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Top 25 Supreme Court judgments of 2023

By Shreya Agarwal      01 January, 2024 11:24 AM      0 Comments

As 2024 begins, we at Lawstreet Journal bring to you the top 25 Supreme Court (SC) verdicts from 2023. 

  1. Challenge to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution

    In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Bharatiya Janta Party-led Central government's abrogation of Article 370 removing the Jammu and Kashmir's special status under the Constitution. Importantly, the Court also issued directions for the conduct of Assembly elections in the state by September 2024, along with the restoration of their statehood at the earliest. The Court held that Article 370 was only a temporary provision. 

    The Supreme Court also called for the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee for the state to cull out a common accepted history of the wrongs committed upon the people of Jammu and Kashmir by state and non-state actors at least since the 1980s. 

    In Re: Article 370 of the Constitution
  2. Same-sex marriage

    The Court held that the right to marriage is not a fundamental right and refused to legalize same-sex marriage for queer persons, holding that any decision on the same falls squarely within the domain of the legislature.

    A five-judge Supreme Court bench also upheld the validity of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and refused to legalise same-sex marriage. It, however, provided for the setting up of a Committee to study various aspects of the matter.

    Supriyo @ Supriya Chakraborty vs Union of India
  3. Delhi Lieutenant Governor vs Aam Aadmi Party

    Ruling on a long-standing tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and the LG of Delhi, a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud ruled that the Government of the National Capital of Delhi (GNCTD), instead of the LG, is responsible for the management of the national capital’s civil servants and daily administrative affairs.

    However, the GNCTD's relief was short-lived as shortly after the said verdict, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023, moved by the BJP government was passed by the Parliament, effectively reversing the SC judgement in the matter.

    Government of NCT of Delhi vs Union of India
  4. Right to die with dignity [Euthanasia]

    Extending relief to terminally ill patients, and following in the footsteps of several western countries, the Supreme Court removed some mandatory conditions mentioned in the guidelines for the withdrawal of life-support systems to enable death.

    While active euthanasia is still unlegislated in the country, passive euthanasia through the removal of life-support systems was recognized by the Supreme Court itself in the case of Manipur activist Aruna Shanbaug.

    In the Shanbaug case, the Court declared that passive euthanasia can be applied for by persons in a permanent vegetative state, by approaching the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. However, at the same time the Court said that the larger question of legalizing euthanasia would have to be determined by way of a law.

    In the case of Common Cause vs Union of India the Court said that the prior decision of the Supreme Court was inconsistent to this extent, and referred the question to a larger Constitution bench.

    The Constitution bench then ruled on the matter changing the guidelines for euthanasia and held that doctors will need only five years of experience to be a part of the Medical Board which decides on the matter, bringing the same down from 20 years.

    As per the guidelines, two boards of doctors play a key role in the validation of end-of-life instructions laid down on behalf of a critically ill patient. The judgement also made it mandatory for the two boards to arrive at a decision “preferably" within 48 hours of the case being referred to it.

    Common Cause vs Union of India
  5. Supreme Court’s power to directly grant divorce 

    On 1 May, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul held that in the exercise of the Court’s inherent power under Article 142, it can dissolve a marriage that has irretrievably broken down. The Court departed from the procedure laid down in Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872. The family law framework previously followed the “fault theory” according to which either of the parties to the marriage must prove fault.

    It has been noted by Courts that this framework leads to unnecessary and prolonged litigations, often forcing parties to level false allegations against one another simply to secure divorce - thus adding not only to the parties' suffering, but also adding to the pendency of cases before Courts.

    The Bench held that if the Court is “fully convinced and satisfied that the marriage is totally unworkable, emotionally dead and beyond salvation,” it can exercise its powers under Article 142 to do “complete justice” to the parties involved. 

    In the case of Shilpa Sailesh although it is not the first time that the Supreme Court used its power under Article 142 to grant divorce, but this judgement stands out for clarifying contradictory precedent on the use of ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as grounds for divorce. 

    The Court also listed factors that the Court must take into account before ascertaining that there has been an ‘irretrievable breakdown’. 

    These include the duration of the period when the parties last cohabited, the nature of the allegations, attempts at settlements of disputes, other court orders and the duration of the couple’s separation.

    Shilpa Sailesh vs Varun Sreenivasan
  6. Challenge to the practice of Jallikattu

    The Supreme Court upheld the practice of bovine sports in the southern states - such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, Kambala in Karnataka, and Bailgada Sharyat in Maharashtra. A Constitution bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph relied on state amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act) allowing the sports to uphold the practice. The judgement was authored by Justice Aniruddha Bose in the matter.

    The Bench relied on the Government of Tamil Nadu’s argument that Jallikattu was a key part of the state’s culture, practised for centuries. The Bench also stated that recognition of fundamental rights of animals does not have any precedent in Indian law thus, it will not “be prudent for us to venture into a judicial adventurism to bring bulls within the protection of Article 21.”

    Earlier, a two-judge Bench in the Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja (2014) had banned Jallikattu and bullock-cart racing for causing unnecessary pain and suffering holding that the “PCA Act, a welfare legislation…overshadows or overrides the so-called tradition and culture.” 

    However, the Centre soon after brought a notification in January 2016 allowed Jallikattu with certain restrictions. Later, the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra made state amendments to the PCA Act to allow bovine sports.

    Animal Welfare Board of India vs Union of India
  7. Election Commission Appointments

    On 21 March, a five-judge Constitution Bench modified the process for appointing members of the Election Commission of India (ECI), creating a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India (CJI), the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. 

    While Article 324(5) of the Constitution stipulates that the conditions of service for ECI members shall be such as the President determines, “subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament”, the Court interpreted the words “Subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament” to mean that the power of appointment of ECI members was not exclusively with the executive.

    Next, though the duty to frame a law for the appointment of ECI members is under the Parliament, in light of inordinate delays and parliamentary inaction, it issued directions stating that they will hold good till the time the Parliament makes its law.

    However, the Union government then introduced the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 in the Rajya Sabha, proposing excluding the CJI. 

    The “Selection Committee” provided for included the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Union cabinet member of the Prime Minister’s choosing. 

    Thus the Bill effectively gives the Executive the final say, overturning the position taken by the Supreme Court in its ruling in  the Anoop Baranwal. The Bill was passed by both Houses of the Parliament and became law in 2023, receiving the President's assent.

    Anoop Baranwal vs Union of India
  8. The Lieutenant Governor and control over the NCT of Delhi

    A Constitution Bench led by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud held that the Government of the National Capital of Delhi (NCTD)—and not the Lieutenant Governor (LG)—controls the national capital’s civil servants and day-to-day administration. The Court clarified that officers of the Indian Administrative Service, or joint cadre services though not recruited by the GNCTD would serve under the state government only. 

    The judgment fortified that the legislative and executive power over ‘services’ shall lie with the Delhi government.

    The Bench unanimously held that the Delhi Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws extending to all subjects in the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, except public order, police and land — subjects expressly excluded by Article 239AA of the Constitution. 

    This means that the Delhi Legislative Assembly can make laws under Entry 41 of List II (State Public Services; State Public Service Commission) as well. 

    “[I]f the government is not able to control and hold to account the officers posted in its service, then its responsibility towards the legislature as well as the public is diluted,” the Bench observed.

    The judgement stated that Article 239AA must be interpreted to further the principle of representative democracy and not curb it. 

    239AA provides for ‘Special provisions with respect to Delhi’ in the Constitution.

    However, soon after the verdict the President promulgated an ordinance, creating  a National Capital Service Authority which was vested with the power to recommend the transfers and postings of certain high-ranking civil servants.

    Later The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2023 was passed which restored the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s power to make laws with respect to ‘services’, however the National Capital Service Authority was retained in the same.

    Government of NCT of Delhi v Union of India
  9. Maharashtra political crisis

    Ruling on an inside-party battle that snowballed into a full-blown takeover of power in Maharashtra, a five-judge Bench held that the Maharashtra Governor’s ordering of a floor test against the then-Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was illegal as the Governor had no objective material to do so, however the bench said that Thackeray’s resignation could not be reversed as it was voluntary. 

    However, the question of whether a Speaker can decide disqualification petitions despite there being a notice to have a member removed was referred to a seven-judge bench. Further the question of whether the rebellion amounted to defection was directed to be decided by the Speaker as per due procedure. 

    In June 2022, the Eknath Shinde-faction of Shiv Sena had rebelled against Thackeray, after which disqualification notices were issued against the MLAs through the Deputy Speaker. These rebel MLAs then moved a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker and challenged the notices before the Supreme Court.

    While a floor test was ordered by the Governor later, Thackeray resigned and Shinde was invited by the Governor to form the government. 

    This move of the Governor and the election of the new Speaker were challenged in the Supreme Court by then-General Secretary of the Thackeray-led faction, Subhash Desai.

    A decision on the disqualification petitions from the Speaker was first to be made by December 31, 2023, then by 10 January 2024 after an extension was granted by the Supreme Court.

    Subhash Desai v Principal Secretary, Governor of Maharashtra and Ors
  10. Challenge to Tenure Extension of CBI and ED Directors

    In July, 2023 the Court unanimously upheld the validity of the Centre's 2021 ordinances allowing the Centre to grant extensions to the tenures of directors of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in ‘public interest’. It also stated that the independence of the agencies would not be breached as there were sufficient safeguards protecting the agencies from the pressures of the executive.

    However, the Court also held that the extension granted to then-incumbent ED Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra in November 2021 was illegal as a legislative enactment could only nullify a judgement if it was retrospective in nature. 

    Further, the Court held that no further extension could be granted to Mishra whose tenure had already been extended by a year beyond the fixed two-year term.

    It directed the government to appoint a new director by 31 July, 2023. The Centre anyway proceeded to extend Mishra’s tenure till September 15, 2023. 

    In November 2021, 3 days before the incumbent ED director Sanjay Kumar Mishra’s tenure was to end, the President had passed two ordinances granting the Centre the power to grant extensions to the tenures of CBI and ED directors. 

    Relying on the Court's decision in Common Cause v Union of India (2021) wherein it was held that tenures could be extended only in ‘rare and exceptional’ cases, the petitioner had argued that such extensions would interfere with the independence of investigative agencies from the executive. 

    The Union, they said, could use tenure extensions as incentives for the heads of these investigative agencies to take actions favouring the Union.

    Dr. Jaya Thakur v Union of India
  11. Validity of Unstamped Arbitration Agreement

    In December 2023, a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of an unstamped arbitration agreement reasoning that not stamping was a ‘curable defect’ and would not render the whole agreement void by itself.

    Earlier, a five-judge bench led by Justice KM Joseph had held by a 3:2 majority held that an unstamped or insufficiently stamped arbitration agreement was void and unenforceable. 

    The decision however met with immediate criticism for creating practical difficulties in resolving urgent matters, following which a five-judge Bench led by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud decided to reconsider the verdict in NN Global, and referred the case to a seven-judge Bench.

    NN Global Mercantile Pvt Ltd v. Indo Unique Flame Ltd & ors; In Re: interplay between Indian Stamp Act and Indian Arbitration Act
  12. Validity of demonetisation of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes

    In yet another win for the BJP-led Centre, a five-judge Constitution Bench judgment upheld the Centre's demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 bank notes in November 2016. 

    Justice BV Nagarathna passed a dissenting opinion stating that there was no “meaningful application of mind” in the move withdrawing ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes, which formed 86 per cent of the currency in circulation at the time. She also took note of the severe financial crunch and socio-economic despair caused by the move.

    The lone dissenting judge, Justice Nagarathna stated that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had not independently applied its mind to the policy.

    The majority opinion however held that hardships faced by the public cannot be grounds to set aside the demonetisation policy itself as illegal.

