It has been a busy year for the apex court – from Aadhaar to the citizen’s Right to Privacy and the practice of triple talaq, there were several key issues concerning the citizenry, businesses and the political class that the apex court impacted through its verdicts.
As 2017 draws to close, here is a glimpse of 10 landmark Supreme Court judgments through the year:
1. Triple Talaq unconstitutional
In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that divorce among Muslims through the practice of triple talaq was "void, illegal and unconstitutional".
Triple talaq -- the personal law by which Muslim men can instantaneously divorce their wives by uttering talaq thrice -- "is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality," the Supreme Court judges said.
The verdict was delivered in a 3:2 majority by a 5-judge bench of all faiths -- Chief Justice of India JS Khehar, Justices Kurian Joseph, Rohinton Nariman, Uday Lalit and S A Abdul Nazeer.
Prior to the verdict, the Constitution held the 1,400-year-old practice as legal for Muslims. The judgement came on petitions by many aggrieved women, divorced by letter, on SMS, Whatsapp and even Skype.
Shayara Bano, a 35-year-old woman, challenged the practice in the apex court in 2016, a year after her husband of 15 years divorced her via triple talaq.
2. Right To Privacy a fundamental right
One of 2017’s biggest judgements made in response to the petition challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right accorded to the citizen under the Indian Constitution.
"The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution," the ruling said.
Explaining the meaning and scope of privacy, the court held that it includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. The court further explained that there is a legitimate expectation of privacy even in public space and that the right is available against state as well as non-state actors.
3. Sex with minor wife is rape
In a verdict aimed at safeguarding the lives of child brides in India, the Supreme Court read down Exception 2 in Section 375 of the IPC and ruled that sexual intercourse with a minor wife amounts to rape.
Before the Supreme Court verdict, the law did not find a man guilty of rape for having sexual intercourse with wife older than 15 years of age. While child marriage is a crime, this exception created conflict between laws.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012 defines 'children' as those aged below 18. It has specific provisions declaring that 'penetrative sexual assault' and 'aggressive penetrative sexual assault' against children below 18 is rape.
4. Death for Nirbhaya convicts upheld
In May this year, the Supreme Court upheld the Delhi High Court and trial court decision to award death penalty to all four convicts in the December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder case.
The execution of Mukesh (27), Pawan Gupta (20), Vinay Sharma (21) and Akshay Thakur (29) was made certain by the SC with only an option of mercy petition left to the President.
The court while upholding the death penalty stated that the devilish manner in which Nirbhaya was treated looked “like a story from a different world where humanity was inconceivable.”
“It’s a tsunami of shock in the minds of the collective and destroyed humanity. Death for all four. Aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances. If at all a case warrants death sentence, it’s this. Human lust was allowed to take demonic form,” Justice Bhanumathi stated in her separate judgment.
5. Sasikala guilty of corruption
A month after the demise of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court held Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran guilty in the disproportionate assets case and ordered them to surrender forthwith before the trial court concerned.
Though the case against Jayalalithaa abated, the court set aside the then AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala's acquittal by the Karnataka High Court and "restored in full" the trial court conviction of September 2014.
6. Justice CS Karnan jailed
Justice CS Karnan became the first sitting High Court judge to be convicted for contempt by the Supreme Court after Karnan alleged that the judges of the top court were corrupt.
On June 12, Justice CS Karnan became the first sitting High Court judge to retire in absentia after he eluded the Supreme Court arrest order, and ended up being sentenced to six months in jail for contempt.
The order by a seven-judge SC bench led by the then Chief Justice of India J S Khehar said that the court wanted to send out a message loud and clear that judiciary will not hesitate to act against even one of its own.
7. No vote-seeking in name of religion
The Supreme Court ruled that candidates cannot seek votes on religious lines, not limited only to the candidate’s religion but also the religion of the voters.
A seven-judge constitution bench held that an election will be declared annulled not only if the votes are sought in the name of the religion of the candidate, but also when the candidate appeals for votes on the basis of the religion of the voters, candidate’s election agents or anyone else with the consent of the candidate appearing for the poll.
The apex court interpreted Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act. The bench was led by the then CJI, TS Thakur.
8. Govts can’t re-promulgate ordinances
A seven-judge bench headed by the then CJI, TS Thakur ruled that the government cannot legislate through ordinances repeatedly without placing them before the legislature.
“The question of whether any rights, liabilities, obligations would survive an ordinance which had ceased to exist, would have to be tested against public interest and constitutional necessity,” the court had said.
The court’s order came on a petition seeking a definitive ruling on whether a 1989 Bihar law for taking control of the management of Sanskrit schools in the state – passed through an ordinance several times – was valid or not.
9. Freedom of Speech sacrosanct
Holding freedom of speech and expression as a sacrosanct right, the top court refused to interfere with such rights and rejected a plea seeking a ban on the screening of a film base don the life of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.
Rejecting the plea, the court declined to direct the Central Board of Film Certification to stay the release of the film, ‘An Insignificant Man’, in cinema halls across the country.
“The courts have to be extremely slow to pass any kind of orders in such situations and should allow a creative man to enjoy in writing a drama, philosophy and book of any kind or project it in on celluloid or theatre,” the top court said.
10. No gender-based discrimination in temples
The Supreme Court held that temples that deny or restrict the entry of women hamper the fight for gender equality and had no constitutional right to do so.
“Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual.
“Their rights are not ‘so-called’ but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom," the court said.
The top court’s order followed a Mumbai court ruling that it was the fundamental right of women to enter any place of worship that allows men access. The court ruled that the Shani Shignapur temple in western Maharashtra state open its inner sanctum to women.