2022 Monsoon Session Review
The Court's Monsoon Session saw the revival of Constitution Bench after 15 months, 6 CB's were formed in two months to hear 25 cases
The Monsoon of 2022 has been the most eventful season in the Supreme Court since the pandemic began in 2020. Justice UU Lalit took over as the Chief Justice of India after Justice NV Ramana’s retirement in August. After a 15 month slump in Constitution Bench activity, he formed six five-judge Constitution Benches to hear 25 cases.
The Supreme Court delivered a slew of important judgments in this session. The Court upheld the investigative powers of the Directorate of Enforcement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The Supreme Court also ruled that party autonomy is paramount in arbitrations and arbitrators cannot decide their fees unilaterally.
Four Judges retired during this session: Justices AM Khanwilkar, NV Ramana, Indira Banerjee and Hemant Gupta. However, despite 6 vacancies and 1 upcoming in the next few days, no appointments have been made since May, 2022.
Six Crucial Judgments Delivered on a Wide Range of Subjects:
In this session, the Supreme Court delivered Judgments in subjects ranging from the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the prevention of money laundering act to validity of Karnataka’s Hijab Ban in educational institutions.
- Challenges to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act: On July 27th, 2022, a Bench led by Justice AM Khanwilkar upheld the wide investigative powers given to the Directorate of Enforcement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The Bench also upheld restrictive bail conditions under the Act. The Judgment dismissed close to 200 petitions which stated that the powers of these specialised investigation agencies that deal with economic offences violate the fair trial rights of accused persons.
- Bail Plea of Mohammad Zubair: On July 20th, 2022, a 3-Judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud granted interim bail to AltNews co-founder Mr. Mohammad Zubair. Mr. Zubair was arrested on June 23rd, 2022 for tweets that he published. He was charged with criminal conspiracy, public nuisance, and inciting unlawful assembly. In its Judgment, the Supreme Court noted that Mr. Zubair had been subjected to a ‘fairly sustained investigation’ and found no reason to further deprive him of his liberty.
- Party Autonomy In Fixing Arbitrator’s Fees: On August 30th, 2022, the Supreme Court delivered a Judgment in the ONGC-Afcons dispute, stressing on the importance of party autonomy in arbitration proceedings. The Court held that arbitrators cannot unilaterally decide their own fee. Instead, parties to the arbitration must mutually agree on a fee structure. Further, the Court capped arbitrators’ fees at Rs. 30 lakhs per arbitrator.
- Disqualification Proceedings Against Maharashtra MLAs: In August 2022 a Bench led by CJI NV Ramana heard arguments on whether the Supreme Court was the right forum to adjudicate disagreements within the Legislative Assembly. The Court referred the case to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench on August 23rd, 2022. On September 27th, 2022, a Constitution Bench led by Justice Chandrachud rejected the Uddhav Thackarey faction’s argument that the rival members could not be allowed to approach the Election Commission (EC) as legislators while disqualification proceedings were pending against them. Justice Chandrachud observed orally that a mere reference of the case to a Constitution Bench cannot stop a constitutional body, the EC, from exercising its powers. The Constitution Bench will start hearing the main issue from November 1st, 2022.
- Exceptions to Exemptions in Sales Tax Statutes: On September 19th, 2022, a Constitution Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee held that a smaller Bench’s Judgment which held that there was a conflict between two Supreme Court cases to decide if ‘Pan Masala & Gutka’ was exempted from State sales tax as a ‘Tobacco’ product was incorrect. The Constitution Bench held that there was no conflict between the two cases. The case was sent back to a regular 3-Judge Bench for a decision on the taxation of ‘Pan Masala & Gutka’.
- Karnataka’s Hijab Ban: On October 13th, 2022, Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudanshu Dhulia delivered a split verdict in a challenge by Muslim students against the Karnataka Government Order banning hijabs in educational institutions. Justice Hemant Gupta confirmed the Karnataka HC Judgment and upheld the ban. Justice Dhulia decided in favour of those challenging the ban. The case will be placed before CJI U.U. Lalit to decide next steps.