    Vivek Narayan Sharma v. Union of India
  13. Fundamental rights lie not only against the State, but also against non-State actors

    In a significant verdict arising from two instances of Ministers making controversial remarks against victims of a crime, in a 4:1 majority decision the Court held that while fundamental rights lie not only against the State but also non-State actors, the right to freedom of speech and expression can only be curtailed by reasonable restrictions laid down under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. 

    The Court held that this was an exhaustive list and that new restrictions cannot be imposed in addition to these grounds. The victims had claimed that these remarks violated their right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

    Kaushal Kishore v. State of Uttar Pradesh and ors
  14. Group of companies doctrine in arbitration

    A Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in December ruled that the group of companies doctrine will be applicable to arbitration proceedings in India.

    The "group of companies" doctrine states that a company that is a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement would be bound by the agreement if such a company is a member of the same group of companies that signed the agreement.

    A Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra concluded that non-signatory parties, by virtue of their relationship with the signatory and engagement in commercial activities, cannot be deemed strangers to the dispute under arbitration.

    Cox and Kings vs SAP Pvt Ltd
  15. Tussles between Governors and elected governments of states

    The latter half of 2023 saw various petitions by the elected governments in Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu against their respective Governors for inordinate delays in assent to Bills passed by the State legislatures.

    Delivering its judgment in Punjab's case, the Supreme Court made it clear that a Governor cannot use his/her constitutional powers to stall the enactment of legislative bills as the same amounted to an abuse of process.

    Days later, the Supreme Court asked Kerala Governor Mohammad Arif Khan to go through the Court's November 10 verdict, after similar grievances were raised against Khan. The petitions against the Kerala Governor, as well as the Tamil Nadu Governor (RN Ravi) are still pending.
  16. Manipur Violence crisis

    The outbreak of intense violence in Manipur earlier this year triggered a batch of petitions before the Supreme Court, which also eventually took suo motu cognisance of the issue after a video of two women from the Kuki-Zomi community being paraded naked and molested by a mob of men went viral.

    The Manipur Tribal Forum had told the top court that the Central government's assurances on restoring peace in the State are empty, with BJP-backed communal groups being behind the attacks on tribals.

    The Court eventually constituted an all-woman committee headed by retired Justice Gita Mittal to examine various issues concerning the State-wide conflict.

    The case is still ongoing. In the last hearing of the matter on December 15, the Court recorded the Manipur government's assurance that steps would be taken to ensure that persons in relief camps can attend ceremonies and prayers on the occasion of Christmas.
  17. Regular bail for Teesta Setalvad

    A three-judge special bench in July granted bail to activist Teesta Setalvad in the conspiracy case lodged against her for allegedly maligning the State of Gujarat and then Chief Minister Narendra Modi for their handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots. 

    This, after the Supreme Court had on July 1 granted interim protection to Setalvad, who is accused of fabricating documents and tutoring witnesses to implicate higher functionaries of the Gujarat government.

    The Court held a special sitting on a Saturday to stay the Gujarat High Court order denying the activist bail.

    Teesta Atul Setalvad v. State of Gujarat
  18. Relief for Rahul Gandhi

    In August, the Supreme Court stayed the conviction and two-year jail term imposed on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by a Gujarat court in a criminal defamation case for his remark "All thieves have Modi surname."

    A Bench of Justices BR Gavai, PS Narasimha and PV Sanjay Kumar said that the trial court did not give any specific reasons for imposing the maximum punishment of two years' imprisonment prescribed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for the offence of defamation, though the offence is a non-cognizable one.

    The apex court further noted that the ramifications of Gandhi's conviction are wide and affect the rights of electorate of Wayanad, the constituency which Gandhi was representing as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Lok Sabha.

    Rahul Gandhi v. Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi and anr
  19. Streamlining of adoption process

    In an ongoing matter regarding the issue of adoption under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 (‘JJ Act’), when the Central Adoption and Research Agency (‘CARA’) brought in certain suggestions for the Court’s consideration, the Bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, CJI, J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, JJ. issued several directions to ensure a streamlined and expeditious process of adoption. 

