Sunday, May 25, 2008

Understaning judgments from first sentence

Where do you begin to read when you want to know the result of the judgment? The last few lines are normally the surest bet because the expressions, ‘in the result’ or ‘in fine’ or ‘in sum’ are invariably a part of a stereotyped template for the conclusion in a judgment. There are also some judges, who begin with devastating candor, such as, ‘the suit/appeal/petition deserves to be dismissed for the following reasons’. If the story begins with expression of sentiment like, ‘this is a pitiable case of the plaintiff’, you know already that the suit is heading for a decree in the final lines. Or, if the case begins in an opening paragraph, ‘the accused stands trial for commission of a heinous crime’, you know that the accused is being shown the prison gates for confinement. The best artistes of writing among judges will use expressions when no two judgments would read alike. The feeling that they would evoke would however be the same as a take- off of an airplane at the beginning and a perfect landing at the end. Just as much as the contents, look also for individual styles. If you cultivate the trait, it is like going to a book store and heading for your own favorite authors. Open the law journals and go to the beginning lines and the ending of judgments of your favorites!
A recent judgment of the Supreme Court begins with a statement in the first sentence that the petitioner is a ‘renowned and internationally famed’ person. Do you have any doubt that the judgment was entered in his favour, for, with such a beginning, can you afford to throw out his petition? The judgment is interesting, for it is out of ordinary. You will come across bias in administrative decisions as vitiating an order, or arbitrariness in executive fiat as cause for annulling it but how often would you have come across a one- man- legislation; a law that is brought for one individual, a law reminiscent of emergency days namely, of change of Representation of Peoples Act to perpetuate the continuation of office of one person? Quite interestingly, the judgment in P.Venugopal v UOI refers to three other instances when the Supreme Court has frowned upon one-man-legislation.
Firstly in the year 1953, in Ameerunissa Begum and others, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of High Court of Hyderabad, and declared as unconstitutional a law passed to annul the claims to succession of certain persons as lawful wife and children to the estate of deceased Nawab Waliuddowla against the claims of another woman, who claimed to be the sole inheritor to the estate. Patanjali Sastri J said that ‘legislation such as we have now before us is calculated the draw the vitality from the Rules of Law which our Constitution so unmistakably proclaims, and it is hoped that the democratic process in the country will not function along these lines.’ Yet another judgment delivered by the same Bench in Ram Prasad Naryan Sahi was in the same year and the Supreme Court struck down a Bihar legislation brought to take possession of some settlement lands from a particular individual. Patanjali Sastri J again quoted his own dissenting view in Chiranjit lal where he had said, ‘Legislation based upon mismanagement or other misconduct as the differentia and made applicable to a specified individual or corporate body is not far removed from the notorious parliamentary procedure formerly employed in Britain of punishing individual delinquents by passing bills of attainder, and should not, I think receive judicial encouragement." In our State, TN Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act 2002 sought to strip the legislator of his right to continue in office as mayor by introducing a provision of a bar of ‘dual occupancy’. The amendment survived in the decision S.Udayakumar v State and others (2002) since the challenge was deflected to the State’s power to lay down qualifications for a Chairman by virtue of the provisions of Art 243 V(b)(1) of the Constitution.
One-man-legislation has not been uncommon in England and almost all of them have been to manipulate succession to the Monarchy. Act of Settlement of 1701 was passed to ensure that the line of succession would continue in the Protestant line and exclude any possible claims by the deposed James II or his son and daughter. The law made clear that only the descendants of Sophia who were Protestant, and had not married a Roman Catholic, could succeed to the throne. Roman Catholics and those who married Roman Catholics were barred from ascending the throne "for ever". His Majesty’s Abdication Act 1936 was the Act of the British Parliament that allowed King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne, and passed succession to Prince Albert, Duke of York. Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry his lover, Wallis Simpson, after facing opposition from the government of the United Kingdom and the British dominions. Although Edward VIII had signed a declaration of abdication the previous day, he was still King until he gave royal assent to this Act. The Act was passed through the Houses of Parliament in one day, with no amendments.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Amendment) Act 2007 was perhaps passed on one day, without much of opposition but when it is now struck down, there is no scope for a discussion of the supremacy of one constitutional institution over another. The judgment has a predictable beginning to what the last sentence states. The judgment takes off without a jolt announcing how it is going to fly, cruises through the best pronouncements of our courts and lands to a just conclusion. No individual has won or lost; it is the majesty of sweep of Article 14 that triumphs in situations like this!

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