Sunday, August 31, 2008

Unenforced legislations - reconsidering AK Roy

In a recent post on a related matter, I mentioned the judgment in AK Roy:

'In AK Roy v Union of India the duly enacted 44th Constitution Amendment Act 1978 provided that it shall come into force when notified. The government notified all but Section 3 of the Amending Act which sought to amend Article 22 of the Constitution dealing with preventive detention. The Supreme Court held that it could not issue a mandamus asking the government to notify it and bring it into force. If this is true of a constitutional amendment, it is definitely true of a mere legislation.Many other duly enacted laws which had similar provisions granting discretion of notification to the Executive have not been brought into force, including the Hire Purchase Act, 1972 (which I think continues to be on the statute books as valid but unenforceable law) and the Freedom of Information Act 2002 (which was repealed by the Right to Information Act 2005). This article documents several others suffering a similar fate.'

It is very interesting to compare AK Roy and several subsequent cases which have taken the same route with a British case decided by the far less 'activist' House of Lords:

In Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Fire Brigades Union (1995) 2 AC 513 (HL) the House of Lords held that it was unlawful for the Home Secretary to introduce changes to a scheme which were incompatible with an Act of Parliament. Parliament enacted a provision for compensating victims of crimes, with a clause empowering the Secretary of State to bring it into force. The Secretary not only did not bring it into force, but also issued an order instituting a less generous scheme. The majority held that although it was within the Secretary's discretion to decide when it was appropriate to bring the law into force, he was under an obligation to keep the matter under continuing review. The institution of the less generous scheme was a failure of this duty since it was clear that the Secretary did not intend to bring the law into force at all, and thereby frustrated Parliament's will.

The doctrine of reasonable expectations also played a role. To quote Lord Brone-Wilkinson:

"Although the victim of a crime committed immediately before theWhite Paper was published had no legal right to receive compensation inaccordance with the old scheme, he certainly had a legitimate expectation thathe would do so. Moreover, he had a legitimate expectation that, unless therewere proper reasons for further delay in bringing sections 108 to 117 of theAct into force, his expectations would be converted into a statutory right. Ifthose legitimate expectations were defeated by the composite decision of theSecretary of State to discontinue the old scheme and not to bring the statutoryscheme into force and those decisions were unlawfully taken, he has locusstandi in proceedings for judicial review to complain of such illegality."

Interestingly, both the majority and the minority employed separation of power arguments. The majority held that it was for the Parliament to repeal a law, not the Executive. The minority reminded the Court of its own limitations.

The majority opionion makes sense. There are several instances where it is quite clear that the Executive has decided never to implement a law, like the constitutional amendment in AK Roy. It has thereby frustrated Parliamentary mandate - surely the discretion to bring into force does not include the choice of never bringing it into force. It is easy to say that those aggreived should go back to the Parliament - but Parliamentary time is a valuable resource. In any case, the Parliament has expressed an intention and has not said anything to the contrary - shouldn't it generate some obligations on the Executive? In fact, if it is unhappy with a law, shouldn't it be the government's responsibility to go back to Parliament to get it repealed (like it did in the case of the Freedom of Information Act 2002) rather than it frustrating the legitimate expectations of the citizen as well as the will of the Parliament?

Even international law (I think) has comparable rules, where a country which has signed a treaty but not ratified it is nonetheless has the obligation to refrain from any action contrary to the spirit of the treaty.

Perhaps the courts cannot issue mandamus to bring the law into force. But surely there is a middle way, like in Fire Brigades Union? The challenge of coming up with appropriate remedies should not result in the denial of the right itself. In some cases, even a mere judicial declaration of the continuing obligation on the Executive to consider the date of implementation and seeking evidence to demonstrate the fulfilment of this duty might suffice.

Update:
This article discusses a related issue of bringing different provisions into force at different times, creating confusion:
'The Supreme Court was confronted with this predicament in a recent case, J Mitra & Co Pvt Ltd vs Assistant Controller of Patents & Designs.
The judgment described the case as a “classic illustration of the confusion which has emerged on account of the postponement of in-part commencement of the Patents (Amendment) Act 2005”. There were amendments in 1999 and 2002, making significant changes in the patent law. But some sections were not notified, and others telescoped into the later amendments, creating a bewildering situation. This is what happens when different dates are appointed for the coming into force of different parts of the same Act, and the government does not enforce some portions.'

Venkatesan, thanks for pointing this out.

Update 2:
Apparently Aeltemesh Rein v. Union of India decided by the Supreme Court has already upheld a 'duty to consider' similar to that in Fire Brigades Union. I haven't read the case myself yet, but picked this up from a note Vikram sent (thanks) - am I correct in this? Has anyone else seen this case?
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