Important Supreme Court judgments delivered in December 2023

This article covers important judgments and orders passed by the Supreme Court during the month of December 2023, including when the Court was functioning at a limited capacity during the winter vacation.
Supreme Court judgments - December 2023
Supreme Court judgments - December 2023

In this piece, Bar & Bench brings you some of the important judgments and orders delivered by the Supreme Court during the month of December 2023, which included the winter vacation.

The Supreme Court was on winter vacation from December 16, 2023 to January 1, 2023, during which time it was functioning at a limited capacity through vacation benches.

1. Supreme Court Constitution Bench unanimously upholds abrogation of Article 370

Case Title: In Re: Article 370 of the Constitution

In this case, a Constitution Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant upheld the Central government's 2019 decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which had conferred special status on the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir

The Court held that Article 370 was only a transitory provision enacted partly due to the wartime conditions in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

The Court opined that simply because the Constituent Assembly (which had the power to recommend the revocation of Article 370) has ceased to exist, it did not mean Article 370 would continue permanently.

"The President was empowered to issue the order to abrogate Article 370," the Court concluded.

2. Group of companies doctrine applicable to arbitration proceedings: Supreme Court Constitution Bench

Case Title: Cox and Kings v. SAP Private Limited

In this case, a Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Hrishikesh RoyPS NarasimhaJB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra ruled that the group of companies doctrine will be applicable to arbitration proceedings in India.

The Court concluded that non-signatory parties, by virtue of their relationship with the signatory and engagement in commercial activities, cannot be deemed strangers to a dispute under arbitration.

The Court also emphasized that arbitration is a matter of contract and consent is paramount. No one can be compelled to submit to arbitration without their consent.

It added that courts have to determine whether a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement intended to create a legal relationship with the signatory and agreed to be bound by the arbitration agreement.

Referring to Section 7A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, the Court emphasized that while arbitration is contractual, it is not necessary for parties to be signatories to be bound by it.

3. Unstamped Arbitration agreements inadmissible but not void: Supreme Court overrules NN Global Mercantile

Case Title: In Re: interplay between Indian Stamp Act and Indian Arbitration Act

In this case, a seven-judge Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan KaulSanjiv KhannaBR GavaiSurya KantJB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra held that while unstamped arbitration agreements are inadmissible, they are not rendered void ab initio (void from the beginning) on account of the fact that they are unstamped.

While overruling its five-judge bench decision in NN Global Mercantile Pvt Ltd v. Indo Unique Flame Ltd & Ors case, the Court held that the effect of not paying duty renders an instrument inadmissible and not void and that the non-payment of stamp duty is curable.

The Court ruled that the aspect of whether an arbitration agreement has been stamped or not is for the arbitral tribunal to decide and not courts. To arrive at this principle, the Court relied on the doctrine of competence-competence which concerns the tribunal's power to rule on its jurisdiction.

Earlier, the five-judge Constitution Bench in NN Global had (on April 25, 2023) held by a 3:2 opinion that unstamped arbitration agreements are not valid in law.

Soon after, the Union Law Ministry constituted an expert committee to recommend reforms to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act and to examine the functioning of arbitration law in the country.

4. No violation of Section 19 PMLA if ED informs accused about grounds of arrest within 24 hours: Supreme Court

Case Title: RK Arora vs Director of Enforcement

In this case, a division bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Satish Chandra Sharma held that if a person arrested for money laundering under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) is informed about the grounds of his arrest in writing within 24 hours of the arrest, that would satisfy the requirements under Section 19 of PMLA and Article 22(1) of the Constitution of India.

The Court held that it is sufficient if the person arrested is informed or made aware orally about the grounds of arrest at the time of his arrest and is furnished a written communication about the grounds of arrest within 24 hours of his arrest.

The Court held that the expression "as soon as may be" in Section 19 of the PMLA can be read to mean "as early as possible" or "within a reasonably convenient" period of time.

Pertinently, the Court added that a "reasonably convenient" or reasonably requisite time to inform the arrested person about the grounds of his arrest would be within 24 hours of the arrest.

5. Governor not bound by Ministers' advice for VC appointments under Kannur University Act: Supreme Court

Case Title: Dr Premachandran Keezhoth and Another v. The Chancellor Kannur University and Another

In this case, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra ruled that the Kerala Governor, being the ex-officio Chancellor of Kannur University, is not bound by the advice of the Kerala government's Council of Ministers when it comes to appointing Vice-Chancellors to the University.

The Court stressed that under the Kannur University Act of 1996, the Chancellor is the sole judge when it comes to Vice-Chancellor (VC) appointments, and not a mere titular head.

In the selection of the Vice-Chancellor, the Chancellor's opinion is final in all respects, the Court held. When it comes to reappointing the Vice-Chancellor, the main consideration to prevail upon the Chancellor is the interest of the university, the Court added.

