Supreme Court Annual Roundup 2021 [Important Judgments/ Orders]

A roundup of notable judgments and orders of the Supreme Court from the year 2021, organised subject-wise for easy reference.
Supreme Court Annual Roundup 2021 [Important Judgments/ Orders]
Supreme Court images with 2021

The year 2021 changed a lot of lives and was unprecedented, even in comparison to 2020. The Supreme Court also had a tumultuous year, with as may as 9 judges being sworn in at once and also having to cope with the sad demise of one of the sitting judges. In this article we take a look at the notable judgments and orders of the Supreme Court in this year:-

Politically contentious issues

The year began with the Supreme Court dismissing a challenge to the Central Vista project in Rajiv Suri v. DDA. Justice Sanjiv Khanna in his dissenting opinion, said the required public hearings had not been conducted and gave directions to publicize such a hearing.

Farm laws came to an ignominious end before the year was up. But at the very beginning of the year, the Court had stayed their implementation in Rakesh Vaishnav's case.

Central Vista
Central Vista

Gender Justice

Very often, no economic value is assigned to house work as there is no direct monetary compensation for most of it when done by family members. The Court in Kirti v. Oriental Insurance recognized the gendered nature of housework, and said that it has economic value.

There was much outrage last year after Madhya Pradesh High Court had imposed a bail condition where the victim of sexual assault was to tie rakhi on the accused persons wrist. The Supreme Court in Aparna Bhat v. State set aside that order and also issued several guidelines on gender stereotypes and bail conditions.

Last year, the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court had held that it would not amount to sexual assault under POCSO if there was no skin to skin contact. The Attorney General took up the issue at the Supreme Court and the High Court judgment was set aside in Attorney General v. Satish.

Supreme Court, POCSO Act
Supreme Court, POCSO Act

Free speech and privacy

Munawar Faruqui had been arrested for a joke that the complainants thought he might crack. After a little more than a month in custody, the Supreme Court granted him bail on the basis that the procedure under Section 41 CrPC had not been followed.

Vinod Dua faced sedition charges for criticism of government handling of the pandemic. The Court quashed the charges saying mere disapprobation of government was not incitement to disorder.

One issue that rocked the country a few months ago was the use of Pegasus spyware on the phones of citizens. The Supreme Court in Manoharlal Sharma v. UoI constituted a committee to enquire into the allegations.

A committee of the Delhi Assembly summoned Facebook to enquire into the riots that rocked the capital in early 2020. The summons was challenged by Facebook unsuccessfully in Ajit Mohan v. Legislative Assembly, National Capital Territory of Delhi. There were also a few comments about lengthy arguments.

The Madras High Court remarked that Election Commission of India (ECI) should be charged with murder as elections seemed to have aggravated the second Wave of Covid-19. On appeal by the ECI, the Supreme Court refused to expunge the remarks or restrain media in ECI v. Vijaybhaskar though noting that the remarks were excessive

ECI
ECI

Inter-sectionality

Legal analyses of oppression often tend to focus on one axis of oppression. The Supreme Court highlighted the importance of an inter-sectional approach in Patan Jamal Vali v. State.

In the instances in which the law makes allowance for the mental health concerns of an individual, it is treated as a binary with some actions of persons being considered solely as a result of the mental health issues of an individual. However, the Court in Ravinder Kumar Dhariwal v. Union of India recognized that this may not necessarily be the case and a person who has some mental health issues can very well be in control of his other actions.

Suo Moto

Cheque bounce cases form a significant bulk of the cases pending before the lower courts. The Supreme Court took up this issue suo motu In Re: EXPEDITIOUS TRIAL OF CASES UNDER SECTION 138 OF N.I. ACT, and issued a slew of guidelines.

Likewise, another focus of the suo moto jurisdiction of the Court was criminal trials. The Court in the case of IN RE: TO ISSUE CERTAIN GUIDELINES REGARDING INADEQUACIES AND DEFICIENCIES IN CRIMINAL TRIALS gave a diverse set of guidelines to improve the management and progress of criminal trials.

