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Law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all

  • Published
    13th Jan, 2023

Against the Vice president’s criticism of the decision taken by National Judicial appointments commission (NJAC), the Supreme Court has held that its judicial pronouncements lay down the law. 

The Supreme Court as the ‘law of the land':

  • Article 141 of the Constitution mandates that law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all courts including the Supreme Court itself.
  • Article 368 postulates only a ‘procedure’ for amendment of the Constitution and could not be treated as a ‘power’ vested in the Parliament to amend the Constitution so as to alter the ‘core’ of the Constitution, which has also been described as the ‘basic features/basic structure’ of the Constitution.

The argument was rejected by the SC which upheld judicial independence as a basic feature of the constitution.

The Apex Court and Government tussle:

  • The apex court has repeatedly been trying to convey to the government and high constitutional authorities in its oral observations and orders recently regarding its authority to decide on judicial appointments and commissions related to it.
  • The Parliament is free to bring a new law on judicial appointments, possibly through a constitutional amendment, but that too would be subject to judicial review.

What is the Constitutional backing for it?

  • The Kesavananda Bharativerdict had made it clear that judicial review is not a means to usurp parliamentary sovereignty, but only part of a “system of checks and balances” to ensure constitutional functionaries do not exceed their limits.
  • We are unable to see how the power of judicial review makes the judiciary supreme in any sense of the word. This power is of paramount importance in a federal Constitution.

Constitutional Supremacy vs. Parliamentary sovereignty:

  • The Supreme Court of India expressly affirmed constitutional supremacy in the Minerva Mills case, holding that "government, legislature, executive, and the judiciary are all bound by the Constitution, and none is above or beyond the Constitution."
  • Any law passed by the parliament is subject to interpretation by the Supreme Court in light of the constitution's principles and goals, and if it goes above or above those, it can be declared null and void.
  • Although the Indian Constitution does not expressly provide for the division of judicial and parliamentary supremacy, it is not entirely clear.
  • It is the prerogative of the parliament to amend the constitution and make the laws; it is the duty of the judiciary to decide if the basic structures of the constitution are transgressed by such laws.
  • Once the parliament has done its job, its Supreme Court decides its constitutionality through judicial review.
  • There have been conflicts between parliamentary supremacy and judicial supremacy. The best example is of National Judicial Appointment Commission hen Supreme Court pronounced its verdict on the 99th Constitution Amendment Act and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), declaring them to be ultra vires the Constitution.
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