Legal limelight: Key Supreme Court developments of 2023

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In 2023, the Supreme Court of India undertook a transformative journey, implementing advanced reforms such as updated e-filing systems and 166 Special Bench sittings. The Supreme Court successfully disposed of 52,220 cases, a notable increase from the previous year’s 39,800, this progress was tempered by a spike in case filings, reaching 53,753.
The year 2023 saw the Supreme Court make several landmark decisions that will reverberate through society for years to come:
Supreme Court’s verdict on demonetisation
A 5-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on January 2 upheld the validity of Centre’s November 2016 decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes.The majority held that the government’s actions were justified for the proper purposes of eliminating fake currency, black money, and terror financing.

‘Demonetisation was an exercise of power, contrary to law, and therefore unlawful,’ says dissenting Justice B V Nagarathna

The five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court, headed by Justice S A Nazeer, said the Centre’s decision-making process could not have been flawed as there was consultation between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Union government for a period of six months. The court said the notification dated November 8, 2016 cannot be said to be unreasonable and struck down on the ground of decision-making process.
Supreme Court upholds Article 370 abrogation
On Monday, December 11, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision regarding the controversial matter of Article 370. The Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to repeal Article 370, which conferred special status upon the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. It directed that measures be taken to conduct assembly elections by September 30 of the following year.
The verdict was delivered by a five-judge constitution bench consisting of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant.

Supreme Court verdict: ‘Article 370 was a temporary provision, J&K did not retain an element of sovereignty after joining India’

CJI DY Chandrachud said, “Article 370 of the Constitution was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in state. Constituent assembly of J&K was never intended to be permanent body.”
Challenge to the practice of jallikattu
In a unanimous decision on May 18th, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of jallikattu, kambala, and bailgada sharyat, overturning the 2014 ban. The court emphasised the Tamil Nadu government’s efforts to minimise cruelty to animals and refrained from extending fundamental rights to animals, causing concern among animal rights activists.
Also read: Supreme Court upholds Tamil Nadu law passed to overturn court’s jallikattu ban
Accountability of civil services in the NCT of Delhi
A constitutional tussle between the Union and the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi concluded on May 11th. Despite the initial win for the Delhi government in the Supreme Court, the Union nullified the judgement through an Ordinance, returning control over ‘services’ to the Union and granting the Lieutenant Governor ‘sole discretionary’ power over civil servant appointments in the NCT.
Appointments of election commissioners
In March, the Supreme Court issued a directive to establish a committee composed of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha to oversee the appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and election commissioners (ECs).
Also read: Chief Election Commissioner, election commissioners to be appointed by a panel of PM, CJI and leader of opposition: Supreme Court
Justice KM Joseph, leading a five-judge bench, presided over the hearing of a series of petitions advocating for reforms in the procedure for appointing members of the Election Commission of India. The bench emphasised that the electoral process must unquestionably be fair, placing the responsibility on the Election Commission of India (ECI) to guarantee the integrity of elections.
Maharashtra Shiv Sena split
On May 11th, the Supreme Court waded into the tumultuous political waters of Maharashtra, declaring the events leading to Mr. Eknath Shinde’s rise to power as illegal. While leaving the disqualification of rebel Shiv Sena members to the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, the court rebuked Governor B.S. Koshyari for ordering a floor test based on intra-party disputes.
Also read: Sena vs Sena: SC gives Maharashtra speaker final opportunity to set realistic time-frame for deciding disqualification pleas
Supreme Court halts Rahul Gandhi‘s conviction in defamation case
In August, the Supreme Court halted the conviction of Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case related to his “Modi surname” remark. The court emphasised the need for the trial court judge to provide reasons for imposing the maximum punishment for a non-cognizable offence.

Supreme Court stays Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in defamation case over ‘Modi surname’ remark | LIVE

A three-judge bench comprising Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha, and Sanjay Kumar noted the broad implications of the trial court’s order in the case and asserted that the “order of conviction should be suspended until final adjudication.”
The Supreme Court addressed Rahul Gandhi’s appeal against the Gujarat High Court’s decision, which had denied a stay on his conviction. The Gujarat High Court had remarked that granting a stay on the conviction would be an exception rather than a rule.
Same-sex marriage verdict
In a landmark decision on October 17th, 2023, the Supreme Court, in a narrow 3-2 ruling, declined to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages. The bench, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, emphasised that such matters fall within the jurisdiction of the legislature, specifically the Parliament. However, the court did not leave the LGBTQ community without hope, directing the Union of India to form a high-powered committee to explore the rights and entitlements of individuals in queer relationships, outside the institution of marriage.

Supreme Court refuses to recognise same-sex marriage: Key points

SC’s power to grant divorce under Article 142
On May 1st, a constitution bench clarified that the Supreme Court has the power to grant divorce directly under Article 142 of the Constitution, particularly in cases of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. However, the court cautioned against the indiscriminate use of this power.
Validity of unstamped arbitration agreement
A constitution bench, led by Justice K.M. Joseph, ruled on April 25th that unstamped arbitration agreements are not enforceable until stamp duty is paid. The majority argued that recognizing the validity of arbitration agreements without stamp duty payment would undermine the law, while dissenting judges raised concerns over potential delays in arbitration proceedings.


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