2020 has been a year of COVID-19, challenges, and changes. Of many things that this year has taught us, one of the biggest lessons has been our ability to work from home alone – but together! Like most of us, the Courts too took the cue and started functioning via video conferencing when the pandemic hit the World. At first, the Supreme Court restricted it’s functioning to avoid mass gatherings in Courts and directed that only urgent matters will be heard, however, soon all the in-person hearings were completely banned and the Court directed that it would hear “extremely urgent” matters via video conferencing.
Ultimately, faced with the unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic, Supreme Court issued guidelines on functioning of courts through video conferencing. It said that it was necessary that Courts at all levels respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of virus.
When the video conference hearings first began, the Courts and the public at large were skeptical about it’s success, however, the Supreme Court, in October, said that the “the system of Video Conferencing has been extremely successful in providing access to justice.”
Read: SC says “system of Video Conferencing has been extremely successful”; alters only one guideline from April 6 order
Here are a few unmissable facts and stories from the highest Court of the country:
- Even though most of the Court functioning took place online and through video conferencing, 696 judgments were delivered in the year 2020 .
- All the Constitution bench verdicts were unanimous with no dissenting opinion. [Read more]
- In a first, Single-Judge bench started hearing cases. [Read more]
- A new dress code was notified for advocates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Read more]
- 228 advocates registered as Advocates-on-Record of the Supreme Court. [Read more]
- 2 judges, Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Arun Mishra retired
- Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy accused Justice NV Ramana, the sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India and also the next in line to become the Chief Justice of India, of attempting to destabilize and topple the YSR Congress government in the state.
Read: “Justice Ramana’s proximity with Mr. Chandrababu Naidu is too well-known”; Read what Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan Mohan Reddy wrote in his letter to CJI
Here’s a quick roundup of all the important Supreme Court judgments:
- All the Constitution bench verdicts were unanimous with no dissenting opinion.
- 9 out of 11 Constitution bench judgments were delivered by benches consisting of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran and M.R. Shah, followed by Justices Aniruddha Bose and S. Ravindra Bhat who were part of Constitution benches in 5 and 4 cases, respectively.
The bench ofIndu Malhotra and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ framed guidelines on overlapping jurisdiction under different enactments for payment of maintenance, payment of Interim Maintenance, the criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance, the date from which maintenance is to be awarded, and enforcement of orders of maintenance.
Also read: Guidelines
A 3-judge bench issued extensive directions in relating to selection, appointment, tenure, conditions of service, etc. relating to various tribunals, 19 in number, thereby calling for certain modifications to the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities [Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members] Rules, 2020.
“Dispensation of justice by the Tribunals can be effective only when they function independent of any executive control: this renders them credible and generates public confidence.”
Also read: ‘It’s high time we put an end to the disturbing trend of Govt ignoring our directions.’ Read why Supreme Court directed constitution of National Tribunals Commission
[Madras Bar Association v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 962 ]
Lottery, betting and gambling are well known concepts and have been in practice in this country since before independence and were regulated and taxed by different legislations. When Act, 2017 defined the goods to include actionable claims and included only three categories of actionable claims, i.e., lottery, betting and gambling for purposes of levy of GST, it cannot be said that there was no rationale for including these three actionable claims for tax purposes.
The bench of UU Lalit and Vineet Saran, JJ held that the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA Act) does not bar the initiation of proceedings by allottees against the builders under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
[Imperia Structures v. Anil Patni, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 894 ]
“The domestic violence in this country is rampant and several women encounter violence in some form or the other or almost every day, however, it is the least reported form of cruel behavior. A woman resigns her fate to the never-ending cycle of enduring violence and discrimination as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a partner or a single woman in her lifetime.”
[Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 841 ]
Daughters’ coparcenary rights
The 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJheld that daughters have right in coparcenary by birth and that it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living when the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 came into force.
“The conferral of right is by birth, and the rights are given in the same manner with incidents of coparcenary as that of a son and she is treated as a coparcener in the same manner with the same rights as if she had been a son at the time of birth.”
[ Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, (2020) 9 SCC 1 ]
The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has ordered that the permanent commission will apply to all women officers in the Indian Army in service, irrespective of their years of service.
“Underlying the statement that it is a “greater challenge” for women officers to meet the hazards of service “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families” is a strong stereotype which assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on women.”
[Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya, (2020) 7 SCC 469]
The 3-judge bench of Rohinton Fali Nariman, S Ravindra Bhat and V Ramasubramania, JJ has struck down the curb on trading in virtual currency, cryptocurrency and bitcoins in India.
In the 180 pages long verdict penned by Justice Ramasubramania, it was held,
“When the consistent stand of RBI is that they have not banned Virtual currencies (VCs) and when the Government of India is unable to take a call despite several committees coming up with several proposals including two draft bills, both of which advocated exactly opposite positions, it is not possible for us to hold that the impugned measure is proportionate.”
[Internet & Mobile Assn. of India v. Reserve Bank of India, (2020) 10 SCC 274 ]
The 3-judge bench of RF Nariman*, KM Joseph and Anirudhha Bose, JJ directed all the States and UTs to install CCTV cameras in all Police Stations and file compliance affidavits within 6 weeks. The Court said that the directions are in furtherance of the fundamental rights of each citizen of India guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and hence, the Executive/Administrative/police authorities are to implement this Order both in letter and in spirit as soon as possible.
[Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 983 ]
“Whatever stay has been granted by any court including the High Court automatically expires within a period of six months, and unless extension is granted for good reason, within the next six months, the trial Court is, on the expiry of the first period of six months, to set a date for the trial and go ahead with the same.”
[Also read detailed report on the 2018 verdict in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 310, here.]
A bench of RF Nariman and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ directed all political parties to upload on their website details of pending criminal cases against candidates contesting polls, noting that there has been an alarming increase in criminalisation of politics. The Court said political parties will also have to upload reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases on their website.
[Rambabu Singh Thakur v. Sunil Arora, (2020) 3 SCC 733 ]
A 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has upheld the constitutional validity of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, and said that a court can grant anticipatory bail only in cases where a prima facie case is not made out. In the unanimous verdict, Justice Mishra penned the opinion for himself and Justice Saran whereas Justice Bhat wrote a separate but concurring opinion.
[Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India, (2020) 4 SCC 727 ]
The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana*, Sanjiv Khanna** and Krishna Murari, JJ overruled the ratio in Himangni Enterprises v. Kamaljeet Singh Ahluwalia, (2017) 10 SCC 706 wherein it was held that landlord-tenant disputes governed by the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, are not arbitrable as this would be contrary to public policy.
[Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1018 ]
In a reference dealing with the interpretation of Section 65B of the Evidence Act, 1872 that deals with admissibility of electronic records, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, S. Ravindra Bhat and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ held that the certificate required under Section 65B(4) is a condition precedent to the admissibility of evidence by way of electronic record, as correctly held in by the 3-judge bench in Anvar P.V. v. P.K. Basheer, (2014) 10 SCC 473, and incorrectly “clarified” by a division bench in Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh, (2018) 2 SCC 801. The Court further clarified that the required certificate under Section 65B(4) is unnecessary if the original document itself is produced.
[Arjun Panditrao Khotkar v. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal, (2020) 7 SCC 1 ]
The bench of SK Kaul and Indu Malhotra, JJ has recommended the Central Government to consider the efficacy of the advance tax ruling system and make it more comprehensive as a tool for settlement of disputes rather than battling it through different tiers, whether private or public sectors are involved. It suggested that a council for Advance Tax Ruling based on the Swedish model and the New Zealand system may be a possible way forward.
Writing two postscripts, the Court said that it was forced to do so on account of the backbreaking dockets which are ever increasing and as a move towards a trust between the Tax Department and the assessee.
[National Co-operative Development Corporation v. Commissioner of Income Tax, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 733 ]
Asking Telecom Operators to make the payment of 10% of the total AGR dues as by 31.3.2021, the 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, SA Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ gave 10 years to the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to complete the payment of their AGR dues.
[Union of India v. Assn. of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, (2020) 9 SCC 748 ]
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code is at a nascent stage and it is better that the interpretation of the provisions of the Code is taken up by the Supreme Court to avoid any confusion.
[Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India v. Lalit Kumar Jain, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 884 ]
Putting the last nail in the coffin for the Nirbhaya death row convicts, the 3-judge bench of R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ dismissed the plea file by Pawan Kumar Gupta challenging the rejection of his mercy petition by the President on the ground that his plea of juvenility had not been finally determined and this aspect was not kept in view by the President of India while rejecting his mercy plea.
