the procedure for its enforcement, needs to be invalidated as well. When the substantive provision goes, the procedural provision requires to be struck down along with it.

  1. SR Bommai vs Union of India [1994 SCC (3)]

This case examined whether President’s Rule can be imposed under Article 356 of The Constitution of India, citing the failure on part of state governments in respecting the ideal of ‘secularism’. The immediate context was the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 and the subsequent communal riots in several parts of the country. The Union Government had invoked Article 356 of The Constitution of India to dismiss six state governments, three of them being BJP ruled states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh) which were seen as complicit in the communal violence, and three others presumably on grounds of political instability (Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland).  

The arguments pertaining to the dismissal of the three BJP governments (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh) turned on whether the powers under Article 356 could have been used while invoking the idea of secularism. The Court expanded the scope of the ‘basic structure ‘ doctrine by advancing it to vindicate the use of these emergency powers, in contrast to employing it to scrutinize changes brought about through constitutional amendments. 

With respect to the other three governments (Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland), the arguments pertained to whether the Centrally appointed Governors had given a fair opportunity to the incumbents to prove their majority inside the respective legislatures. This discussion led to the prescription of a ‘floor test’ (usually conducted as a result of a no-confidence motion brought by the opposition) as an essential requirement before Governors could send reports to the Central Government recommending the imposition of President’s Rule in a State. Furthermore, the Court opined that the reasons for imposing the same could be examined by the judiciary on limited procedural grounds, for instance, the non-production of relevant materials. However, the Courts could not examine the subjective satisfaction of the Central Government which would be based on the reports submitted by Governors. This decision is credited for limiting the use of Article 356 in subsequent years, though that may have more to do with the predominance of coalition governments at the Centre through most of the 1990s and 2000s. 

The verdict primarily posited that the President’s power as regards carrying out a dismissal of a State Government is not of an absolute nature. Further, that the President can exercise such power only post the proclamation imposing President’s rule is ratified by both houses of Parliament. Until then, the President’s powers were limited to suspending the Legislative Assembly by suspending the constitutional provisions related to Legislative Assembly. “The dissolution of Legislative Assembly is not a matter of course. It should be resorted to only where it is found necessary for achieving the purposes of the Proclamation”, the Court said.

The significance of this case lies in its effect of bringing to an end the pervasive phenomenon of arbitrary dismissals of State Governments by a hostile Central Government. 

  1. Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association v. Union of India, [Writ Petition (C) No.13 of 2015]

Through a judgment delivered by a five(5) judge-bench on October 16, 2015, the Supreme Court examined the validity of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) which was sought to be created through the 99th Amendment, 2014 and related legislation. The amendment proposed an alternative to the ‘collegium’ system of appointments which had been in place since the early 1990s, but the proposed NJAC model was held to be violative of the principle of ‘separation of powers’ by a 4-1 majority. The ‘collegium’ model that was evolved through earlier decisions in 1993 and 1998, gives primacy to the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court in matters related to appointments, promotions and transfers in the higher judiciary. However, over time, the ‘collegium’ model has been criticized for being opaque, inefficient, and prone to favoritism and personal bias. As a legislative response, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) was supposed to include six members, namely the three-senior most SC judges, the Union Law Minister and two ’eminent persons’ (who would be selected by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, Law Office and Chief Justice of India). 

In 2015, a challenge to the 99th Amendment’s validity was brought before the Apex Court. The Petitioner’s primary contention revolved around the aforesaid amendment’s capacity of violating the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Since substantive questions of law were involved in the dispute, the petition was referred to a Constitutional Bench. The resulting judgment to date constitutes the lengthiest judgment in Indian judicial history, running for over a thousand pages. 

The Apex Court noted how judicial appointments constituted a basic facet of judicial independence, which in turn is a fundamental part of the Basic Structure. Another primary constituent of the Basic Structure was ensuring ‘Judicial Primacy’ during the selection process. The Court highlighted how the collegium permits executive participation along with maintaining judicial primacy through the collegium. Thus, the NJAC model is violative of the basic structure insofar as it dilutes judicial primacy through its veto provisions. The Court also emphasized how judicial primacy could only be ensured if sufficient institutional safeguards to limit external interference were present. This was owing to the reservations the court had with the idea of political appointees wielding a say in appointing ‘committed’ judges. Another concern for the court was as regards the statutory stipulation that there would be no recommendation in case any two persons were in disagreement with the appointment.

