The Supreme Court fortnightly: 15 important judgments from November 1 to 15, 2023

In this fortnightly series, we capture 15 important judgments delivered by the Supreme Court of India.
Top 15 Judgments
Top 15 Judgments

In this fortnightly series, Bar & Bench brings you 15 important judgments and orders passed by the Supreme Court of India.

Below are our picks for the first two weeks of November 2023.

1. Statement to police during probe not evidence, can only be used to contradict witnesses: Supreme Court

Case Title: Birbal Nath v. State of Rajasthan and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia observed that statements made to the police by witnesses cannot be treated as evidence during trial.

The Court stated that such statements have limited applicability in a court of law. In its analysis, the Court reasoned,

"No doubt statement given before police during investigation under Section 161 are 'previous statements' under Section 145 of the Evidence Act and therefore can be used to cross examine a witness. But this is only for a limited purpose, to 'contradict' such a witness. Even if the defence is successful in contradicting a witness, it would not always mean that the contradiction in her two statements would result in totally discrediting this witness."

The observations came while setting aside a 2007 Rajasthan High Court decision, wherein a statement given by a witness earlier to the police was used to discredit the witness.

2. Complaints committee inquiring into sexual harassment complaints can put questions to witnesses: Supreme Court

Case Title: Union of India and Others v. Dilip Paul

In this case, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra ruled that complaint committees looking into cases of sexual harassment in the workplace are empowered to put questions to witnesses during the inquiry proceedings.

The Court underscored that such proceedings are akin to judicial proceedings. It also emphasised that allowing sexual harassers to evade the law humiliates and frustrates the survivor.

The apex court further cautioned against misuse of the law under the garb of “sexual harassment” as such a practice makes a mockery of the justice system.

3. High Courts should form special bench to monitor cases against MPs/ MLAs; cases punishable by death should be prioritised: Supreme Court

Case Title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. Union of India and Another

In this case, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud with Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra issued a slew of directions for the speedy disposal of criminal cases against Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MPs/ MLAs).

The Court ordered that High Court Chief Justices should institute a suo motu case to be heard by a special bench to monitor pending cases against MPs/MLAs.

Such special bench should be headed by the Chief Justice, the Court added. The Court also directed that cases against MPs/MLAs which are punishable by death should be prioritised over other cases.

The concerned principal sessions judge should ensure sufficient infrastructural facilities are available for the trial of such cases, the top court further directed.

4. Agreement to sell does not transfer ownership or confer any title: Supreme Court

Case Title: Munishamappa v. M. Rama Reddy and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Rajesh Bindal held that an agreement to sell does not transfer ownership rights or confer any title on the purchaser of the property.

The Court made the observation while deciding a civil appeal in a property dispute.

“​​The agreement to sell is not a conveyance; it does not transfer ownership rights or confers any title,” the Court said.

In this case, the parties had entered into an agreement to sell in 1990. However, the seller later refused to execute the sale deed, leading to the dispute.

5. Supreme Court says prior conviction cannot be sole ground to impose death penalty; commutes murder convict's sentence

Case Title: Madan v. State of Uttar Pradesh

In this case, a three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, BV Nagarathna and PS Narasimha, while commuting the sentence of a convict from the death penalty to life imprisonment in a 2003 murder case, observed that the criminal history of a convict cannot by itself be a ground to award the death penalty.

The Court also clarified that the convict has to actually serve at least twenty years in prison as part of his life-imprisonment sentence before he could be considered for early release on remission.

The Court commuted the convict's death penalty after noting that the convict had been incarcerated for a long time and that a co-accused with the same role had only been given a life sentence.

Pertinently, the Court found that the only factor distinguishing the two co-accused was that only one of the two convicts had a criminal history.

6. Supreme Court upholds validity of key provisions of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

Case Title: Dilip P Jiwrajka v. Union of India and Others

In this case, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra upheld key provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC), which had been challenged on various grounds including alleged absence of due process and a violation of natural justice principles.

