The year 2018 was by all means a year when the apex court of the country reigned supreme. From the right of a common citizen to privacy to that of women to practise religion, from decriminalising homosexuality to legalising passive euthanasia, and from adultery to inter-faith marriages, Supreme Court orders and directions left few sections of the society untouched this year.
The year was significant for the court itself too as it witnessed something unprecedented. It was for the first time that the country saw four senior most Supreme Court judges going to the media against the serving chief justice. Listing a number of allegations, they said the functioning of the country’s highest court was being affected, and that India’s democracy was in danger.
The year 2018 saw two chief justices. CJI Dipak Mishra resigned after his term ended and Justice Ranjan Gogoi took over. It was the year when a woman judge, Justice Indu Malhotra, was elevated to the Supreme Court directly from the Bar for the first time.
In a significant decision, the apex court allowed a petition this year paving the way for live-streaming of its proceedings.
Here is a list of 15 most important judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in 2018.
1. SC restores Hadiya’s marriage
The Supreme Court on March 8 2018 restored the marriage of Hadiya with Shafin Jahan, setting aside a Kerala High Court order that had annulled validity of the marriage.
Hadiya, a Hindu girl, had converted to Islam to marry Shafin. A division bench of the Kerala HC had annulled Hadiya’s marriage on 25 May 2017 and directed her to return to the protective custody of her parents.
Hearing the case on March 8, the apex court said Hadiya could complete her studies and live with anyone of her choice. A bench comprising then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud said it was restoring Hadiya’s marriage as “she has exercised her free consent in getting married to Shafin”.
Hadiya’s father KM Asokan had claimed before the Supreme Court that his efforts prevented his daughter from being transported to “extremist-controlled territories” of Syria to be used as a “sex slave or a human bomb”.
In its brief operative order, the court, however, said an NIA investigation into the criminal dimension into the case, if any, could continue.
Later, in a detailed judgment in April, the SC explained opined why it had set aside the Kerala HC judgment. The bench said the High Court had transgressed the limits of its jurisdiction and also asserted that the right to change of faith was part of fundamental eight of choice.
2. Passive euthanasia declared legal
The Supreme Court on March 9 2018 legalised passive euthanasia with guidelines for patients suffering from terminal and irreversible illness, observing that human beings had the right to die with dignity.
The apex court allowed passive euthanasia and also gave sanction to living will, issued guidelines governing execution of living will and also passive euthanasia in the absence of living wills.
The verdict was passed by a five-judge Constitution bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
‘Right to die’ has been recognised under Article 21 as the top court observed individuals can decide when to give up life support system.
3. SC on misuse of SC/ST Act
To curb the misuse of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the Supreme Court on March 20 diluted stringent provisions under the law. Aiming to protect honest public servants from arrest, the court held that an arrest was not mandatory under the SC/ST Act, scrapping the automatic arrest after registration of a complaint.
The court also said the accused public servant was entitled to anticipatory bail, and a preliminary inquiry must be conducted by the police within seven days before taking any action against him.
With the order inviting angry protests by Dalit and Adivasi communities, who organised massive demonstrations and even called Bharat Bandh, the Cabinet approved an amendment to Act nullifying the March 20 Supreme Court order and restoring the power of police to immediately arrest a person committing an offence under the law.
The matter reached court again as petitions were filed claiming Parliament amended the Act “without removing the basis of the judgment”.
Hearing the case, the Supreme Court on September 7 refused to stay the amended SC/ST Act, though agreed to test its validity.
4. LG vs Delhi government
The Supreme Court on 4 July ruled in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party led-Delhi government and said the Lieutenant Governor did not have independent decision-making powers, and that he was bound to act on the aid and advice by its Council of Ministers.
The judgment pronounced by then CJI Dipak Misra, who was heading a five-judge Constitution bench, also held that the LG could not act as an “obstructionist”. The LG is also bound to send files to the President in case of differences of opinion, in exceptional matters.
The apex court added that the LG and the Delhi government had to work harmoniously.
In June, the Aam Aadmi Party had staged a nine-day sit-in at LG Anil Baijal’s office to press for their demands, including directions to IAS officers to end their undeclared “strike”.
5. Chief Justice is the master of roster: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on 7 July reiterated that the Chief Justice was the “master of roster” and he alone had the powers to allocate cases to different benches.
It also cautioned against any “tinkering” as it could hurt the independence of the judiciary.
