Week of August 10, 2020

A step forward for women's property rights, the Court opens itself to more criticism, and more!

Apex Court Weekly is a weekly round-up of judgments, petitions, orders and notices as they develop at the Supreme Court of India (“the Court”). We also occasionally cover High Courts. We cover some stories that gather national attention and some that should. This update is written by Rahul Srivastava, J.D. candidate at Cornell Law School, and supported by the Cornell India Law Center. 

Happy (belated) Independence Day to Indians around the world.

HOUSEKEEPING

Guess who's back

The Court, maybe. The Court is strongly considering resuming physical hearings in a limited capacity from as soon as next week. The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association stated on Tuesday that a seven-Justice Committee led by the Chief Justice sat on August 11 to discuss the matter. Many Supreme Court advocates have suffered financially because of the Court's shutdown.

Video recordings of crime scenes and police stations

Not all police stations and prisons have CCTV cameras. In a prior judgment (D.K. Basu versus State of West Bengal and Ors.), the Court directed States to ensure police stations have CCTV cameras to protect human rights violations. In July, the Court expanded that direction and asked every State to set up an oversight committee to independently study the gathered CCTV footage. This month, the Court requested the Central Government to show compliance.

No "certificate" required for electronic evidence

We've covered the Court's recent decisions expanding electronic access to the Court: petition e-filing, allowing notice through social media, maybe even video-conferencing one day. On August 11, the Court relaxed requirements for electronic evidence, holding that certificates were not necessary to produce electronic evidence before court. 

CAN’T MISS THIS

A step forward for women’s property rights

On August 11, in Vineet Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors., the Court held that Hindu women have an equal right to property as Hindu men. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 had already expressly given Hindu women equal inheritance rights. There still remained a question before the Court: Did the father have to be alive when the Act was signed for it to apply to women? The Court held that it was not necessary, and equal inheritance rights applied to all Hindu women. 

Applying the law retrospectively was a question that had come up before many courts across the country since the 2005 Act. Even different benches of the Court had taken opposing views on the matter. As each of those case was decided by a two-Justice bench, this decision used a three-Justice bench to finally settle the question. 

Even though the rights could only be claimed after the Act was passed, the Court noted that a woman's property rights were conferred at birth and therefore could be retroactively applied. India has different laws depending on an individual's religion. 

This holding was limited to the rights of Hindu women only, and did not include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious minorities. The holding was also limited to cases where laws of intestate succession govern inheritance, but not personal wills. 

PETITIONS

End misinformation

Last week we covered a petition that sought a regulatory body that would regulate broadcast channels. This week, law students filed a petition seeking the government to regulate social media access for different age groups, and implement a "policy verification mechanism".  The petition also seeks mandatory sex education for adolescents. While discussing the many problems associated with social media, the petition also argues that the availability of illicit images and video on social violates the right to privacy the Court found in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India.

Disinfectant tunnels

petition seeks to ban "disinfectant tunnels" that spray people with disinfectants as they enter a public place. The petition claims that the tunnels are not only ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but may also harm users. The petition cites the WHO and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as authorities who have already warned against the practice's effectiveness. This article discusses the practice in India and around the world. 

STORIES WE'RE READING

Final but not infallible

That's what this article calls the Court after its handling of the Prashant Bhushan contempt cases. The article refers to Justice Markandey Katju's remarks discussing contempt. In earlier remarks in 2008, Justice Katju called the test to determine contempt a question of whether the criticism makes the Judge's job impossible or extremely difficult. 

The silent majority

Foreign law firms are not allowed to operate in India, much to their chagrin. This article discusses protecting lawyers and the profession from non-advocates, such as the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, Ernst & Young). The author expresses concern against the various quasi-administrative tribunals that have assumed judicial power and may use non-lawyers in practice. 

Concern with the Court's practices

Beginning contempt proceedings against an individual's tweets may have opened a can of worms for the Court. Instead of getting 280 character tweets, the Court is now confronted with various op-eds criticizing its decisions and practices. One such op-ed is this article. The author criticizes the Court's actions (and inaction) and even declares that " [The] reputation of the Supreme Court of India today may be at its lowest ebb since the Emergency".

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We appreciate your continuing interest in Apex Court Weekly and encourage you to engage with us in the comments section. Just as a heads up, Apex Court Weekly will be taking an end-of-the-(American) summer break starting next week. We will be back with the Week of September 2, 2020.