The Court rejected the challenge and reasserted that the IBC was constitutionally valid and that its provisions did not suffer from arbitrariness as contended by the petitioners.

Pertinently, the Court rejected prayers that there should be some form of an adjudicatory process (where the corporate debtor is also heard) before the appointment of a resolution professional (RP) under Section 97 of the IBC.

The bench opined that it would be impermissible for the Court to accept an argument there is an element of adjudication at the stage of appointment of an RP by the adjudicating authority.

7. Section 65B certificate for electronic evidence can be shown at any stage of trial: Supreme Court

Case Title: State of Karnataka v. T Naseer and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Rajesh Bindal held that a certificate verifying the authenticity of electronic evidence under Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act can be produced at any stage of the trial regardless of any delay in doing so.

The Court added that a fair criminal trial does not mean the process is fair only to one side. The observations came while setting aside a 2018 Karnataka High Court order that had not allowed the prosecution in the 2008 Bengaluru blasts to produce the said certificate on the ground of delay.

In 2018, the Karnataka High Court upheld the trial court's refusal to accept a Section 65B certificate submitted by the prosecution in relation to certain electronic evidence in the case. This led to the plea before the Supreme Court.

8. Court can examine if arbitration clause is arbitrary and violates Article 14 while considering Section 11(6) application: Supreme Court

Case Title: Lombardi Engineering Ltd v. State of Uttarakhand

In this case, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra held that a clause in an arbitration agreement which is not in consonance with the Constitution cannot be enforced.

An argument that the Court cannot examine the Constitutionality of such a clause while exercising jurisdiction under Section 11(6) of the Arbitration Act was rejected.

Rejecting the State's argument that the petitioner cannot challenge the pre-deposit clause after consenting to it initially, the Court said that it is a settled position of law that there can be no consent against the law and there can be no waiver of fundamental rights.

9. For conviction under Section 149 IPC, no overt act needed; Membership of unlawful assembly enough: Supreme Court

Case Title: Parshuram v. State of Madhya Pradesh

In this case, a three-judge bench Justices BR Gavai, BV Nagarathna, and Prashant Kumar Mishra held that for Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, it is not necessary to demonstrate that a person committed an illegal overt act or was guilty of an illegal omission to be held a member of an unlawful assembly.

The Court was of the view that punishment prescribed by Section 149 is, in a sense, vicarious, and does not mandate that every member of the unlawful assembly has personally committed the offense.

The Court was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had upheld the sentence of the appellants for life imprisonment under Sections 302 read with 149 IPC.

10. Section 27 Evidence Act] Recovery of weapon from an open place accessible to all not reliable: Supreme Court

Case Title: Manjunath v. State of Karnataka

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol held that incriminatory objects, when discovered in places accessible to the public, cannot be solely relied upon to establish the guilt of the accused persons.

The Court said that it is pertinent to note that for admissibility under Section 27, of the Evidence Act, the fact discovered must be a direct consequence of information received from a person in custody.

In this case the Court observed that,

“ ... the recovery of the knife was from an open place accessible to one and all. We find that the approach adopted by the trial court was in accordance with law. However, this circumstance which, in our view, could not have been used, has been employed by the High Court to seek corroboration to the extrajudicial confession.”

11. Bank cannot withhold PF and gratuity without proving actual loss caused by employee: Supreme Court

Case Title: Jyotirmay Ray v. Field General Manager, Punjab National Bank

In this case, a division bench of Justices JK Maheshwari and KV Vishwanathan ruled in favor of an employee who was compulsorily retired, directing the Punjab National Bank (PNB) to release the provident fund (PF) and gratuity due to him.

The Court held that as per the Punjab National Bank (Officers’) Service Regulations, 1979, the bank could withhold the PF amount only when any loss is proved to be caused to it by an employee’s act. In this case, the bank not only failed to prove the alleged loss but also denied a fair hearing to him.

