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The Supreme Court was recently constrained to reiterate that the Legislature cannot pass laws to invalidate a judicial decision altogether, while quashing the Kerala Professional Colleges (Regularisation of Admission in Medical Colleges) Ordinance, 2017.
The Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee observed that such legislative overreach would violate the Constitutionally recognised Doctrine of Separation of Powers.
Bearing this doctrine in mind, the permissible limits within which the Legislature can make law was explained as follows.
“The legislature cannot declare any decision of a court of law to be void or of no effect. It can remove the defects of the law pointed out by the court or on coming to know of it aliunde; otherwise, a court’s decision must always bind unless the conditions on which it is based are so fundamentally altered that the decision could not have been given in such altered circumstances.”
In other words, the Legislature may amend the law with retrospective effect to remove flaws pointed out by the Court, or to cure defects which had prompted the Court to pass an earlier judgment.
“Further, when such correction is made, the purpose behind the same is not to overrule the decision of the court or encroach upon the judicial turf, but simply enact a fresh law with retrospective effect to alter the foundation and meaning of the legislation and to remove the base on which the judgment is founded.“
However, as laid down in numerous precedents, the Court held that the Legislature cannot directly annul a final judgment by a subsequent legislation.
In this case, the Governor of Kerala had signed off on the 2017 Ordinance in order to regularise the admission of 180 students into two medical colleges i.e. Kannur Medical College and Karuna Medical College.
These admissions had been found irregular as the students had not applied through a mandatory online procedure introduced to ensure transparency.
In November 2016, the Admission Supervisory Committee (ASC) had also passed an order setting aside 150 admissions made to the Kannur Medical College without following this online procedure.
Challenges made to the ASC’s order were ultimately dismissed by the Supreme Court in March 2017. Whereas the Court directed that the Karuna Medical College accommodate 30 applicants in the following academic year (2017-2018), the Court found no reason to fault the ASC for its November order. Review petitions challenging this verdict were also dismissed in May, the same year.
However, in October 2017, the challenged Ordinance was passed to regularise all 180 admissions to the MBBS course for the academic year 2016-2017 itself.
Inter alia, the Ordinance provided that the mode of application and non-production of records before the ASC would not be considered while regularising these admissions.
This Ordinance was challenged before the Supreme Court by the Medical Council of India. Last April, the Court had stayed the ordinance, finding that it appeared to prima facie violate of earlier Court orders.
In the final judgment rendered on Wednesday, the Bench expresses its shock at Kerala’s blatant attempt of regularisation, remarking,
“It passes comprehension how the State Government has promulgated the Ordinance in question.“
The Bench did not take long to conclude that the Ordinance was liable to be quashed for having encroached upon the domain of judicial review.
“What has been done by the impugned Ordinance by the State Government is clearly entrenching upon the field of judicial review and it was obviously misadventure resorted to.
In our considered opinion, it was not at all permissible to the State Government to promulgate the Ordinance/legislate in the matter. Not only the judgment of the court is nullified and the arbitrariness committed in admissions was glaring, and the decision of the High Court of Kerala which was affirmed by this Court with respect to applications to be entertained if they were online applications has been undone.
It was clearly an act of nullifying judgment and is violative of judicial powers which vested in the judiciary. It was not open for the State Government to nullify the judgment/orders passed by the Kerala High Court or by this Court. It was not a case of removal of a defect in existing law.“
Citing similar observations in several other precedents, the Bench goes on to observe that such overriding legislative decisions would sound the death knell of the rule of law.
“The rule of law would be meaningless as it would be open to the State Government to defy the law and yet get away with it…
… In case such a power of covering up illegal action is given to the State Government in individual cases of two colleges, the day is not far off when every judgment can be annulled.”
Rather than curing any defect, it was observed that the Ordinance had the effect of perpetuating the illegalities and arbitrariness committed by the colleges. Therefore, the same could not be justified or permitted.
Additionally, the Court also rejected the contention that its earlier decision to uphold the ASC’s November 2016 order was a non-speaking order. It was observed that its reasoned decision was made after hearing the parties at length over several days as well as the examination of voluminous documents filed by the medical colleges. Therefore, it must be treated as a precedent binding on all parties concerned.
Therefore, the Court allowed the MCI’s petitions, concluding as follows,
“… the writ petitions deserve to be allowed. The impugned Ordinance is declared to be ultra vires and entrenching upon the field earmarked for the judiciary as it sought to nullify the judgment and order passed by the High Court and by this Court.”
Read the Judgment: