The Nature of Judicial Power: Powers of Review of the Supreme Court

The case of Enviro Legal Action v. Union of India, (2011) 8 SCC 161 elaborated the scope of Article 137 of the Indian Constitution. The SC in the case of Kamlesh Verma v. Mayawati, (2013) 8 SCC 320 further held as under:

(A) When the review will be maintainable:

  • Discovery of new and important matter or evidence which, after the exercise of due diligence, was not within knowledge of the petitioner or could not be produced by him;
  • Mistake or error apparent on the face of the record;
  • Any other sufficient reason.

The words “any other sufficient reason” has been interpreted in Chhajju Ram v. Neki, AIR 1922 PC 112 and approved by this Court in Moran Mar Basselios Catholicos v. Most Rev. Mar Poulose Athanasius & Ors., (1955) 1 SCR 520, to mean “a reason sufficient on grounds at least analogous to those specified in the rule”. The same principles have been reiterated in Union of India vs. Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Ltd. & Ors, (2013) 8 SCC 337.

(B) When the review will not be maintainable:

  • A repetition of old and overruled argument is not enough to reopen concluded adjudications.
  • Minor mistakes of inconsequential import.
  • Review proceedings cannot be equated with the original hearing of the case.
  • Review is not maintainable unless the material error, manifest on the face of the order, undermines its soundness or results in miscarriage of justice.
  • A review is by no means an appeal in disguise whereby an erroneous decision is re-heard and corrected but lies only for patent error.
  • The mere possibility of two views on the subject cannot be a ground for review.
  • The error apparent on the face of the record should not be an error which has to be fished out and searched.
  • The appreciation of evidence on record is fully within the domain of the Appellate Court, it cannot be permitted to be advanced in the review petition.
  • Review is not maintainable when the same relief sought at the time of arguing the main matter had been negatived.”

A Constitution Bench in Keshav Mills Co. v. CIT, AIR 1965 SC 1636 served as the first port of call:

In reviewing and revising its earlier decision, this Court should ask itself whether in the interests of the public good or for any other valid and compulsive reasons, it is necessary that the earlier decision should be revised. When this Court decides questions of law, its decisions are, under Article 141, binding on all Courts within the territory of India, and so, it must be the constant endeavour and concern of this Court to introduce and maintain an element of certainty and continuity in the interpretation of law in the country. Frequent exercise by this Court of its power to review its earlier decisions on the ground that the view pressed before it later appears to the Court to be more reasonable, may incidentally tend to make law uncertain and introduce confusion which must be consistently avoided. That is not to say that if on a subsequent occasion, the Court is satisfied that its earlier decision was clearly erroneous, it should hesitate to correct the error; but before a previous decision is pronounced to be plainly erroneous, the Court must be satisfied with a fair amount of unanimity amongst its members that a revision of the said view is fully justified. It is not possible or desirable, and in any case it would be inexpedient to lay down any principles which should govern the approach of the Court in dealing with the question of reviewing and revising its earlier decisions. It would always depend upon several relevant considerations: What is the nature of the infirmity or error on which a plea for a review and revision of the earlier view is based? On the earlier occasion, did some patent aspects of the question remain unnoticed, or was the attention of the Court not drawn to any relevant and material statutory provision, or was any previous decision of this Court bearing on the point not noticed? Is the Court hearing such plea fairly unanimous that there is such an error in the earlier view? What would be the impact of the error on the general administration of law or on public good? Has the earlier decision been followed on subsequent occasions either by this Court or by the High Courts? And, would the reversal of the earlier decision lead to public inconvenience, hardship or mischief? These and other relevant considerations must be carefully borne in mind whenever this Court is called upon to exercise its jurisdiction to review and revise its earlier decisions.

Also see, Tamil Nadu Terminated Full Time Temporary LIC Employees Association v. S.K. Roy, [Contempt Petition (C) No. 459 of 2015 in Civil Appeal No. 6950 of 2009] decided on 09.08.2016.

Also see, Vikram Singh v. State of Punjab [Criminal M.P. Nos. 16673-16674 of 2016] decided on 07.07.2017.

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