The hearing took place late at night at 2:30 AM.
[Pawan Kumar Gupta v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 340 ]
“Democracy and dissent go hand in hand, but then the demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. The present case was not even one of protests taking place in an undesignated area, but was a blockage of a public way which caused grave inconvenience to commuters. We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest.”
The 3-judge bench of SK Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, JJ has, in the Shaheen Bagh protests matter, held that while there exists the right to peaceful protest against a legislation, public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied in such a manner and that too indefinitely.
[Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 808 ]
“Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order.”
Refusing to interfere with the ongoing Farmers’ protest, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ said that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police.
[Rakesh Vaishnav v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1032 ]
Sushant Singh Rajput Death Case
“When truth meets sunshine, justice will not prevail on the living alone but after Life’s fitful fever, now the departed will also sleep well. Satyameva Jayate.”
A single judge bench of Hrishikesh Roy, J has held the ongoing investigation by the CBI to be lawful and further directed that if any other case is registered on the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the surrounding circumstances of his unnatural death, the CBI is directed to investigate the new case as well.
[Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 654 ]
After finding advocates Vijay Kurle, Nilesh Ojha and Rashid Khan Pathan guilty of levelling scandalous allegations against Justice RF Nariman and Justice Vineet Saran, the bench of Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has sentenced all 3 to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of 3 months each with a fine of Rs. 2000/-. It further said that in default of payment of fine, each of the defaulting contemnors shall undergo further simple imprisonment for a period of 15 days.
[Vijay Kurle, In re, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 407 and Rashid Khan Pathan v. Vijay Kurle, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 711]
Vikas Dubey Encounter
After Vikas Dubey, a history-sheeter and gangster-turned-politician, was killed in a police encounter on July 10, 2020, the Supreme Court gave a go ahead to Inquiry Committee headed by Former SC judge Justice B S Chauhan.
Later, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ refused to scrap the Judicial Committee constituted to look into the killing of Vikas Dubey and said that the allegations of bias made against the members of the Commission merely on the basis of newspaper reports and nothing more, are liable to be rejected outright.
“ … the Chairman and a Member of the Commission had held high Constitutional positions and while making allegations the petitioner has based his claim only on the newspaper report and the manner in which the averments are made in the application is unacceptable.”
[Ghanshyam Upadhyay v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 587 and 2020 SCC OnLine SC 658 ]
Prashant Bhushan Contempt proceedings
The 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ has, in a 108-pages long verdict, held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt in the suo motu contempt petition initiated against him after he criticised the Supreme Court and the sitting and former CJIs in a couple of tweets. It held,
“The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing of ‘criminal contempt’.
The Court, however, sentenced Bhushan with a fine of Rupee 1 for his contemptuous tweets and said
“If we do not take cognizance of such conduct it will give a wrong message to the lawyers and litigants throughout the country. However, by showing magnanimity, instead of imposing any severe punishment, we are sentencing the contemnor with a nominal fine of Re.1/ (Rupee one).”
[Prashant Bhushan, In re, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 646 and 2020 SCC OnLine SC 698 ]
In another contempt proceeding against Bhushan, after refusing to accept the explanation of advocate Prashant Bhushan in the 2009 contempt petition against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Tehelka Tarun Tejpal, the 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and MR Shah, JJ framed larger questions in the matter that will have far-reaching ramifications.
[Amicus Curiae v. Prashant Bhushan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 651 ]
The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ issued notice to cartoonist Rachita Taneja and comedian Kunal Kamra in two separate cases relating contemptuous social media posts.
[Shrirang Katneshwarkar v. Kunal Kamra, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1041 and Aditya Kashyap v. Rachita Taneja, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 1042 ]
Here’s the list of some of the important COVID-19 Orders/Direction issued by the Supreme Court:
“Even if one survives from COVID-19, many times financially and economically he is finished.”
“To a worker who has faced the brunt of the pandemic and is currently laboring in a workplace without the luxury of physical distancing, economic dignity based on the rights available under the statute is the least that this Court can ensure them.”
2020 Roundup: 11 Constitution bench judgments, 17 judges, Zero dissent