On the issue of payment of gratuity, the Court considered the provisions of the 1979 Regulations and provisions of the Gratuity Act and further relied on the judgment of YK Singhla Punjab National Bank (2013) which held that the Gratuity Act prevails over all regulations. Furthermore, the Court pointed out that the bank's circular only said that gratuity could be withheld as a penalty only for dismissal/removal, not for compulsory retirement.

12. Supreme Court explains essentials to prove conspiracy while affirming life sentence to convicts in Kerala Hooch Tragedy

Case Title: Sajeev v. State of Kerala

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol upheld the conviction and life sentence of certain persons convicted for being part of a deadly conspiracy of liquor poisoning. It relied on the landmark case of State of Tamil Nadu v. Nalini to lay down the essential constituents for proving a case of criminal conspiracy.

The Court reaffirmed that where, in pursuance of an agreement, the conspirators commit offenses individually, all of them will be liable for such offenses even if some of them have not actively participated in the commission of those offenses.

The Court after examining the testimonies of witnesses was convinced that there was sufficient evidence for establishing a criminal conspiracy in the present case. The Court also pointed out that the destruction of evidence could link the accused to a larger conspiracy.

It further highlighted that the failure of the accused to justify incriminating circumstances can lead the court to draw adverse inferences against them.

13. Airlines bound by time schedule promised by its travel agent: Supreme Court

Case Title: M/S Rajasthan Art Emporium v. Kuwait Airways and Others

In this case, a division bench of Justices AS Bopanna and PS Narasimha held that an authority is bound by the promise held by its agent under the Indian Contract Act.

The Court held so in the context of a consumer dispute, where Kuwait Airways, through its agent, Dagga Air Agents, had fixed a schedule of seven days for the delivery of certain goods. The Court held that the Airline was liable to pay the complainant damages for a delay in delivering the consignment.

The Court was dealing with an appeal against an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in which it found that there was a delay in delivering the consignment of the complainant and that the complainant was entitled to compensation from the airline.

14. Need to separate Chaff from grain only where testimony is partly reliable and partly unreliable: Supreme Court

Case Title: Balaram v. State Of Madhya Pradesh

In this case, a three-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai, PS Narasimha and Aravind Kumar while setting aside a conviction in a murder trial, reiterated the well-established law that there are three types of witnesses:- those who are wholly reliable, those who are wholly unreliable, and lastly, those who are neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable.

The Court also went on to explain that as far as the first two scenarios are concerned, the testimonies of the witnesses can be wholly accepted or discarded. However, only with respect to the third one, where the testimony is partly reliable and partly unreliable, the Court faces a difficulty.

In this case, the Court was hearing an appeal filed against the order of Madhya Pradesh High Court wherein the High Court confirmed the conviction of certain accused persons for murder and allied offences.

15. Magistrate cannot entertain protest petition against own order taking cognisance: Supreme Court

Case Title: Ramakant Singh and others v. The State of Jharkhand and Another

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal ruled that Judicial Magistrate cannot entertain a protest petition against an order taking cognizance of a final report.

In the instant case, the Chief Judicial Magistrate took cognizance against one accused for the offence of murder based on a final report filed by the Crime Investigation Department.

The High Court relied on the Supreme Court's judgment in Nupur Talwar v. CBI and Another (2012) to reject the appellants' petition. The appellants contended before the Supreme Court that the issue in Nupur Talwar was completely different, as the dictum laid down in that case was that a Magistrate can take cognizance of a protest petition against a closure report filed by the investigating agency.

The top court expressed agreement with the argument raised by the appellants. It expressed surprise that a Magistrate had entertained a protest petition against an order taking cognizance. Accordingly, it stated that Magistrate has no power to modify an earlier order taking cognizance.

Other important orders/observations

1. High Courts dealing with large number of bail petitions, some delay inevitable: Supreme Court

Case Title: Shaikh Uzma Feroz Hussain v. State of Maharashtra

In this case, a division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Pankaj Mithal observed that since there are a huge number of bail applications pending before High Courts in India, some delay in disposing of such matters is inevitable.

The Court also cautioned against routinely ordering the disposal of any case in a specified time schedule, since every court in India is already grappling with the issue of high case pendency.

