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Observations in verdicts are not binding precedents: Supreme Court



J. Venkatesan




“Judgments of courts are not to be construed as statutes”




Judges interpret statutes, they do not interpret judgments

Don’t match the colour of one case against the colour of another



New Delhi: Observations in judgments are not binding precedents to be blindly followed by courts in arriving at a decision, the Supreme Court has held.

“Courts should not place reliance on decisions without discussing how the factual situation fits in with the fact situation of the decision on which reliance is placed. Observations of courts are neither to be read as Euclid’s theorems nor as provisions of the statute and that too taken out of their context. These observations must be read in the context in which they appear to have been stated” said a Bench consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat and A.K. Ganguly.

“Judgments of courts are not to be construed as statutes. To interpret words, phrases and provisions of a statute, it may become necessary for judges to embark on lengthy discussions but the discussion is meant to explain and not to define. Judges interpret statutes, they do not interpret judgments. Circumstantial flexibility, one additional or different fact may make a world of difference between conclusions in two cases. Disposal of cases by blindly placing reliance on a decision is not proper.”

Justice Pasayat, who wrote the judgment, quoted Lord Denning in the matter of applying precedents: “Each case depends on its own facts and a close similarity between one case and another is not enough because even a single significant detail may alter the entire aspect, in deciding such cases, one should avoid the temptation to decide cases (as said by Cordozo) by matching the colour of one case against the colour of another. To decide, therefore, on which side of the line a case falls, the broad resemblance to another case is not at all decisive.”

In the instant case, M. Radha Krishna Murthy, excise inspector was prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act on the charge that he received Rs. 4,000 as a bribe.

The trial court found the evidence acceptable and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. On appeal, the Andhra Pradesh High Court, relying on a Supreme Court judgment, held that since part of the prosecution version of the demand for and acceptance of the bribe had not been proved, the remaining part about laying a trap and recovery of the amount could not be accepted.

Allowing the State’s appeal against this verdict, the Supreme court Bench said: “On a bare reading of the judgment, it is clear that no rule of universal application was laid down [in the case relied on by the High Court] that whenever a part of the case relating to demand and acceptance is not acceptable, the whole case would fail even if the case relating to trap, recovery of money and chemical test by the prosecution is established. In that view of the matter the judgment of the High Court is clearly unsustainable and is set aside and that of the trial Court is restored


 3 Replies

M. PIRAVI PERUMAL (Advocate & Consumer Rights)     13 March 2009

I think this can rather be posted in news or article section for discussion of members

M. PIRAVI PERUMAL (Advocate & Consumer Rights)     13 March 2009

Thanks a lot Mr. Jose for the interesting news item.

K.C.Suresh (Advocate)     14 March 2009

Dear Jose Thank you for the information.

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