Justice Navin Sinha retired on August 18th, 2021. He wrote 126 judgments as a Supreme Court judge during his four year tenure. In this post, we look at some of his key judgments.
Designation of Senior Advocates
In 2017, Sinha J was part of the three-judge Bench with Gogoi and Nariman JJ which laid down guidelines for the designation of senior advocates in the Supreme Court. They held that the criteria for designation was previously arbitrary, and did not promote diversity among advocates at the SC. They ordered that a selection committee be set up, which would select senior advocates based on a point system. They held that the highest level of scrutiny must be adopted in choosing senior advocates.
Judicial Services Appointment
In the case of Mohammed Imran v State of Maharashtra, Navin J authored the judgment for himself and Kurian Joseph J. In this case the appellant, Mr. Huzefa Ahmad had been charged with kidnapping in 2004 and was acquitted. However, because he was involved in an act of ‘moral turpitude’ his selection for the judicial services was cancelled. The Bench held that he was arbitrarily denied appointment and directed that Mr. Ahmad’s candidature was to be reconsidered.
Power to Grant Liquor Licenses Only with State Government
In 2017, the Haryana Liquor License Rules, 1970 (the Rules) were amended. Under the amended rules, only a single private entity in the entire state would be given a license by the State Financial Commissioner to deal in imported liquor. In the case International Spirits and Wines Association of India v State of Haryana (2019) the petitioners challenged the Rules, arguing that the state had created a monopoly in favour of a private entity.
Navin Sinha J authored the majority opinion for himself and Gogoi CJI. They ruled that only the State Government had the power to grant licenses for the entire state. The Financial Commissioner could only exercise power over a local area to make sure the conditions of the liquor license were followed. So, the Bench struck down the amended rule granting these powers.
Criminal Law Matters
Sinha J wrote the majority opinion in Bhagwat v State of Maharashtra (2018). An appeal was filed by a man convicted for the murder of his wife. Sinha J referred to the medical reports and forensic evidence submitted to confirm that the injuries and circumstances were consistent with homicide. He also held that the dying declaration made to the Special Judicial Magistrate and the Doctor who was present had been proved and upheld the conviction.
In 2019, a two-judge Bench of Navin Sinha and Ashok Bhushan JJ heard a case involving four people accused of homicide in the case of Anand Ramachandra Chougule v Sidarai Laxman Chougala (2019). The HC decided that the assault in question wasn’t premeditated and altered the conviction to ‘homicide due to negligence for two of the accused. The other two were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Navin Sinha J authored the majority opinion. He stated that the prosecution had not placed all the relevant materials on record including the injury report from the hospital. They had also failed to include the FIR that the accused had filed regarding the incident. This supported the defence’s argument that the prosecution suppressed evidence.
In Reena Hazarika v State of Assam (2019), the accused (Reena Hazarika) was found guilty of killing the victim because the victim was last seen with her. Sinha J’s judgments clarified that merely because the accused was last seen with the victim, the burden does not lie on the accused to prove their innocence. This clarified the scope of the ‘last seen theory’ within section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. S 106 discusses the burden of proof on a person who has knowledge of a relevant fact. The accused just had to raise reasonable doubts on the probability of her being the attacker. Circumstantial evidence such as the ‘last seen theory’ was only valid if it eliminated any other possible explanation.
Upheld the Constitutionality of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) sought to comprehensively reform the insolvency law in India. The constitutional validity of several of its provisions was challenged in Swiss Ribbons Pvt Ltd. v Union of India (2019). For example, some provisions dealt with the functioning of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), and the National Company Appellate Law Tribunal (NCLAT).
The petitioners argued that the number of bureaucrats exceeded the number of judicial members on these tribunals. Further, the tribunals have its administrative functions done by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs rather than the Ministry of Law and Justice. They argued that this compromised the judicial weight of the tribunals
The two-judge Bench consisting of Nariman and Sinha JJ held that all the challenged provisions of the IBC were constitutional. The judgment noted the ‘experimental’ nature of the IBC, and stated that since it pertained to economic matters, the IBC can have an experimental component. Finally, the Bench held that the IBC fulfils the purpose it was drafted for- it eliminates the ‘defaulter’s paradise’. It held that the IBC is constitutional.
National Green Tribunal Cannot Hear Appeals from Pollution Control Boards
In 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) stayed an order of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) which had shut down the Vedanta Ltd smelting plant. The plant was allowed to open with few restrictions. The TNPCB appealed this order, since the plant was polluting the area and affecting the residents there. In Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board v Sterlite Industries (I) Ltd (2019) a two-judge Bench consisting Nariman and Sinha JJ held that the NGT was not the proper appellate authority, and therefore the Vedanta plant could not be opened: the Madras High Court was the proper appellate authority.
Expert Evidence Necessary to Determine Whether Product Containing Genetic Matter Can be Patented
In 2019, Sinha J wrote the judgment regarding Monsanto’s patent on Nucleotide Acid Sequence (NAS). NAS contained a gene which killed certain pesticides in cotton seeds. The Delhi High Court held that since the patent dealt with genetic matter it was protected by the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. Therefore, it could not be patented. Sinha J stated that the Delhi High Court had made a simplistic judgment based on the face value of the patent application. In reality, the application was complex since expert advice was needed to clarify whether there was a genetic or man-made component in NAS, and whether it came under plant varieties. He noted that the judgment only looked at submissions and documents, instead of expert evidence. The case was sent back to the Delhi High Court.