Supreme Court review pleas won’t help Muslims, Airtel or Vodafone; only lawyers may win

Some losers in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (Ayodhya) and the Annual Gross Revenue (AGR) Liability of Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) verdicts have threatened to file “review petitions” in the hope that the Honble Judges will change their Orders.

It is instructive therefore to map the contours of “review provisions” relating to the Supreme Court.

The SC has the power to review a judgment pronounced by itself under Article 137 — subject to rules framed under Article 145 of the Constitution of India and applicable law.

A person seeking review of such a judgment has a 30-day window to file a review in accordance with the SC Rules, 1966. The petition must be placed before the same bench which passed the judgment, and typically, without oral arguments.

If the petitioners hopes to lead oral arguments, a request for the same needs to be specifically made.

Therefore, a “review” in legal parlance means that the same Court is expected to re-examine its own verdict. Powers of the Court in dealing with a review request are discretionary.

The grounds are limited to cases where there is an error apparent on the face of the judgment or record and/or to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice arising out of the final judgment. The scope of review should not be confused with the scope of “appeals.” The SC does not rehear a case on a request for review of a judgment. As opposed to an appeal, the scope for a review of its own judgment by the SC is limited only to correcting an error apparent of the face of the judgment or record, and/or to correct and grave injustice resulting from the judgment.

Therefore, an alleged error on the face of the judgment must be self-evident and obvious on a plain reading of the judgment and not based on an interpretation arising out of any long-drawn process of reasoning where there could be possibilities of differing opinions on interpretation.

In its own judgments, the SC has clarified the scope of review and laid down that a party is not entitled to seek a review merely for the purpose of achieving a rehearing and a fresh decision.

This is to ensure that the normal principle that a judgment of the SC is the full and final closure and it can’t negated by indiscriminate review petitions by the aggrieved.

Hence, barring exceptional circumstances, a judgment passed by the SC becomes functus officio — the court itself ceases to have control over the case thereafter to review, alter or interfere with the judgment.

Does this cold reality cover both landmark judgments — the one on Ram-Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute as well as the one on statutory AGR liabilities notably on Bharti-Airtel and VodaIdea? It does:

* In both cases, the SC has conducted long drawn proceedings both on pleadings and oral arguments.
* Both verdicts deal with every submission by every party based on all the pleadings and documents relied upon by all parties in support of their contentions and opposing the contentions of counter-parties.
* There’s no apparent error on the face of either of the judgments brought about by any reader of the judgments on plain reading.
* There is no case made out for any miscarriage of justice arising out of any applicable law of the land.
* In view of the above, public pronouncements even threats to seek a review verge on bravado and bluster.

What lawyers often don’t tell clients is that the SC has dismissed nearly 99 per cent of all review petitions.

Yet, clients and their lawyers often clutch on the straws. A recent instance buoying their hopes is when the Union Government approached the SC on anticipatory bails in cases against scheduled castes/scheduled tribes under the 1989 law. Likewise, new guidelines framed by the SC on misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code to correct legislative outreach by the judgment. In both, the Union Government was involved and the questions involved related to corrections in the scope of the legal provisions of the 1989 law and the IPC, respectively.

In the verdicts related to Ayodhya and AGR, the Union Government is not aggrieved. In fact, on AGR it is on the winning side.

Therefore, there seems no case for the Union of India, least of all bleeding hearts amongst civil servants in relation to AGR or Ayodhya to seek a roll back or modification.

Anecdotally, when faced with a rejection of a “review,” the losing parties have also resorted to a “curative petition,” a last-mile measure to correct any miscarriage of justice and violation of principles of natural justice. Even curative petitions have been dismissed by the Supreme Court 99.9 per cent times if the judgments and proceedings have attained finality on all tests.

If there’s any more prolonging, only a handful of lawyers will be the winners.  (Agency)

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