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.


1. Access to Internet and Free Speech

On January 10th, a Bench comprising N.V. RamanaSubhash 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.


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2. Article 370 – Reference Issue

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.


3. Land Acquisition

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.


4. RTI Requests for Pleadings

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.


5. Permanent Commission for female Armed Forces Officers

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.


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Honourable Mentions

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:



Image 1: “Police in Kashmir confronting violent protestors December 2018” by Seyyed Sajed Hassan Razavi (Tasnim News Agency) is licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution 4.0 International license).
Image 2: “Indian Navy ships” by Vranitzky is licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)