    The Court began with the fact that cases related to adoption of children who were orphaned/ abandoned/ surrendered (‘OAS’) follow the mandate under JJ Act and CARA Regulations, 2022. It further informed about CARA in conjunction with the National Informatics Centre (‘NIC’) having developed a Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (‘CARINGS’), a platform initially designed in 2015 and updated in 2015 aiming to ensure that adoptions under the JJ Act were brought under an online platform.

    The Temple of Healing v. Union of India
  20. Supreme Court grants 2 Bhima Koregaon accused bail after 5 years in jail

    Mere possession of literature through which violent acts may be propagated is not a 'terrorist act' under Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Supreme Court held while granting bail to Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in the Bhima Koregaon case.

    Activists Gonsalves and Ferreira, along with 14 others are accused by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of being responsible for the violence that erupted at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial in Pune in 2017. 

    While granting bail to the two activists, however, the Court noted that there was no evidence of Gonsalves and Ferreira having committed any terrorist act that would require the Court to invoke the stringent provisions against grant of bail under Section 43D(5) of UAPA.

    Vernon v. State of Maharashtra
  21. Supreme Court refuses to grant regular bail to Manish Sisodia

    The Supreme Court on October 30 denied bail to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in connection with cases related to the Delhi excise policy scam.

    Sisodia has been in custody since February 26 this year. He is being probed by both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

    The scam involves allegations that Delhi government officials had connived to grant liquor licenses to certain traders in exchange for bribes. The accused officials are alleged to have tweaked the excise policy to benefit certain liquor sellers.

    Manish Sisodia v. Central Bureau of Investigation
  22. Why is the right to vote not a fundamental right?

    The Supreme Court in July observed that it was paradoxical that the right to vote has not been recognised as a fundamental right in India, despite democracy being an essential facet of the Constitution.

    A Bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar stressed that an elector's right to know the detailed background of a candidate is part of constitutional jurisprudence.

    The observations came in a judgment that upheld the lodging of an election petition by Congress leader K Madan Mohan Rao, who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Zahirabad to Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader Bhim Rao Patil by 6,299 votes.

    Bhim Rao Baswanth Rao Patil v. K Madan Mohan Rao and Others
  23. B.Ed graduates cannot teach at primary school level

    The Supreme Court in August ruled that Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) candidates are ineligible to hold primary school teacher posts.

    The Court made it clear that B.Ed is in no terms a qualification to teach at the primary level (classes I to V). The Court noted that as per NCTE norms, the necessary qualification for primary teacher posts was a Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed.).

    It also emphasised that elementary education is a fundamental right under Article 21A of the Constitution.

    Devesh Sharma v. Union of India and ors
  24. Poor implementation of POSH Act

    In May, the Court took strong exception to the fact that even a decade after the enactment of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 (POSH Act), there remained serious lapses in its effective enforcement.

    Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli said that the lack of internal complaints committees in several bodies reflected a sorry state of affairs.

    The Court underlined that all state functionaries, public authorities, private undertakings, organizations and institutions are duty bound to implement the POSH Act in letter and spirit.

    Aureliano Fernandes v. State of Goa and Others
  25. Adani Group-Hindenburg Research report saga

    The Supreme Court in November reserved its verdict in a batch of petitions seeking an examination of allegations of fraud made against the Adani Group of companies in the Hindenburg Research report.

    The bench had remarked that the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) cannot be expected to follow newspaper reports while deciding on the conglomerate's alleged conduct.

    The case before the Court is tied to allegations that Adani had inflated its share prices. After these allegations were published as part of a report by short-seller Hindenberg Research), it led to a sharp fall in the share value of various Adani companies, reportedly to the tune of $100 billion.

    Earlier this year, the Supreme Court asked SEBI to independently investigate the matter, apart from constituting an expert committee headed by retired Justice AM Sapre to also look into the matter.

    The expert committee in its report released in May, found no prima facie lapse on the part of the SEBI in the matter.

    Vishal Tiwari v. Union of India and Others

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