Week of January 25, 2021

The Court stays a controversial Bombay High Court judgment, asks for stricter regulations on speech, 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.

HOUSEKEEPING

Banning cryptocurrencies?

Some of you may have hopped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon recently and enjoyed the spoils of Bitcoin’s rise. According to a report, the Indian government plans to introduce legislation to ban trading in cryptocurrencies. Instead, the proposed law directs India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, to create a digital currency.  While the RBI banned cryptocurrencies in 2018, the Court found the order unconstitutional. If the ban becomes law, this issue will likely find its way to the Court again.

Control incendiary TV shows

A few days after the government shut down mobile internet during violence at the tractor rally on Republic Day, the Court asked the government this week to create more programmes to curb free speech. During a hearing in a case challenging allegedly inflammatory media coverage, the Court instructed the government to control TV shows and news that inspire people to commit violence. The government argued that it has stopped inflammatory content from being broadcasted and highlighted the relevant regulatory structure in place.

CAN’T MISS THIS

The Court suspends Bombay High Court’s ruling on sexual assault

The Bombay High Court recently held that groping a child through their clothing does not constitute sexual assault. Instead, sexual assault requires “skin-to-skin” contact. The high court acquitted a man who groped a child of sexual assault and instead found him guilty of a lesser offense. The Court reasoned that the higher sexual assault charge required a higher standard of proof.

Instead of finding the defendant guilty under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO), the high court found him guilty under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The colonial era IPC violation carried a smaller punishment, while POCSO mandated a mandatory minimum of 3-5 years imprisonment.

The Court swiftly intervened this week and stayed the controversial judgment. The Court was responding to a petition by the Attorney General seeking review of the judgment, who argued that the high court definition would “set a dangerous precedent”. 

PETITIONS

Beant Singh killer mercy petition expedited

Beant Singh was the Chief Minister of Punjab when he was assassinated in a car bombing in 1995. His assassin, Balwant S. Rajaona, has asked the President to commute his sentence, a decision that essentially will be made by the government. Responding to a petition on the commutation, the Court asked the government to decide on the matter within two weeks. The Court ignored the government’s request to decide in three weeks instead of two, noting that the commutation petition has been with the government for nine years.

Uniform civil code related petitions pique the Court’s interest

A petition asks the Court to direct the government to create uniform adoption and guardianship laws. Another petition seeks uniform laws on divorce and alimony. The petitions implicate the Uniform Civil Code long sought by many, an observation the Court has made. In December, in a hearing on the uniform-divorce case, the Court expressed concerns that a uniform divorce law, or a broader uniform civil law, may offend religious sentiments. The Court noted that petitioner was asking the Court to “encroach on personal laws”. Nevertheless, the Court permitted the uniform-adoption case to proceed and sought the government’s response to the petition.

STORIES WE’RE READING

Internet restrictions in Jammu & Kashmir undermine the Court

Orders restricting internet access in Jammu & Kashmir are undermining the Court’s decision in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, according to this article. While the judgment did not restore internet access in the now Union Territory, the Court introduced procedural safeguards that mandated disclosure for the legal basis of the internet shutdowns. The Court had also noted that internet shutdowns could not continue indefinitely. However, shutdowns persist, and the government’s shutdown promulgations are still not transparently justified. 

The Court’s 72-year journey

The Court was created on January 28, 1950, two days after the Republic was. This article commemorates the Court’s 72nd birthday and discussed features of the Court’s premises. Some features include: the building’s shape represents the balanced scales of justice, and the Court’s seal includes the Ashoka chakra (like the national flag). Most notably, the author translates the inscription (Yato Dharmastato Jaya) on the seal: When there is Dharma, there will be Victory.