The Supreme Court made the observations while quashing the reappointment of Dr. Gopinath Raveendran as the Vice Chancellor of Kannur University.

6. When no Limitation period is prescribed, appeal must be filed within 'Reasonable Time' depending upon facts of each case: Supreme Court

Case Title: M/S North Eastern Chemicals Industries (P) Limited and Another v. M/S Ashok Paper Mill (Assam) Limited and Another

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Sanjay Karol held that when no limitation period has been prescribed for filing an appeal, then such appeal must be filed within a reasonable time, which is to be determined as per the facts and circumstances of each case.

The Court has held that when no limitation stands prescribed, it would be inappropriate for a Court to supplant the legislature' s wisdom by its own and provide a limitation, more so in accordance with what it believes to be the appropriate period.

Reliance was placed on the Supreme Court judgment in Ajaib Singh v. Sirhind Coop. Marketing-cum-Processing Service Society Ltd. (1999), wherein it was held that courts should be wary of prescribing specific period of limitation in cases where the legislature has refrained from doing so. Further, in absence of a specific limitation it would be improper for courts to dismiss a plea is solely on the ground of delay without having examined the nature of laws order prejudice caused to the other party in the facts and circumstances of the case at hand.

It was observed that when no limitation stands provided either by specific applicability of the Limitation Act, 1963 or the special statute governing the dispute, then the Court must undertake a holistic assessment of the facts and circumstances of the case to examine the possibility of delay causing prejudice to a party.

7. Nomination process under Companies Act does not override Succession Laws: Supreme Court

Case Title: Shakti Yezdani and Another v. Jayanand Jayant Salgaonkar and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Pankaj Mithal held that the nomination process under the Companies Act, 1956 (pari materia Companies Act, 2013) does not override succession laws.

The Court said that it is beyond the scope of the company's affairs to facilitate succession planning of the shareholder. In case of a Will, it is upon the administrator or executor under the Indian Succession Act, 1925, or in case of intestate succession, the laws of succession to determine the line of succession.

The top court made the observation while upholding a High Court order wherein it was held that the nominee of a holder of a share or securities is not entitled to the beneficial ownership of the shares or securities which are the subject matter of nomination to the exclusion of all other persons who are entitled to inherit the estates of the holders as per the law of succession.

8. Cancellation of Deed is action in Personam, not in Rem; it is arbitrable: Supreme Court

Case Title: Sushna Shivkumar Daga v. Madhurkumar Ramkrishnaji Bajaj

In this case, a division bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia allowed an arbitration between the parties in a property dispute based on the broad language of the arbitration clause in Tripartite Agreements.

The Court rejected the argument that since the suit was for cancellation of a deed, the dispute was not arbitrable, as the action was in rem. It held that cancellation of a deed was an action in personam and hence arbitrable.

In the instant case, the cancellation of a Conveyance Deed and registered Development Agreements was sought. Pertinently, there was no arbitration clause in the Conveyance Deed and Development Agreements. However, considering that these agreements found their source in the two Tripartite Agreements, which contained a broad arbitration clause, the court below allowed the referral of the matter to arbitration, which was affirmed by the top court.

9. Testimony of sole eyewitness who is complainant needs examination with great caution: Supreme Court

Case Title: Chhote Lal v. Rohtash and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal held that in a case where the complainant was an interested sole eyewitness, being the father of the deceased, and who had long enmity with the accused persons, his testimony has to be examined with great caution.

The Court made these observations while affirming the a High Court order setting aside the conviction of certain persons accused in a murder case. The High Court order was challenged by the father (appellant/ complainant) of the deceased before the Supreme Court.

The appellant's submission that in matters where the accused persons are convicted and sentenced by a trial court, the appellate court does not normally overrule conviction, especially in the light of the evidence of the eyewitness, did not find favor with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court emphasised that conviction has to be based on the evidence which proves the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, the top court opined that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the accused and upheld their acquittal.

10. Slum Rehabilitation Authority has to act in terms of its own policies without allowing private arrangements to prevail: Supreme Court

Case Title: Sayunkta Sangharsh Samiti v. State of Maharashtra

In this case, a division bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia held that private agreements cannot be enforced in Slum Rehabilitation Schemes against the statutory mandate of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA).

The Court also noted that under the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, the SRA is the final authority for implementing the mentioned scheme.

In this case, the top court upheld the Bombay High Court's decision to dismiss a writ petition challenging an allotment of flats by the SRA, which allegedly went against a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) executed between a slum hutment dwellers' association and a private developer.

A slum society or private developer cannot dictate terms to the SRA, and the SRA must act in terms of its own policies and circulars, the bench noted while referring to another 2016 Bombay High Court ruling.

