5 Key Judgments of 2020 on Equality, Free Speech and Other Constitutional Rights
A review of the top 5 landmark judgments of the Supreme Court, delivered in 2020.
With the Supreme Court operating in a limited capacity due to the COVID-19 outbreak, SC Observer looks back at the top 5 judgments (and orders) delivered in 2020 so far. From adjudicating on the internet shutdown in Kashmir to lifting barriers against female Armed Forces officers, the Court has had a busy first few months of the year.
On January 10th, a Bench comprising N.V. Ramana, Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai JJ ordered the Union to review all restrictions on communications imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. In doing so, it observed, ‘the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g)’. This judgment establishes that the internet serves as an important medium through which the fundamental rights to free expression and occupation is actualised.
On March 2nd, the five-judge Article 370 Bench ruled out referring the case to a larger bench. With this order, the Bench put to rest the argument that two pivotal earlier Article 370 judgments – Prem Nath Kaul and Sampat Prakash – were in conflict with each other. The Court appears to have signaled its preference for the precedent set by Sampat Prakash – specifically on the issue of whether the President can issue orders under Article 370 after the dissolution of the J&K Constituent Assembly. Sampat Prakash held yes.
In an important judgment as to interaction between the 1804 and 2013 land acquisition legislation, a five-judge Bench led by Arun Mishra J clarified ambiguities around when acquisition proceedings can lapse on 4 March. Significantly, he held that the State’s failure to deposit compensation in a landowner’s account was not sufficient to lapse proceedings under Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act. This case had previously garnered public attention for the questions it raised about precedent and recusal.
On March 4th, the Supreme Court restricted the application of the Right to Information Act, 2005 to the Gujarat High Court. In particular, Justice Banumathi’s three-judge Bench held that citizens cannot file RTI requests to obtain pleadings. Instead, citizens must resort to using the procedure established by the Gujarat High Court rules. As scholars such as Prashant Reddy have pointed out, this judgment is likely to set the precedent for all High Courts and the Supreme Court itself.
In a series of two judgments, the Bench comprising Chandrachud and Rastogi JJ cemented female Armed Forces officers’ right to Permanent Commission (PC). On February 17th, the Bench held that women in the Army have the same right to PC as their male counterparts. Then on March 20th, it did the same for women in the Navy. Both judgments emphasised that the Armed Forces must strive to do away with discriminatory mind-sets about a woman’s role in society.
Given that the Court has delivered over 300 judgments in 2020 so far, it was difficult to narrow down our list to only five judgments. Therefore, we’ve made an additional list of honourable mentions:
- Cryptocurrency Judgment: Ramasubramanian J authors the three-judge Bench ruling that removes the RBI ban on the trade of virtual currencies.
- Reservation in Promotion for Persons with Disabilities: A three-judge Bench led by Nariman J holds that granting reservation in promotion for persons with disabilities is not forbidden under Article 16(1) of the Constitution.
- Legality of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act Amendment: In an expected but important move, Justice Arun Mishra‘s three-judge Bench upheld the constitutionality of Parliament’s 2018 Amendment to the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
- Criminalisation of Politics – Contempt Order: Expanding upon the Court’s 2018 judgment, Nariman J issued directions to the Election Commission of India to curb the criminalisation of politics.