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Supreme Court Criticizes Gujarat High Court’s Handling of Rape Survivor’s Abortion Plea, Adjourn the hearing for 12 days

Supreme Court Criticizes Gujarat High Court: Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, of the Supreme Court, expressed their dismay at the Gujarat High Court’s actions, emphasizing that such actions violate the core principles of the judiciary.

New Delhi, 21 August(City Times): Supreme Court Criticizes Gujarat High Court:The Gujarat High Court’s handling of a rape survivor’s plea seeking an abortion has drawn stern criticism from the Supreme Court. In a recent incident, the apex court expressed its dismay over the high court’s actions in the matter.The Supreme Court, which had set the matter for a hearing, criticized the Gujarat High Court for issuing an order contrary to its own.

This clash of orders underscores the significance of hierarchical integrity within the judicial system. Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, of the Supreme Court, expressed their dismay at the Gujarat High Court’s actions, emphasizing that such actions violate the core principles of the judiciary.

Urgent Hearing Amidst Pregnancy Milestone

Last week, the Supreme Court conducted a special hearing on the plea of a rape survivor who sought to terminate her pregnancy, which was nearing the 28-week mark. During the hearing, Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan of the Supreme Court strongly criticized the Gujarat High Court for its perceived lack of seriousness.

The high court’s decision to adjourn the hearing for 12 days despite the urgency of the situation raised eyebrows. Subsequently, the hearing was expedited to August 17, when a single-judge bench swiftly dismissed the petition. This dismissal order remained unpublished until August 19, when the Supreme Court heard the petitioner’s appeal. In light of this situation, the Supreme Court questioned the high court’s approach, expressing concern over the “valuable time” that was lost.

High Court’s Attempted Clarification

The Supreme Court’s scrutiny didn’t stop there. The top court was informed about another order passed by a single judge of the Gujarat High Court on August 19, after the Supreme Court’s intervention. In this subsequent order, the high court seemingly aimed to clarify that the initial adjournment was intended to allow the petitioner’s counsel to ascertain her willingness to continue the pregnancy and potentially hand over the child to state authorities.

Supreme Court Rebukes High Court’s Approach

The Supreme Court bench took issue with the high court’s attempt at clarification. Justice BV Nagarathna did not hold back in expressing her displeasure. She stated, “We do not appreciate the high court’s counterblast to the Supreme Court’s orders. What is happening in the High Court of Gujarat? Do judges reply like this to a superior court’s order? We do not appreciate this.” The bench questioned the necessity for the high court to issue such an order, emphasizing that no judge should justify their decisions in this manner.

Solicitor General’s Intervention

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta appeared before the court and requested the bench to refrain from making comments about the high court judge. He indicated that there might have been a misunderstanding, and the bench should disregard the issue. He added that the government would request the judge to withdraw the order.

High Court’s Order Draws Supreme Court’s Attention

Justice Nagarathna responded that the issue could not be ignored since the state’s counsel had brought it to the Supreme Court’s attention. She reiterated that no judge should counterblast the orders of the Supreme Court. Justice Nagarathna stressed that there was no need for such a clarificatory order in the first place.

Balancing Justice and Commentary

Mehta again requested the bench to avoid making adverse comments against the single judge, asserting that the order was passed in good faith. He expressed concern that such comments could discourage high court judges.

Judicial Philosophy and Pregnancy Outside Marriage

The Supreme Court’s order highlighted the mental health impact of pregnancies outside marriage, particularly after sexual assault. The court emphasized that while pregnancy within a marriage is joyful, pregnancy outside marriage can adversely affect a woman’s mental health. After considering the medical report and the petitioner’s fitness for the termination procedure, the court granted permission for the termination.

Future Steps for Survival and Adoption

Following the termination procedure, if the fetus is found to be alive, the hospital is directed to provide necessary facilities, including incubation, to ensure the survival of the fetus. The court further directed the state to take steps to facilitate the child’s adoption in accordance with the law.