However, the court in clear terms delineated how although judicial primacy and judicial independence were imperative in the appointment process, the collegium system by itself was not. Thus, a substitute system could be envisioned as long as principles laid down in the judgment were complied with. The majority also noted how civil society could partake in the appointment process via a non-binding consultation procedure.

  1. Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain [1975 AIR 865]

This case originated as a dispute pertaining to Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha in 1971, from the Rae Bareilly seat in Uttar Pradesh. Her electoral opponent, Raj Narain had filed an election petition at the Allahabad High Court, citing malpractices during her campaign which included the use of the official state machinery and resources. After proceedings conducted before the HC, the Court found merit in these grievances raised under Section 123(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 and ordered the then Prime Minister’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha on June 12, 1975. An appeal was filed before the SC, and pending the same, the 39th Constitutional Amendment was hurriedly enacted to take away the jurisdiction of the courts in election disputes pertaining to the positions of the Prime Minister, the President and Vice-President respectively. In the meanwhile, a national emergency was declared under Article 352 of The Constitution of India on June 26, 1975, citing the ground of ‘internal disturbances’. The SC bench then had to consider whether they could scrutinize the validity of the 39th Constitutional Amendment by invoking the ‘basic structure’ doctrine announced in the Kesavananda Bharati case. A majority on the bench did proceed to invalidate the 39th Constitutional Amendment, pointing out how it was taking away the jurisdiction of the courts in matters that were central to the working of electoral democracy. It directly threatened basic features such as a democratic form of government’ and the ‘separation of powers’.  It was further posited how the 39th amendment had the capacity of “destroying a set of Constitutional provisions, viz, the resolving election-related disputes through the exercise of judicial power by identifying adjudicative facts and applying the pertinent law in order to determine the real representative of the people”. 

However, despite this authoritative ruling by a five(5) judge bench, the actual merits of the election dispute pertaining to the 1971’s Lok Sabha elections were not adjudicated upon and the matter became redundant after the next Lok Sabha elections held in March 1977. 

  1. Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India [Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 OF 2016]

The Supreme Court, vide its historic judgment in Navtej Singh Johar, read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 insofar as it penalized “consensual sexual intercourse between same-sex adults”, thus emphatically championing an individual’s sexual autonomy and right to choose a sexual partner. The judgment resulted from a writ petition brought by five individuals of the LGBT community, challenging the validity of Section 377. In 2009, in what was a major victory for the rights of the LGBT community, the Delhi High Court had deemed certain parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 unconstitutional vide its judgment in Naz Foundation vs Govt of NCT of Delhi. But this was again overturned by the Supreme Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal vs Naz Foundation, thus effectively restoring the status quo ante.

A constitutional bench deliberated upon the validity of Koushal and framed the following issues for deliberation –

i) Is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 violative of the Right to Equality (Article 14) and Right to Free Speech and Expression (Article 19).

ii) Is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 violative of the Right to Life with Dignity under Article 21.

iii) Whether Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 violates Article 15 insofar as it discriminates on the basis of Sexual Orientation.

The Court noted that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 was discriminatory in its purport as it discriminated against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. To this end, it was violative of Article 14 and Article 15. Additionally, Court also found Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 to be infringing the Rights to Life, Dignity and Personal Autonomy guaranteed to every individual under Article 21. Finally, they ruled that the provision resulted in placing illegitimate fetters on the ability of an LGBT individual to completely realize their identity and thus infringed Article 19(1)(a) and the right to freedom and expression conceptualized therein. The court invoked KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India and its deliberation on Privacy as a fundamental right along with NALSA vs Union of India and its recognition of transgender rights, to posit how the individual and societal rights movement was progressively advancing.

Coming to the Suresh Koushal ruling, the Apex Court highlighted the flawed rationale that was employed in that judgment to ultimately uphold Section 377. The bench in Suresh Koushal advanced the minuscule minority rationale to say that owing to the small proportion of society being negatively impacted by Section 377, a sufficient need for intervention did not exist. To this, the current bench noted how the Constitution and thus judiciary was concerned with upholding the ‘constitutional morality’, as opposed to the ‘popular morality’. In light of all this, the bench unanimously read down the purport of Section 377, thus decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations between adults, not just from the LGBT community but from all parts of society.

We hope that these cases have helped you in having a better understanding of legal provisions.

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