In the past year, the Supreme Court delivered many landmark decisions, paving the way for an optimistic future. While the US Supreme Court adopted a conservative approach and took away the right of abortion, our top court took a liberal approach and extended the right to abortion to unmarried women as well. However, there were certain decisions which were also met with criticism.
Top Supreme Court Judgments of 2022
From putting a pause on sedition law to upholding the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, we have covered a few of the important judgements given by the apex country in the year 2022 in this article.
Let's look into the cases one by one-
1. Recognising sex work as a profession.
Case Name- Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal
Bench- Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and A.S. Bopanna
"Notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21"
In this case, the Supreme Court recognised sex work as a “profession” and held that consenting practitioners of sex work were entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law. The Court also directed UIDAI to issue Adhar Cards to the Sex Workers based on a proforma certificate and, using its inherent powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, issued a few directions for the rehabilitation measures in respect of sex workers like-
if there is any raid on any brothel, the sex workers concerned should not be arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised.
Police should treat all sex workers with dignity and not abuse them verbally and physically, subject them to violence, or coerce them into any sexual activity.
The Press Council of India should issue appropriate guidelines so that the identities of sex workers during arrest, raid and rescue operations shall not be published or telecasted.
Measures that sex workers employ for their health and safety (e.g., use of condoms, etc.)must neither be construed as offences nor seen as evidence of the commission of an offence.
Both Governments shall carry out workshops to educate sex workers about their rights.
2. Upholding validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment
Case Name- Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India
Bench- Former Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi and JB Pardiwala.
“Reservation is not an end but a means – a means to secure social and economic justice”
In this case, the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which provided 10% reservation to the Economic Weaker Section of the General Category, was challenged in the Supreme Court on the basis that it violates the basic features of the Constitution and the Fundamental right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.
The amendment was challenged on the grounds that reservations cannot be based solely on economic criteria, given the Supreme Court’s judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992), and the amendment introduces reservations exceeds the 50% ceiling-limit on reservations, established by Indra Sawhney case.
With a 3:2 ratio, the Supreme Court held that the 103rd Amendment and EWS Reservations are constitutionally valid. Justices Maheshwari, Trivedi and Pardiwala wrote separate concurring opinions for the majority. Justice Bhat wrote a dissent on behalf of himself and Chief Justice U.U. Lalit.
3. Keeping Sedition Law on hold
Case Name- S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India
Bench- Former Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli
“Section 124A of IPC is not in tune with the current social milieu and was intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime.”
Section 124A of Indian Penal Code defines the offence and punishment of Sedition. The said provision was challenged in that it curtails the freedom of speech and expression, and also, the country from which the law was borrowed, i.e., the United Kingdom, has itself repealed it.
The court sent notice of the same to the Government to which the Government replied that it has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provision of section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
The Apex Court gave passed the following Order in the interest of justice-
State and Central Governments should refrain from registering any FIR under section 124A of the IPC.
Investing agency should not continue any investigation or take any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.
If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned Courts for appropriate relief.
All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance.
4. Prohibiting the "Two-Finger Test" in rape cases
Case Name- State of Jharkhand v. Shailendra Kumar Rai
Bench- Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli
“The two finger test has no scientific basis. It instead re-victimises and re-traumatises women.”
In this case, a two-finger test was conducted on the victim to determine whether she was raped.
The Supreme Court reiterated the case of Lillu v. State of Haryana, 2013 and held that the two-finger test violates the Right to Privacy of a Woman. However, the test was still conducted, and hence, the Court in the present case held that if anyone performs a two-finger test on a sexual assault victim, it will be construed as an offence of misconduct and will be penalised accordingly.
The Court noted that “The two-finger test must not be conducted....The test is based on an incorrect assumption that a sexually active woman cannot be raped. Nothing can be further from the truth, it is patriarchal and sexist to suggest that a woman cannot be believed when she states that she was raped, merely for the reason that she is sexually active.”
5. Granting the right to abortion to Unmarried women
Case Name- X v. Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Govt of NCT Delhi
Bench- Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and AS Bopanna
In this case, a 25-year-old unmarried woman approached the High Court of Delhi to terminate a 23-week pregnancy out of a consensual relationship as she was unmarried. The Delhi High Court, however, did not allow her to terminate, quoting that the Court cannot go beyond the Statute as Rule 3B of the MRTP Rules, 2003, excluded unmarried women. The women then approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court noted that the High Court took a narrow view in this case and failed to consider the Amendment of 2021 made to the MTP Act. The Court said that the phrase ‘married woman’ was replaced by ‘any woman’ and the word ‘husband’ was replaced by ‘partner under Section 3 of the MTP Act’. But evidently, there is a gap in the law: while Section 3 travels beyond conventional relationships based on marriage, Rule 3B of the MTP Rules fails to consider a situation involving unmarried women but recognizes other categories of women such as divorcees, widows, minors, disabled and mentally ill women and survivors of sexual assault or rape.
The Court held that “all women are entitled to safe and legal Abortion, and there is no rationale in excluding unmarried women from the ambit of Rule 3B of MTP Rules, which mentions the categories of women who can seek abortion of pregnancy in the term 20-24 weeks.”
The Court also ruled that rape includes ‘marital rape’ for the purpose of MTP Rules.
