Doctrine of Prospective Overruling - Scope

Updated: Aug 15

Introduction - Doctrine of Prospective Overruling


The essence of prospective overruling is that the Supreme Court lays down the parameters within which a law laid down in a case which overrules a previous judgment has to operate. The word purpose is to avoid reopening of settled issues and also prevent multiplicity of proceedings, in effect, this means that all actions prior to the declaration do not stand invalidated. Doctrine of Prospective Overruling was taken from Canada in Golaknath case. All the subordinate courts are bound to apply the law to future cases only. There may also be instances where the Supreme Court may specify the date when the declaration shall come into effect thereby not disturbing the decisions taken before such a date. All this happens during the process of invalidating a law or overruling a decision.


Scope


I.C GOLAKNATH AND ORS. V/S STATE OF PUNJAB AND ANR (1967 AIR 1643)

It was held in this case that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Subba Rao had first invoked the doctrine of prospective overruling, quoting the words of canfield, the said expression means; a court should recognize a duty to announce a new and better rule for future transactions whenever the court has reached the conviction that an old rule ( as established by the precedents ) is unsound even though feeling compelled by stare decisis to apply the old and condemned rule to the instance case and to transaction which had already taken place.


Taking a cue from such a formulation. Justice Subba Rao used this doctrine to preserve the constitutional validity of the constitution (17th) Amendment Act, the legality of which had been challenged.


He then went to analyse the objection that had been laid down against the use of the doctrine of prospective overruling which are as under;

1)- the doctrine involved legislation by courts.


2)- would not encourage parties to prefer appeals as they would not get any benefits therefrom.


3)- the declaration for the future would only be obiter.


4)- it's not a desirable change, and


5)- the doctrine of retroactivity serve as a brake on courts which otherwise might be tempted to be so facile in overruling, Subba Rao j. discarded these objections as not insurmountable.


He held that overruling as a concept included within its ambit the discretion to decide whether a particular decision will have a retrospective to decide whether a particular decision will have retrospective effect or not.


However, while doing this, since it was the first time this doctrine was being invoked, the hon’ble chief justice laid down the following principles of guidelines regarding the applicability of prospective overruling,


1- The doctrine of prospective overruling can be invoked only in matters arising under our constitution.


2- It can be applied only by the highest court of the country, i.e the supreme court, as it has the constitutional jurisdiction to declare law binding on all the courts in India.


3- The scope of the retrospective operation of the law declared by the supreme court superseding its earlier decision is left to its discretion to be moulded in accordance with the justice of the cause or matter before it.







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