Tuesday 16 July 2019

Supreme Court Judgment upholding sexual autonomy of married woman(Adultery Judgment)

 The contra view is that adultery is a marital wrong, which should have only civil consequences. A wrong punishable with criminal sanctions, must be a public wrong against society as a whole, and not merely an act committed against an individual victim.
To criminalize a certain conduct is to declare that it is a public wrong which would justify  public censure, and warrant the use of criminal sanction against such harm and wrong doing.
The autonomy of an individual to make his or her choices with respect to his/her sexuality in the most intimate spaces of life, should be protected from public censure through criminal sanction. The autonomy of the individual to take such decisions, which are purely personal, would be repugnant to any interference by the State to take action purportedly in the „best interest‟ of the individual.
Andrew Ashworth and Jeremy Horder in their commentary titled „Principles of Criminal Law‟59 have stated that the traditional starting point of criminalization is the „harm principle‟ the essence of which is that the State is justified in criminalizing a conduct which causes harm to others. The authors opine that the three elements for criminalization are: (i) harm, (ii) wrong doing, and (iii) public element, which are required to be 59 Oxford University Press, (7th Edn.) May 2013  proved before the State can classify a wrongful act as a criminal offence.
John Stuart Mill states that ―the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over the member of a civilized community against his will is The other important element is wrongfulness. Andrew Simester and Andreas von Hirsch opine that a necessary pre-requisite of criminalization is that the conduct amounts to a moral wrong.61 That even though sexual infidelity may be morally wrong conduct, this may not be a sufficient condition to criminalize the same.
17. In my view, criminal sanction may be justified where there is a public element in the wrong, such as offences against State security, and the like. These are public wrongs where the victim is not the individual, but the community as a whole.
60 Mill, John S., Chapter I: Introductory, On Liberty, Published London: Longman, Roberts, & Green Co. 1869, 4th Edn.
61 A P Simester and Andreas von Hirsch, Crimes, Harms, And Wrongs: On The Principles Of Criminalisation, Oxford: Hart Publishing (2011)  Adultery undoubtedly is a moral wrong qua the spouse and the family. The issue is whether there is a sufficient element of wrongfulness to society in general, in order to bring it within the ambit of criminal law?
The element of public censure, visiting the delinquent with penal consequences, and overriding individual rights, would be justified only when the society is directly impacted by such conduct. In fact, a much stronger justification is required where an offence is punishable with imprisonment.
The State must follow the minimalist approach in the criminalization of offences, keeping in view the respect for the autonomy of the individual to make his/her personal choices.
The right to live with dignity includes the right not to be subjected to public censure and punishment by the State except where absolutely necessary. In order to determine what conduct requires State interference through criminal sanction, the State must consider whether the civil remedy will serve the purpose. Where a  civil remedy for a wrongful act is sufficient, it may not warrant criminal sanction by the State.
18. In view of the aforesaid discussion, and the anomalies in Section 497, as enumerated in para 11 above, it is declared that :
(i) Section 497 is struck down as unconstitutional being violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
(ii) Section 198(2) of the Cr.P.C. which contains the procedure for prosecution under Chapter XX of the I.P.C. shall be unconstitutional only to the extent that it is applicable to the offence of Adultery under Section 497.
(iii) The decisions in Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), V.
Rewathi (supra) and W. Kalyani (supra) hereby stand overruled.


Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 194 of 2017 (Under Article 32 of the Constitution of India)

Decided On: 27.09.2018

Joseph Shine Vs. Union of India (UOI)

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
Dipak Misra, C.J.I., A.M. Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra, Rohinton Fali Nariman and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ.

Read full judgment here: Click here
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