6. Split decision in Hijab Ban Case
Case Name- Aishat Sifha v. State of Karnataka
Bench- Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia
“The High Court took a wrong path. It is ultimately a matter of choice and Article 19(1)(a) and 25(1). It is a matter of choice, nothing more and nothing less,”- Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia
In this case, 6 students of the Government Pre-university College in Karnatala were barred from attending classes wearing their Hijab as the State Government of Karnataka passed an order restricting the students to attend college wearing Hijab, under the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 and its 1995 Rules. This Order was challenged in the Karnataka High Court, where a 3 Judge Bench of the Court upheld the Ban, stating that wearing of Hijab is not an essential religious practice for Muslims. This Judgment of the High Court was challenged in the Supreme Court by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
A Divisional Bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhansh Dhulia, heard the matter and delivered a split verdict on 13th October 2022.
While Justice Gupta confirmed the Karnataka HC Judgment and upheld the ban, and on the other hand, Justice Dhulia held the opposite and decided in favour of those challenging the ban. The case has now been placed before the CJI to decide whether to refer the case to a 3-judge bench or a 9-judge bench.
7. No individual can be forced to receive Covid Vaccinations
Case Name- Jacob Puliyel v. Union of India
Bench- Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai
“Bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated.”
In this case, a Writ Petition was filed in the Supreme Court highlighting the adverse consequences of emergency approval of vaccines in India. The petitioner contended that mandates of vaccines in the absence of informed consent as unconstitutional. The Petitioner further stated in the Writ Petition that coercive vaccination would interfere with the principle of informed self-determination of individuals protected by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Court found the vaccination policy of the Union of India is not unreasonable and arbitrary. However, the court held bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated. Further, the Court observed: “Personal autonomy of an individual involves the right of an individual to determine how they should live their own life, which includes the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment in the sphere of individual health. People who did not wish to get vaccinated can avoid vaccination; however, if there is a likelihood of such individuals spreading the infection to other people or affecting community health at large, the Government can regulate such public health concerns by imposing certain limitations on individual rights that are reasonable and proportionate to the object sought to be fulfilled.”
The Court also held the restrictions on unvaccinated individuals is not proportionate, as the Court found both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to be equally susceptible to transmission of the virus and thus directed the authorities to review the relevant orders and instructions imposing restrictions on unvaccinated individuals.
8. The top Court laid down guidelines for granting bail
Case Name- Satendra Kumar v. CBI
Bench- Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, M.M. Sundresh
“While dealing with welfare legislation, a purposive interpretation giving the benefit to the needy person being the intendment is the role required to be played by the court.”
Taking note of the increased number of cases seeking bail, mainly because of the wrong interpretation of Section 170 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines regarding the grant of bail. The Court urged the union government to enact a separate law to streamline the grant of bail.
The Apex Court issued the following guidelines-
The courts must satisfy themselves on the compliance of Sections 41 and 41A of the Code. Any non-compliance would entitle the accused for grant of bail.
While considering the application under Sections 88, 170, 204 and 209 of the Code, a bail application need not be compulsorily filed.
The State and Central Governments must comply with the directions issued by SC with respect to the constitution of special courts.
The High Courts are directed to look for the undertrial prisoners who are unable to comply with the bail conditions and take appropriate action in light of Section 440 of the Code to facilitate their release.
Bail applications ought to be disposed of within a period of two weeks except if the provisions mandate otherwise, with the exception being an intervening application. Applications for anticipatory bail are expected to be disposed of within a period of six weeks, with the exception of any intervening application.
9. Daughter’s right to inherit self-acquired property
Case Name- Arunachala Gounder v. Ponnusamy
Bench- Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari
“The legislative intent of enacting Section 14(I) of the Act was to remedy the limitation of a Hindu woman who could not claim an absolute interest in the properties inherited by her but only had a life interest in the estate so inherited.”
In this case, the Court had to determine whether, before the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, the self-acquired property of a Hindu male will devolve onto the daughter upon the death of her father intestate by inheritance or it will devolve on to father’s brother’s son by survivorship.
The Court noted that the ancient texts and commentaries written by various learned persons and even judicial pronouncements "have recognized the rights of several female heirs, the wives and the daughters being the foremost of them."
After analysing Hindu laws, customs and judicial precedents, the Court held that the right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in the partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate is well recognized not only under the old customary Hindu Law, but also by various judicial pronouncements.
10. Apex Court upheld the validity of vast powers conferred to ED under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act
Case Name- Vijay Madanlal Choudhary v. Union of India
Bench- Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar
“Money laundering is one of the heinous crimes, which not only affects the social and economic fabric of the nation but also tends to promote other heinous offences, such as terrorism, offences related to NDPS Act, etc.”
In this case, the Constitutional validity of several provisions like S, 5 (attachment of property), 8(4) [taking possession of attached property), 17 (search and seizure), 18 (search of persons), 19 (powers of arrest), 24 (reverse burden of proof), 44 (offences triable by the special court), 45 (offences being cognizable and non-bailable and twin conditions for grant of bail by court) and 50 (statements made to ED officials) of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was challenged before the apex Court.
The Court upheld all the challenged provisions of the PMLA. The Court also held that the ED did not possess police powers and, as a result, did not have to follow police procedure when conducting an inquiry. Further, the Court noted that reversed burden of proof to receive bail was justified in order to counter the ‘heinous’ crime of money laundering.
2023 definitely seems like a hopeful year, courtesy of the precedents set by our country’s top Court in the past year.