2. Supreme Court orders Punjab Governor to decide on pending bills; says Governor cannot cast doubt on assembly session's validity

Case Title: State Of Punjab v. Principal Secretary To The Governor Of Punjab And Another

In this case, a three-judge bench Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra ordered Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit to decide on the bills submitted before him by the State legislature for his assent.

The Court said there was no constitutional basis for the Governor to cast doubt on the validity of the legislative assembly session held in June 2023, which was the ground cited by the Governor to withhold his decision on the bills.

3. FIRs against farmers not a solution to stubble burning; withhold MSP to violators for a year: Supreme Court

Case Title: In Re: Crop Burning

A three-judge bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sudhanshu Dhulia and Ahsanuddin Amanullah observed that registering criminal cases against farmers and labourers who burn paddy stubble and accentuate air pollution is not a solution to tackle the stubble burning issue in Punjab and other States.

The Court also suggested that instead of registering first information reports against offending farmers, the government should consider withholding minimum support prices (MSP) to such farmers for their crops.

4. Supreme Court grants interim relief to Financial Times journalists summoned by Gujarat Police over article on Adani

Case Title: Benjamin Nicholas Brooke Parkin and Another v. State of Gujarat and Another

In an interim order, a division bench of Justices BR Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra directed the Gujarat Police not to take any coercive action against two Financial Times journalists summoned over an article on the Adani Group. The Court also sought the response of the Gujarat Police in the matter.

5. Supreme Court refuses to entertain PIL to regulate cryptocurrency

Case Title: Manu Prashant Wig v. Union of India and Others

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra declined to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking guidelines to regulate cryptocurrency.

The Court also noted that though the plea was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, its goal appeared to be to secure bail for the petitioner in a related case.

6. Consider amending rules to ensure cause titles of cases reflect State’s name: Supreme Court to Madras High Court

Case Title: Ilamaran v. The State Rep. By The Inspector of Police

In this case, a division bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Sanjay Karol directed the Madras High Court to consider amending its rules to ensure that the State’s name is reflected in the cause title of criminal cases.

The Court directed the authorities to see that the cause title in the criminal appeals from Tamil Nadu mentions the name of the State in the cause title of the cases.

7. Judge elevations can't be blocked because Collegium does not accept a name Centre wants: Supreme Court

Case Title: The Advocates Association Bengaluru v. Barun Mitra and Another

A division bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia observed that the Central government cannot block the appointment of judges just because names cleared by it were not approved by the Collegium.

The Court said that when the Collegium does not accept a name for judgeship, that should be the end of it.

8. Search or seizure of digital devices of journalists a serious issue, there must be guidelines: Supreme Court

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

In this case, a division bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia said that there should be guidelines in place to govern the search and seizure of phones or other digital devices belonging to individuals, particularly journalists or media personnel.

The Court pointed out that media professionals could have confidential information or details about their sources on their devices.

9. Thank God we have judges like Justice Anand Venkatesh: Supreme Court

Case Title: K Ponmudi v. State 

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra refused to interfere with the Madras High Court's suo motu order re-opening a disproportionate assets case in which Tamil Nadu Minister Ponmudi and his wife were earlier acquitted.

Hailing Justice Anand Venkatesh of Madras High Court for passing the suo motu order, the top court refused to entertain petitions filed by Ponmudi and his wife Visalatchi, clarifying that they would be at liberty to raise their contentions before the High Court.

10. Suspension from Rajya Sabha: Raghav Chadha to apologise; Supreme Court asks chairman to consider case sympathetically

Case Title: Raghav Chadha v. Rajya Sabha Secretariat and Others

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was considering a plea by Rajya Sabha member, Raghav Chadha, who was suspended from the House for for not taking the consent of five Rajya Sabha members before proposing their names for a Select Committee.

Chaddha told the apex court that as the youngest member of the House, he had no problem in tendering an apology. In response, the Court asked the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to consider Chaddha's apology sympathetically.

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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