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Bilkis Bano Case: Striking a Balance Between Rule of Law and Right to Liberty

  • Published
    10th Jan, 2024
Context

The Supreme Court's recent judgment in the Bilkis Bano case delves into the intricate balance between the rule of law and the right to personal liberty, emphasizing the judiciary's pivotal role in upholding democratic principles.

Background
  • The case involved the quashing of the Gujarat government's decision to grant remission to convicts in the Bilkis Bano case.
  • While acknowledging personal liberty as a fundamental right under Article 21, the Court scrutinized whether the rule of law could override it.

Case Profile:

  • Bilkis Bano, the survivor of a horrific incident, sought justice as the convicts in her case were released based on orders deemed "illegal" and "wholly without jurisdiction."
  • The court's decision aimed to restore the balance between justice and the adherence to legal procedures.

Rule of Law and its Significance:

Defining the Rule of Law: Coined by John Adams as "a government of laws and not of men," the rule of law acts as a safeguard against executive lawlessness. It ensures that no individual can be detained without legislative sanction.

Judiciary as Guardian: The Supreme Court emphasized its role as the guardian of the rule of law, asserting that it is the cornerstone of a democratic state. The court's intervention becomes necessary when the state fails to fulfill its duties.

Right to Liberty:

Constitutional Foundation: Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty. However, the court scrutinized whether this right could be compromised in the interest of upholding the rule of law.

Equality Before Law: The court highlighted that breaching the rule of law negates the principle of equality as prescribed by Article 14. It asserted that no one, regardless of status, is above the law.

Judiciary's Role:

Beacon of Rule of Law: The court emphasized its role as a beacon in upholding the rule of law, stating that a selective application of this concept could lead to a dangerous state of affairs in democracy.

Compassion vs. Rule of Law: The court asserted that compassion and sympathy have no role where the rule of law is concerned. Upholding the essence of democracy requires preserving and enforcing the rule of law without bias.

Decision and Rationale:

Restoration of Status Quo: Rejecting the convicts' plea for protection of liberty, the court held that the rule of law must prevail, setting aside the orders of remission as null and void.

Principle of Equal Protection: The court justified the deprivation of liberty for the convicts, citing the principle of equal protection of law under Article 14. It emphasized restoring the status quo ante to maintain justice.

The Bilkis Bano case serves as a significant judicial pronouncement reaffirming the delicate equilibrium between the rule of law and the right to liberty. The judgment underscores the judiciary's pivotal role in preserving democratic values while ensuring justice prevails, even in the face of legal complexities.

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