Conclusion and Respect for Higher Court Orders

While addressing the manner in which the high court handled the case, the Supreme Court bench refrained from passing adverse comments in its order. The bench asserted that it refrains from commenting on the order passed by the high court judge on August 19, in accordance with its intervention on that date. The bench also addressed the petitioner’s request for DNA evidence preservation, noting that it can only direct medical experts to assess the feasibility of such a procedure. The court concluded by highlighting the importance of adhering to established judicial principles while ensuring justice for all parties involved.

Importance of Uniformity and Respect for Higher Courts

The Supreme Court’s reproach serves as a reminder of the judiciary’s commitment to uniformity and respect for higher courts’ decisions. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta clarified that the conflicting order was an outcome of a “clerical error,” a claim that the state government intends to address by requesting the order’s retraction. However, the Supreme Court’s stance underscores that such errors should not lead to deviations from the hierarchical order.

Strengthening Judicial Credibility and Decency

The Supreme Court’s stance aligns with its role as the guardian of judicial credibility and decorum. By reprimanding the Gujarat High Court for its contradictory order, the Supreme Court upholds the dignity and authority of the judiciary. This episode serves as a lesson in the importance of adherence to established principles and the need for all courts to function cohesively within the framework of the judicial system.

Balancing Power and Responsibility: Judiciary’s Integral Role

The episode underscores the delicate balance between judicial power and responsibility. While courts hold the power to make decisions, it is equally crucial for those decisions to align with constitutional values and adhere to higher court rulings. The Supreme Court’s intervention in this matter highlights its role as the ultimate arbiter of justice, ensuring that even in the complexities of the judicial process, the principles of hierarchy and integrity remain unwavering.

High Court’s Lackadaisical Attitude Draws Supreme Court’s Ire

The Supreme Court criticized the Gujarat High Court’s “lackadaisical attitude” and issued notices to the Gujarat government and others, demanding their responses to the woman’s plea. The petitioner’s counsel informed the court that she approached them on August 7, and the matter was heard the following day. Despite the urgency of the matter, the high court adjourned it for 12 days, leading the Supreme Court to observe the loss of “valuable time.” The petitioner’s appeal was eventually heard by the Supreme Court on August 19.

High Court’s Attempt to Justify Its Order Criticized

The Gujarat High Court attempted to clarify its order of adjournment, justifying it as a means to obtain instructions from the rape survivor about her decision on the pregnancy. The Supreme Court vehemently criticized this attempt to counter the superior court’s orders and questioned the high court’s reasoning. The bench stated that judges should not attempt to circumvent superior court decisions and emphasized that the high court’s counterblast to the Supreme Court’s orders is unacceptable.

Supreme Court Grants Relief with Caution

Following fresh examinations, the Supreme Court granted permission for the pregnancy termination. The court specified that if the fetus is found to be alive after the medical procedure, the hospital must provide necessary facilities, including incubation, to ensure the fetus’s survival. The state is then mandated to ensure the child’s adoption in accordance with the law.

Gujarat High Court’s Order Under Scrutiny

The Supreme Court refrained from making adverse comments on the specific judge’s order but emphasized its concern about the manner in which the matter was handled. The court observed that pregnancy outside marriage, particularly after sexual assault, is detrimental to a woman’s mental health. The bench allowed the petitioner to terminate her pregnancy and directed her to be present in the hospital for the procedure.

Advocates Highlight High Court’s Previous Controversies

Senior Advocate Sanjay Parikh noted that the same judge invoked Manusmriti in another case related to the pregnancy of a minor rape survivor. Parikh also requested the preservation of fetal tissues for DNA evidence in the rape case trial, which the bench considered feasible. The court concluded by refraining from making adverse comments on the August 19 order by the Gujarat High Court and directed concerned medical experts to assess the feasibility of the preservation procedure.

Supreme Court’s Warning Against Judicial Decisions Against Superior Courts

The Supreme Court’s stance serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding superior court decisions and the sanctity of the constitutional philosophy. The judiciary’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legal process is evident through its stringent stance on this matter, aiming to ensure justice and fairness.

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