Exercise restraint in reviewing economic laws: apex court

February 26th, 2008 - 10:07 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) In a significant ruling ahead of the Union Budget, the Supreme Court Tuesday advised the courts to exercise greater judicial restraint while invalidating economic legislations. A bench of Justices H.K Sema and Markandey Katju passed the order while setting aside a 2001 ruling of the Andhra Pradesh High Court invalidating an amendment to the Indian Stamp Act by the state legislature.

“We are clearly of the opinion that the amendment to the Indian Stamp Act by the Andhra Pradesh legislature is constitutionally valid and the judgment of the high court declaring it unconstitutional is not correct,” said the bench.

But sounding a word of caution to the judiciary in general and high courts in particular, Justice Katju wrote in the ruling: “All decisions in the economic and social spheres are essentially ad hoc and experimental.”

“Since economic matters are extremely complicated, this inevitably entails special treatment for special situations. The state must, therefore, be left with wide latitude in devising ways and means of fiscal or regulatory measures, and the court should not, unless compelled by the statute or by the Constitution, encroach into this field, or invalidate such law,” Justice Katju stressed.

Reminding the judiciary of the apex court’s ruling in the Keshvananda Bharati case during the Emergency in the 1970s, Justice Katju said: “In exercising the power of judicial review, the courts cannot be oblivious of the practical needs of the government. The door has to be left open for trial and error.”

However, Justice Katju advised the judiciary to take on an activists’ role while scrutinising social legislations that impinge upon civil rights.

“In our opinion, therefore, while judges should practice great restraint while dealing with economic statutes, they should be activists in defending the civil liberties and fundamental rights of the citizens,” Justice Katju said.

“This is necessary because, though ordinarily the legislature represents the will of the people and work for their welfare, there can be exceptional situations where the legislature, though elected by the people, may violate the civil liberties and rights of the people,” he added.

“It was because of this foresight that the founding fathers of the Constitution in their wisdom provided fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution which were modelled on the lines of the US Bill of Rights of 1791 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man during the Great French Revolution of 1789,” Justice Katju said.

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