[27th April 2024] Sounding the gavel on Curative Jurisdiction

PYQ Relevance:

Q) What was held in the Coelho case? In this context, can you say that judicial review is of key importance amongst the basic features of the Constitution?(UPSC IAS/2016) 

Q) Starting from inventing the ‘basic structure’ doctrine, the judiciary has played a highly proactive role in ensuring that India develops into a thriving democracy. In light of the statement, evaluate the role played by judicial activism in achieving the ideals of democracy. (UPSC IAS/2014) 

In India, Judicial Review implies (UPSC IAS/2017):
a) The power of the Judiciary to pronounce upon the constitutionality of laws and executive orders.
b) The power of the Judiciary to question the wisdom of the laws enacted by the Legislatures.
c) The power of the Judiciary to review all the legislative enactments before they are assented to by the President.
d) The power of the Judiciary to review its own judgements given earlier in similar or different cases.


Prelims: Difference between Curative Jurisdiction and Judicial review;

Mains: Challenges related to Curative Jurisdiction ;

Mentor comments: In 2002, the Court took on a new power called the “Curative Jurisdiction”. It is a power to correct its judgments, after they have become final. This is distinct from the power of review under Indian law, which enables all courts to rectify errors which are apparent from their records.The Court has a constitutional role to declare the law. The law must, and often does, progress with the growth in human knowledge and with societal change. The judgments of courts must reflect and sometimes trigger the changes in law. It is for this reason that courts modify their views. Examples of changes in the Court’s views include the right of privacy, decriminalisation of homosexuality and so on. Curative Jurisdiction is different. This is not merely the Court changing its view on a position of law but is a reversal of the Court’s own view in a specific case, above and beyond even the power of review.

Let’s learn. 

Why in the news? 

A top court that swings back and forth based on changing trends lacks the constancy and gravitas that is fundamental to a court of last resort. This article talks about the Curative Jurisdiction.

Difference between Curative Jurisdiction and Judicial review

  • Curative Jurisdiction: Curative jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to review and correct its own judgments or orders to prevent a miscarriage of justice. It is a remedial mechanism available in exceptional cases where there has been a manifest error or violation of principles of natural justice that cannot be rectified through regular avenues like appeals or review petitions.
  • Judicial Review: Judicial review is the power of a court to review the actions or decisions of other branches of government (executive and legislative) or administrative bodies to ensure they comply with the constitution, laws, or established legal principles.

The Delhi Metro Rail judgment:

  • Background of the Case: The case involves a dispute between Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (DMRC) and Delhi Airport Metro Express Pvt Ltd (DAMEPL) regarding the termination of a long-term contract related to a stretch of the Delhi metro rail.
  • Basis of Termination: DAMEPL terminated the contract citing the presence of defects in the metro’s construction and invoked a termination clause that allowed termination if DMRC failed to cure such defects.
  • Arbitral Tribunal’s Decision: The Arbitral Tribunal ruled in favor of DAMEPL, upholding the termination based on the existence of defects and DMRC’s failure to cure them.
  • Safety Concerns: Prior to termination, DAMEPL had stopped rail operations, citing safety concerns. After termination, both parties jointly requested the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety (CMRS) to reopen operations, which was sanctioned with certain conditions.
  • Supreme Court’s Decision: DMRC challenged the arbitral award in the Supreme Court, which upheld the award, emphasizing the limited scope to challenge arbitral awards under Indian law.
  • Curative Petition: A curative petition was filed, which is a rare legal remedy used to prevent miscarriage of justice. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court set aside the arbitral award in this case through the curative petition.

The interference by the Court in this case was based on two primary grounds:

  • Interpretation of Termination Clause: The Court found fault with the Arbitral Tribunal’s interpretation of the termination clause. It held that the Tribunal’s requirement for DMRC to completely cure the breach was unreasonable. Instead, the Court asserted that it was sufficient for DMRC to take effective steps to address the breach, and complete cure was not necessary.
  • Importance of CMRS Sanction: The Court also criticized the Arbitral Tribunal for disregarding the significance of the CMRS sanction, which was considered vital evidence. The Tribunal’s failure to consider this evidence was deemed problematic by the Court.

This intervention is notable for two reasons:

  • Firstly, it marks a departure from the Court’s previous stance of minimal interference in arbitral awards. Historically, the Court had been reluctant to overturn arbitral awards unless there were clear grounds for doing so. This case demonstrates a shift in that approach.
  • Secondly, the Court acknowledged that its own previous verdict, which aligned with its traditional stance, was incorrect. This admission highlights the Court’s willingness to reassess its own decisions and rectify errors when necessary.

Challenges related to Curative jurisdiction:

  • Consistency and Reliability: The Court is seen as the final interpreter of the law and its decisions are expected to provide stability and guidance, not oscillate based on changing trends or immediate perceptions.
  • Institutional Integrity: There is concern that frequent revisiting of decisions through curative jurisdiction may undermine the integrity and authority of the Supreme Court as an institution. The Court’s role in declaring the law for the nation and posterity requires a higher standard of scrutiny and deliberation beyond correcting individual errors.
  • Raises questions on judicial interference: The exercise of curative jurisdiction raises questions about the extent of permissible judicial interference, particularly in arbitration cases where there is a general policy of minimal judicial intervention. Courts have traditionally adopted a hands-off approach to arbitration awards to respect the autonomy of arbitral tribunals.

Conclusion: Establish clear guidelines and criteria for the exercise of curative jurisdiction to ensure consistency and predictability in its application. This could include defining the threshold for invoking curative jurisdiction, specifying the types of errors or violations that warrant its use, and outlining the procedural requirements for filing curative petitions.

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