Judgment Reserved on Three Important Constitutional Questions :
- Reservation For Economically Weaker Sections: On September 27th, 2022, a Constitution Bench led by CJI Lalit finished hearing arguments from all the parties and reserved Judgment in a batch of cases challenging the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 which enabled the State to make reservations in higher education and matters of public employment on the basis of economic criteria alone.
- Challenge To All India Bar Examination: A Constitution Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul reserved Judgment in the challenge to the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) conducted by the Bar Council of India. In April, 2010 the Bar Council of India (BCI) introduced the All India Bar Exam (AIBE) to improve the standards of the legal profession in the country. Students challenged AIBE on the ground V. Sudheer v BCI (1999), which held that the BCI cannot impose pre-conditions before admitting a candidate as a lawyer. The court heard Senior Advocates and amicus curiae KK Venugopal and K.V.Vishwanathan in the case.
- Supreme Court’s Power To Directly Grant Divorce: On September 29th, 2022, a Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul reserved Judgment in the case to decide if Article 142 of the Constitution allows the Supreme to decide matrimonial disputes in case of irretrievable breakdown of marriage (IBM). The court heard amicus curiae and Senior Advocates Indira Jaising, V. Giri and Dushyant Dave. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for an intervenor and made brief submissions.
Following CJI Ramana’s retirement on August 26th, 2022, Justice U.U. Lalit was appointed as Chief Justice of India. Justice Lalit introduced some major changes to the Supreme Court. On August 24th, 2022, two days before Justice Lalit became the CJI, the SC announced the listing of 25 Constitution Bench matters for hearing, starting from August 29th.
On August 26th, 2022, CJI Lalit announced changes to the process of listing cases and mentioning urgent matters to make them more transparent. Under the new system, all fresh matters that did not have defects in the petition and were verified by the SC Registry would be listed within a week. In case the number of matters listed on either of these days is in excess, some matters will be listed for the following Monday or Friday. Further, CJI Lalit has prioritised hearing ‘regular’ matters which have been admitted and are pending arguments, over fresh ‘miscellaneous’ matters on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
A total six Constitution Benches were formed in September. One bench has now been disbanded as Justice Indira Banerjee retired on September 23rd, 2022. These Benches are headed by Justices Lalit, DY Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abdul Nazeer and KM Joseph.
Despite the formation of Six Constitution Benches, only one Judgment has been delivered so far.
On July 29th, 2022, Justice Khanwilkar retired from the Supreme Court after a 6-year tenure. Justice Khanwilkar authored 226 Judgments during his tenure, a mark exceeded by only three other sitting SC Judges.
On August 26th, 2022, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana’s tenure at the SC ended. He served at the Supreme Court as a Judge for 8.5 years since February 2014. He was appointed at the CJI on April 24th, 2021, and served a tenure of 1.3 years.
Justice Indira Banerjee, the eighth woman judge of the Supreme Court retired on September 23rd, 2022. This marked the sixth judicial retirement from the Supreme Court this year. Justice Banerjeeauthored judgements in a range of subjects from criminal law to elections. Towards the end of her 4-year tenure, Justice Banerjee headed the Constitution Bench which held that only a decision of a larger Bench can overrule a judgement delivered by a Bench of lesser strength.
Justice Hemant Gupta retired on October 16th, 2022, after serving a tenure of nearly four years at the Supreme Court. On his penultimate working day, he delivered one of the most contested Judgments of the year in the Hijab Ban case. Justice Gupta upheld the Karnataka government’s Hijab ban in a split decision alongside Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, who held that the ban was unconstitutional. Any conversation about Justice Gupta’s legacy at the Supreme Court will begin with this, his last Judgment.
The Court does not officially follow a session calendar. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court Observer analyses the Court through 4 sessions, divided by the Court’s vacations. They are: Spring Session (January 2 – March 26), Summer Session (April 3 – May 9), Monsoon Session (July 1 – October 8) and Winter Session (October 18 – December 17).