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'Rectified manifest error harmful to public interest, polity': SC on overturning 1998 verdict in JMM bribery case

The apex court said a judgment which offended the spirit of the Constitution can be reconsidered, though it has held the field for a fairly long time.
Last Updated 04 March 2024, 14:41 IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday saw an opportunity to "settle the law once for all" by overturning the 1998 P V Narasimha Rao case judgement on the issue of a lawmaker taking a bribe for speech or voting inside the House, saying that not rectifying such a manifest error would be harmful to both public interest and the polity.

The court said a judgment which offended the spirit of the Constitution can be reconsidered, though it has held the field for a fairly long time.

Reconsidering the 1998 judgment related to bribes paid to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs for voting in favour of the then minority government headed by P V Narasimha Rao, a seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India took into account its impact on the “polity" and the need for "the preservation of probity in public life.”

The bench stated that the period of time that the case has held the field is not of primary importance.

"This court has overruled decisions which involve the interpretation of the Constitution despite the fact that they have held the field for long periods of time when they offend the spirit of the Constitution," the bench said.

The bench pointed out the doctrine of 'stare decisis' provided that the court should not lightly dissent from precedent.

"However, this court has held in a consistent line of cases, which involve the interpretation of the Constitution, despite the fact that they have held the field for long periods of time when they offend the spirit of the Constitution," the bench clarified.

The court also pointed out the doctrine is not an inflexible rule of law, and it cannot result in perpetuating an error to the detriment of the general welfare of the public.

"This court may review its earlier decisions if it believes that there is an error, or the effect of the decision would harm the interests of the public or if it is inconsistent with the legal philosophy of the Constitution," the bench said.

In cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution, the apex court said it would rectify precedents from earlier judgements more readily than in other branches of law because not rectifying a 'manifest error' would be 'harmful to public interest and the polity', the bench noted.

The court explained that its judgment does not seek to determine or restrict the “powers, privileges, and immunities” of the legislature as defined in the Constitution. Rather, this judgment has a limited remit which is to adjudicate on the correct interpretation of Article 105 and Article 194 of the Constitution.

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(Published 04 March 2024, 14:41 IST)

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