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Half a Cheer for the Supreme Court

The recent judgment regarding the Atrocities Act is only the rectification of an error of law.


This decade has seen more than its share of judicial mea culpas from the Supreme Court. Two immediate examples are in the judgment in K S Puttaswamy v Union of India (2017) and in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India (2018) where the Court overturned ADM Jabalpur v S K Shukla (1976) and Suresh Kumar Koushal v Naz Foundation (2013) respectively. While courts routinely change their minds on the law as times and circumstances change, these two judgments reflect a change of heart on the part of the institution. Such mea culpas come from an acknowledgement of a deeper wrong than just a regular error of law or fact—something fundamentally incorrect about the way the Court thought and approached an important question. 

Likewise, the Supreme Court’s judgment reviewing and recalling its directions in Dr S K Mahajan v State of Maharashtra (2018) (henceforth the Mahajan judgment) in the context of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) (PoA) Act of 1989 presents a major mea culpa on the part of the Court. In its judgment in Union of India v State of Maharashtra (2019) (henceforth the Mahajan review judgment) a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court has recalled the previous directions mandating sanction of a higher authority prior to the arrest of a government servant under the PoA Act and mandating conduct of a preliminary enquiry by a deputy superintendent of police prior to the registering of a first information report under the act. 

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Updated On : 15th Oct, 2019


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