A bench comprising Justice A K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan in their separate concurring verdicts said the CJI occupied the role of “first among equals and is empowered to exercise leadership in administration of court” including assignment of cases.
The verdict came on a plea of former law minister Shanti Bhushan who had challenged the existing roster practice of allocation of cases in the apex court by the Chief Justice of India.
A five-judge constitution bench and a three-judge bench had already held that the CJI was the master of roster.
A controversy over the issue had started in January this year when the four senior most SC judges called a press conference where they criticised the then CJI Dipak Misra over the way sensitive cases were being assigned.
6. SC asks Parliament to make law against mob lynching
Condemning the growing incidents of mob lynching across the country, the Supreme Court on 17 July asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to effectively deal with such incidents. “Horrendous acts of mobocracy” could not be allowed to become a new norm, it said.
Asserting that no one could take law into their own hands, the apex court said, “It is duty of State to ensure rule of law is preserved.”
The bench also passed a slew of directions to provide “preventive, remedial and punitive measures” to deal with offences like mob violence and cow vigilantism.
“Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become new norm and has to be curbed with iron hands. No citizen can take law into their own hands. In case of fear and anarchy, the state has to act positively. Violence can’t be allowed,” it said.
7. No recall of Judge Loya case judgment
The Supreme Court on July 31 dismissed a plea by the Bombay Lawyers Association seeking a review and recall of its judgment that held Special CBI court Judge BH Loya had met with natural death.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud rejected the review plea, saying it did not find any merit in it.
The bench said: “We have carefully gone through the review petition and the connected papers, but we see no reason to interfere with the order impugned. The review petition is, accordingly, dismissed.”
Earlier, the bench had on April 19 rejected the plea for an SIT probe into the judge’s death saying: “It gives a sense of anguish that the proceedings were converted to scandalise the judiciary bordering on contempt.”
8. Decision on former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan
The Supreme Court on September 14 awarded a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to former ISRO scientist S. Nambi Narayanan who was falsely implicated in an espionage case and had to suffer jail term and ignominy.
The top court held that Narayanan was “arrested unnecessarily, harassed and subjected to mental cruelty” in the 1994 espionage case, and ordered a probe into the role of Kerala Police officers in it.
The espionage case pertained to allegations of transfer of certain confidential documents related to India’s space programme to foreign countries by two scientists and four others, including two Maldivian women. The case was first investigated by the state police and later handed over to the CBI.
Awarding the compensation, the court of then CJI Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud also directed setting up of a committee to inquire into the role of erring officials who Nambi Narayanan said had implicated him. The committee will be headed by a retired judge and have a representative each from the Centre and the Kerala government.
Nambi Narayanan had moved the top court challenging a Kerala High Court judgment that had upheld the state government’s decision not to take action against the officials.
9. SC decriminalises homosexuality
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on September 6 2018 ruled that gay sex among consenting adults was not a criminal offence. It struck down as “unconstitutional” a part of Section 377 of the 158-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC) that criminalised homosexuality.
It was a unanimous verdict in the Navtej Johar vs Union of India case, and a five-judge Constitution Bench decriminalised Section 377 IPC with regard to consensual gay sex, asserting that it was “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary” and that it violated fundamental rights to equality, life with dignity, personal liberty, non-discrimination, privacy and expression under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
10. Section 33(2), 57, 47 of Aadhaar Act struck down
Delivering some relief to petitioners in the case, a five-judge bench on September 26 this year watered down several sections of the Aadhaar Act, even as it upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. The Supreme Court did away with some clauses, which required information sharing with third parties in different scenarios. It struck down as unconstitutional Sections 33(2), 47 and 57 of the of Aadhaar Act that dealt with data sharing with third parties such as corporates, schools, offices and other private organisations.
Under Section 33(2), individuals had to disclose information pertaining to identity and authentication towards the interest of national security after approval from the competent authority. No individual needs to share any authentication information, including Aadhaar biometrics, any more. Section 47 allowed only UIDAI to file criminal complaints with regards to data breach. Now, any individual can report an incident of a data breach. Striking down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act means users will not have to share Aadhaar data with any third party to avail their services.
11. Criminalising adultery is unconstitutional, rules SC
The Supreme Court on September 27 struck down the British era Adultery Law (Section 497 of the IPC) calling it unconstitutional and arbitrary. The then Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the 150-year-old adultery law was “arbitrary”, though “there cannot be a shadow of doubt” adultery remained a ground for civil issues, including dissolution of marriage, or divorce.
“Adultery can be ground for any civil wrong. There can’t be any social license that destroys the matrimonial home, but adultery should not be a criminal offence,” he said.
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by one Joseph Shine who had challenged the constitutionality of Section 497 of the IPC read with Section 198(2) of the Criminal Procedural Code (CrPc), which deals with prosecution, for offences against marriages.
12. SC on Ayodhya case
In a majority verdict on 27 September, the Supreme Court declined to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench the issue of reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam that arose during the hearing of Ayodhya land dispute.
A three-judge bench of then CJI Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S Abdul Nazeer, in the 2:1 verdict, observed that no exceptions could be taken to the court’s 1994 observations.
“Places of worship of all religions are equal. All mosques, temples, churches are equal,” the Supreme Court observed.
Justice S Nazeer proposed a dissenting opinion on the matter, saying that “a larger bench was required to decide what constitutes essential religious practice”.
The Supreme Court said it would begin hearing on Ayodhya matter from 29 October 2018 to decide the suit on merit.
Taking up the case on 29 October, the Supreme Court fixed the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute cases for the first week of January 2019 before an appropriate bench, which will decide the schedule of hearing.
A three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court, in a 2:1 majority ruling, had in 2010 ordered that the land be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
13. Women’s entry into Sabarimala temple
In yet another landmark judgment, the top court while taking up the case of India Young Lawyers Association vs State of Kerala recognised the right of Hindu women to freely practise their religion irrespective of age. It allowed women of all age groups to enter the temple of Lord Ayyappa at Sabrimala in Kerala and offer worship. Existing norms did not allow women of menstruating age (10 to 59 years) to enter the temple. In a 4:1 verdict, a five-judge bench termed the norms exclusionary and discriminatory and held the provision of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 unconstitutional as per Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25.
“Religion can’t become cover to deny rights,” the court observed on September 28.
While four judges supported lifting of the ban, the lone woman judge on the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, proposed a dissenting opinion supporting the ban.
Societal morality has till now weighed heavy on the SC judgment, and the temple is yet to see any woman entering its premises even three months after the verdict. The court, in fact, has agreed to reconsider its September 28 verdict, and a five-judge Constitution bench will hear all 49 review petitions filed against its judgment. National Association of Aayappa Devotees, Nair Service Society, and 17 other organisations have moved review petitions seeking a recall of the verdict.
14. Only ‘green crackers’ for celebrations
Ahead of Diwali, the Supreme Court on October 23 announced that there would be no ban on the sale of firecrackers, but only licenced traders would be allowed to sell crackers. The court also said the licenced traders would be allowed to sell eco-friendly crackers only.
The top court, however, put a ban on the sale of firecrackers online, and allowed people to burst crackers only between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali and between 11.45 pm and 12.30 am on Christmas Eve and New Year.
The time frame during which crackers are allowed to be burst applies to all festivals and celebrations such as weddings and New Year parties.
The court of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan was hearing a plea seeking a ban on manufacture and sale of firecrackers across the country to curb air pollution.
The apex court had earlier said there was a need to take into account all aspects, including the fundamental right of livelihood of firecracker manufacturers and the right to health of over 1.3 billion people in the country, while considering a plea for the ban.
15. No Rafale probe, SC dismisses petitions
The Supreme Court on December 14 pronounced its verdict on the petitions that had sought a court-monitored probe into the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal with France. A three-Judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed all the petitions, and said no Rafale probe was required.
Taking up the petitions, the CJI said the court studied the materials carefully and interacted with defence officials, and was “satisfied” with the NDA government’s decision making process.
While the order came as a shot in the arm for the government facing allegations of irregularities in the deal, it led to a fresh controversy as the SC judgment contained an error.
In paragraph 25 of the judgment, the court observed that “the pricing details have, however, been shared with the CAG, and the report of the CAG has been examined by the PAC. Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before Parliament and is in public domain.”
This wasn’t true as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament Chairperson Mallikarjun Khadge claimed the CAG report was never tabled before them.
Under attack from the Opposition, the government moved the Supreme Court seeking correction of its order, saying a note submitted by it in a sealed cover led to misinterpretation about the CAG report being examined by the PAC, leading to the error in the judgment.