Perhaps the worst hit by the lockdown were the migrant workers. A suo moto action by the court in the case of In re: PROBLEMS AND MISERIES OF MIGRANT LABOURERS tried to ensure they are provided with dry rations.

Another issue taken up suo motu was that of Kanwar Yatra which was scheduled to take place when the second wave of Covid was still raging. After UP Government moved the Kanwar Yatra to next year, the top court closed the case.

The Oxygen crisis during the second wave of Covid-19 prompted several interventions by courts. One such intervention was in Union of India v. Rakesh Malhotra where a National Task Force was set up to come up with oxygen allocation methodologies. Nothing of note happened on this front later though.

12 member National Task Force constituted by SC
12 member National Task Force constituted by SC

Affirmative Action

The "creamy layer" is excluded from reservation under Other Backward Classes category. In Pichra Warg Kalyan Mahasabha Haryana v. State of Haryana, the Court reaffirmed that creamy layer is based on social forwardness and not economic criteria alone.

One of the biggest developments in affirmative action in India was the introduction of reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). In the course of hearings in the case of Neil Aurelio Nunes v. Union of India, the government agreed to rework the criteria for eligibility for reservation under EWS quota.

In Vikas Krishnarao Gawli v. State of Maharashtra, the Court had struck down reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local body elections in Maharashtra.

In Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, the Court struck down the reservations for Marathas in Maharashtra. The Court also held that it is only the Union Government that has the power to identify OBCs. However, the 105th Constitutional Amendment was brought in a few months thereafter, to counteract the impact of this judgment.

Constitutional issues

It is a rare event when the court strikes down a Constitutional Amendment. It has happened only eight times so far in the history of the Court. So when the 97th Amendment relating to Union control of cooperatives was partly struck down in Union of India v. Rajendra Shah, it was newsworthy.

Vacancies in the High Courts is a major problem. Several vacancies remain despite the large number of appointments in recent months. One of the other suggestions for filling vacancies was appointment of retired judges on ad-hoc basis under Article 224A in Lok Prahari v. Union of India.

Criminal Cases against politicians

6 Kerala MLAs were booked for creating ruckus in assembly in 2015. Later, the prosecutor tried to withdraw the case under Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Magistrate refused withdrawal leading to an appeal before the Supreme Court by the Kerala government.

The apex court in State of Kerala v. A Ajith agreed with the Magistrate and rejected the appeal.

The Court had also passed an order earlier in a different case that any withdrawal of a prosecution against a person who currently is or has been an MP or MLA should be done only with the permission of the respective High Court.

Arbitration

What happens if the stamp duty has not been paid on the agreement containing an arbitration clause? In earlier judgments the Court had said that the arbitration clause would also be invalid.

The Court in NN Global Mercantile Pvt Ltd v. Indo Unique Flame Ltd. said that it wouldn’t be invalid. The issue will be resolved by a larger bench.

One of the high profile corporate litigation currently running is the one between Amazon and Future group. When one aspect of the dispute reached the Supreme Court, it was ruled that Emergency Arbitration is valid under Indian law.

Insolvency

When insolvency proceedings start against a company there is a moratorium on all civil proceedings against the company. Does this apply to cheque bounce cases against the company as well? In P Mohanraj v. Shah Brother Ispat Pvt. Ltd., the Court said it does, describing Negotiable Instruments Act cases as "civil sheep in criminal wolf's clothing".

A Court appointed Insolvency Resolution Professional had been arrested in UP. The top court intervened in Jaypee Kensington v. NBCC and ordered his immediate release.

The insolvency and bankruptcy code currently does not apply to individuals, except personal guarantors of corporate debtors. This selective application of IBC to one class of individuals was unsuccessfully challenged in the case of Lalit Kumar Jain v. Union of India.

How to write a judgment?

If you want to see a judgment on judgments, look no further than Shakuntala Shukla v. State of Uttar Pradesh. Though it was a petition for cancellation of bail, the court delved into the fundamentals of the art and skill of judgment writing, the constituent components of a judgment and the importance of precision and clarity

The author is a lawyer practicing before the Supreme Court.

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