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‘Guilty by association’ doctrine

Published: 9th Feb, 2023


The Supreme Court has decided to reconsider for its 2011 judgments that ruled that mere membership of a banned organisation cannot be a crime, observing that there was no challenge to the law when the doctrine of “guilt by association” was rejected nor was the Union government heard before the verdict. 

What is Guilty by Association mean?

  • Guilt by association, also known as the association fallacy, is officially defined as "guilt ascribed to someone not because of any evidence, but because of their association with an offender."
  • In this particular context, an individual can face criticism or backlash as a result of their likeness to an existing group or entity.
  • Conversely, honour by association describes a situation where someone is lauded as a result of their affiliation with groups that are perceived in a positive light.

About the Case:

  • The provision of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA)(now repealed) mentions that mere membership of a banned organisation cannot incriminate a person unless he or she resorted to or incited violence.
  • These decisions had come while hearing two separate cases of bail and conviction under TADA.

Government’s plea against the judgement:

  • The solicitor general of India, representing the Union government, argued that the 2011 judgmentsfailed to consider a raft of significant considerations, including the legislative intent and the fact that Parliament, in its wisdom, has engrafted certain provisions to keep the security of the nation intact.
  • The right to form an associationcannot be an unbridled right, and when it affects sovereignty and integrity of the country, restrictions will be reasonable. The law is preventive in nature and not just punitive.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act:

  • It is an Indian law aimed at prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.
  • Its main objective was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India.
  • The most recent amendment of the law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 (UAPA2019) has made it possible for the Union Government to designate individuals as terrorists without following any formal judicial process.
  • UAPA is also known as the Anti-terror law.

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