Supreme Court reserves order on petition challenging changes to SC/ST Act

The Indian Express: October 3, 2019

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its judgment on a petition challenging amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, with a three-judge bench observing that it “didn’t want to dilute” the provisions.

The Centre had brought changes in the Act last year to nullify the top court’s March 20, 2018 order which forbid automatic arrests in cases under the Act and prescribed prior sanction for the arrest of public servants and private persons and also ruled that a preliminary enquiry to verify the charges in the complaint be held before an FIR is registered.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra also said it had already clarified that a Constitution bench had ruled in the past that anticipatory bail could be granted in such cases if courts came to the conclusion that no prima facie case was made out.

On October 1, another bench headed by Justice Mishra had recalled the March 20 order, especially the directions for prior sanction for arrest and mandating a preliminary enquiry.

On Thursday, a counsel in the case told the bench that High Courts have been entertaining petitions seeking quashing of FIRs under the Act.

To this the bench said, “We cannot curtail rights under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty)” and that “individual cases have to be dealt with separately”.

The court also said it will clarify the aspect of anticipatory bail in its judgment.

In January this year, the apex court had refused to stay the 2018 amendments, which restored the provision that no anticipatory bail be granted to the accused in offence lodged under this law.

The amendments were challenged in the SC with the petitioners contending that these were ultra vires.