Other important orders/observations

1. Supreme Court grants interim protection to SHUATS University VC, Director, professors in religious conversion case

Case Title: Rajendra Bihari Lal and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and KV Viswanathan granted interim protection from arrest to officials and teaching staff of the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology And Sciences (SHUATS), in a case involving allegations of forced religious conversion.

The Court also sought the response of the Uttar Pradesh government in the matter, and listed the case upon the reopening of the Court, subject to the Chief Justice of India's orders.

2. Supreme Court allows Madhya Pradesh civil judge aspirants aggrieved by 3-year practice rule to appear for exam

Case Title: Monika Yadav and Others v. High Court of Madhya Pradesh and Another

In this case, a division bench of Justices JK Maheshwari and KV Viswanathan granted interim relief to judicial service aspirants who were aggrieved by a rule mandating three years of law practice as an eligibility criterion to appear for the civil judge examination in Madhya Pradesh.

The Court ordered that all such aspirants, including those who had not moved court, be provisionally allowed to take part in the exam and the selection process.

3. Supreme Court rejects review petition filed by Manish Sisodia seeking bail in Delhi Excise Policy scam

Case Title: Manish Sisodia v. CBI

A division bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti dismissed the review petition filed by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia against an apex court order denying him bail in the money laundering case connected to the Delhi Excise Policy scam.

The Court declined an open court hearing and held that no grounds for review were made out.

4. Supreme Court shocked at lawyer's refusal to argue before High Court, consequent cancellation of client's bail

Case Title: Krishna Kumar and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal shocked to find that lawyer had refused to argue a matter before a bench of the Allahabad High Court which led to the cancellation of bail by the High Court for his clients.

The Court criticised the lawyer's actions, but made it clear that the High Court could not have passed a bail cancellation order on that ground.

5. "Two years have passed": Supreme Court to Centre over delay in framing guidelines for search, seizure of personal digital devices

Case Title: Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union of India and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia expressed its dissatisfaction over the delay by the Central government in framing guidelines to govern the search and seizure of personal digital devices by police and central agencies

The Court was informed by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) V Raju that a committee has been formed, and the Central government would require more time to formulate the guidelines. A positive outcome is in the works, the ASG said.

6. Supreme Court to examine whether woman can be booked for rape under Section 375 IPC

Case Title: Kamaljit Kaur v. State of Punjab

In this case, a division bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Sanjay Karol questioned whether a woman can be made an accused in a rape case under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In this case, a 62-year-old widow has claimed that she had been unnecessarily implicated in a false rape case filed against her son.

7. Supreme Court stays FIR against journalist Makepeace Sitlhou booked for tweets on Manipur Violence

Case Title: Makepeace Sitlhou v. State of Manipur

In this case, a division bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra protected independent journalist Makepeace Sitlhou from criminal proceedings initiated in connection with her tweets concerning the violence that erupted in Manipur earlier this year.

The Court granted the journalist interim relief and ordered a stay on the criminal proceeding against her for now.

8. Supreme Court grants protection from arrest to restaurant operator accused of selling adulterated Shawarma

Case Title: Shihad M.P. v. The State of Kerala and Another

In this case, a division bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Augustine George Masih stayed the arrest of a restaurant owner in Kerala who is accused of having sold an adulterated shawarma (meat-based wraps) causing the death of a customer.

The Court asked the petitioner, Shihad MP to cooperate with the investigating agency, while granting the protection.

9. Asian Resurfacing: Supreme Court reserves verdict on whether stay orders can be automatically lifted after 6 months

Case Title: High Court Bar Association Allahabad v. State of Uttar Pradesh and ors

In this case, a Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Abhay S Oka, JB Pardiwala, Pankaj Mithal, and Manoj Misra reserved its judgment on the question of whether interim stay orders granted by courts in civil and criminal cases should operate only for six months unless specifically extended.

The Court reserved its verdict after a hearing that lasted under two hours. Notably, none of the counsel present supported the automatic vacation of stay orders.

10. Supreme Court reserves judgment in challenge to Section 6A of Citizenship Act

Case Title: In Re: Section 6A Citizenship Act 1955

In this case, a Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Surya KantMM SundreshJB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra reserved its verdict in the batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act of 1955.

Section 6A of the Citizenship Act concerns the grant of Indian citizenship to immigrants covered by the Assam accord.

The Court had earlier (in December) noted that the provision was introduced partly to remedy the atrocities committed on the population of East Bengal in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - November 16 to 30, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - November 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - October 16 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - October 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - September 16 to 30, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - September 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - August 16 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - August 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - July 16 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - July 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court during summer vacation - June 1 to 30, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - May 16 to 30, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - May 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - April 16 to 30, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - April 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - March 15 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - March 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - February 15 to 28, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - February 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - January 15 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - January 1 to 15, 2023 here.

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