Important Legal News | 12 October

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Supreme Court Reserves Verdict on Bilkis Bano Gang Rape Convicts’ Early Release Challenge

The Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on petitions challenging the early release of 11 convicts involved in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder case during the Gujarat riots. This case, known as “Bilkis Yakub Rasool v. Union of India and ors,” raises concerns about the Gujarat government’s decision to grant a remission of their sentences following a May 2022 Supreme Court judgment.

The court held that remission should align with the state’s crime location, not the trial venue. Petitioners, including Bilkis Bano, contested this decision, emphasising the need to consider both reformation and deterrence principles. The court also questioned how to balance the convicts’ right to reform with the gravity of their crimes. Advocates argued for potential illegality in the government’s decision and emphasised that reformation is an opportunity, not a right. The verdict remains pending.

Supreme Court Criticises Age-Based Restrictions, Calls for Uniform Electronic Hearing SOPs

The Supreme Court has mandated hybrid hearings in all High Courts and expressed concerns over the lack of uniform Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for electronic access in the courts. The court criticised age-based restrictions in some SOPs that limit hybrid mode hearings to advocates and litigants aged 65 or above.

The court argued that such restrictions are arbitrary and hinder younger lawyers’ access to technology. It emphasised the need for clarity in SOPs and streamlined procedures to ensure swift access to justice. The Supreme Court directed High Courts to provide free internet facilities, make video conferencing links available in cause lists and implement SOPs for hybrid hearings within four weeks.

Supreme Court Rejects Income Tax Department’s Interpretation of Section 153C

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has rejected the Income Tax department’s argument that Section 153C of the Income Tax Act 1961 empowers the assessing officer to seek information from a third party regarding income tax returns for the six years preceding the search of the primary assessee.

The court, comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar, held that Section 153C mandates the third party to furnish income tax returns starting from the date when the Assessing Officer assigns the third party’s documents to the concerned Assessing Officer, rather than from the date of the original search. The court found that any delay in this assignment would unfairly burden the third party to maintain records for more than six preceding years. The appeal was dismissed.

Supreme Court Emphasises Burden of Proof in Section 149 IPC Cases

The Supreme Court has highlighted the need for concrete evidence in cases involving Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with vicarious liability in unlawful assembly cases. To secure a conviction under Section 149 IPC, the prosecution must prove that the accused shared a common object with the unlawful assembly and were aware of the offenses likely to be committed to achieve that common object.

In this particular case, which dates back to April 2016, the Court examined a shooting incident in Maheshwari village, where a young boy, Ajay, was fatally shot. The Court ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish that the accused shared a common object with the unlawful assembly involved in the incident or that they were aware of the likely offenses to be committed in pursuit of that common object. As a result, the Supreme Court set aside the convictions and acquitted the appellants, emphasising the importance of concrete evidence in Section 149 IPC cases.

Delhi High Court Rules in Favor of Insurance Companies in Compensation Recovery

The Delhi High Court has ruled that in motor accident cases, insurance companies are entitled to recover compensation paid to claimants from the owner of a transport vehicle if the owner lacks a valid and effective permit at the time of the accident. This right also applies when the vehicle is operated in a location not covered by its permit.

The ruling came as a response to an appeal by a vehicle owner challenging a decision by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) that allowed the insurance company to recover compensation due to the lack of a permit. The High Court affirmed the insurance company’s right to recover compensation in such cases, emphasising the importance of adhering to permit conditions under the Motor Vehicles Act. This decision aligns with the recent findings of the Supreme Court in Gohar Mohammed v. Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation and Others.

Supreme Court Constitution Bench to Address Four Long-Pending Cases

The Supreme Court has scheduled four important cases to be heard by a nine-judge Constitution Bench, starting on October 12, 2023. While these cases are listed for procedural directions, they address significant legal questions that have been pending for several decades.

  1. Property Owners Association v. State of Maharashtra:
    • Key Question: Interpretation of “material resources of the community” under Article 39(b) of the Constitution.
    • This case concerns the constitutional validity of Chapter VIIIA of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Act, 1976. The issue involves whether a constitutional amendment, once struck down, would revive the original or substituted article.
  2. Mineral Area Development v. M/S Steel Authority Of India & Ors:
    • Key Question: Whether royalty determined under the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act, 1957, is considered a tax.
    • The case revolves around the Bihar Coal Mining Area Development Authority (Amendment) Act, 1992 and additional cess and taxes imposed on land revenue due from mineral-bearing lands.
  3. State of UP v. Jai Bir Singh:
    • Key Question: Whether the definition of ‘industry’ under Section 2(j) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, should be read restrictively.
    • The case involves the interpretation of the term ‘industry’ in the context of the Industrial Disputes Act and its application to various professions.
  4. State of UP & Ors. v. M/S Lalta Prasad Vaish:
    • Key Question: Obstacles created by Section 18G of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, for the state to exercise its concurrent powers.
    • This case delves into the interpretation of Section 18G, which allows the Central government to ensure fair distribution and affordability of certain products related to scheduled industries.

These cases have remained unresolved for extended periods and cover diverse legal issues. The Constitution Bench’s deliberations will provide clarity on these complex matters and have a significant impact on legal jurisprudence in India.

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