Bilkis Bano’s plea rejected by SC: What is a review petition?

Bilkis Bano’s petition challenged the apex court’s May order that permitted the Gujarat government to decide on the remission of the 11 convicts who gangraped her and murdered seven members of her family during the 2002 Godhra riots.

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition filed by 2002 Gujarat riots victim Bilkis Bano, seeking review of its May 2022 order which said the Gujarat government was the appropriate government to decide the prayer for remission by one of the 11 convicts handed life terms in her case, and let the state’s 1992 remission policy apply in the matter.

Plea for review

According to the Constitution, any ruling by the Supreme Court is in the normal course final and binding, and it becomes the law of the land. It is considered final because it provides certainty for deciding future cases.

However, the Constitution also gives, under Article 137, the Supreme Court the power to review its judgments or orders. This provision forms the legal basis for the filing of a “review petition”.

Procedure for review

A review petition must be filed within 30 days of pronouncement of the judgment. Except in cases of death penalty, review petitions are heard through “circulation” by judges in their chambers. They are usually not heard in open court.

Lawyers in review petitions usually make their case through written submissions, and not oral arguments. The same judges who passed the original verdict usually also hear the review petition.

It is not necessary that only parties to a case can seek a review of the judgment on it. As per the Civil Procedure Code and the Supreme Court Rules, any person aggrieved by a ruling can seek a review. However, the court does not entertain every review petition filed.

In Bilkis Bano’s case, Bilkis, through her advocate Shobha Gupta, had herself sought the review.

Grounds for review

There are narrow, specific grounds on which a review petition can be entertained. Therefore, the court has the power to review its rulings to correct a “patent error” — but not “minor mistakes of inconsequential import”.

In a 1975 ruling, Justice Krishna Iyer said a review can be accepted “only where a glaring omission or patent mistake or like grave error has crept in earlier by judicial fallibility”.

In a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court laid down three grounds for seeking a review of a verdict it has delivered:

(i) the discovery of new and important matter or evidence which, after the exercise of due diligence, was not within the knowledge of the petitioner or could not be produced by him;

(ii) a mistake or error apparent on the face of the record; or

(iii) any other sufficient reason. In subsequent rulings, the court specified that “any sufficient reason” means a reason that is analogous to the other two grounds.

In another 2013 ruling (Union of India v. Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Ltd), the court laid down nine principles on when a review is maintainable. “A review is by no means an appeal in disguise whereby an erroneous decision is reheard and corrected but lies only for patent error,” the court said. It added that the mere possibility of two views on the subject cannot be a ground for review.

Success of review pleas

It is rare for the Supreme Court to either admit reviews or to overturn an original decision in a review.

It did agree to review its 2018 verdict in the Sabarimala case, but refused to review its ruling seeking a probe into the Rafale deal.

As the court of last resort, the Supreme Court’s verdict cannot result in a miscarriage of justice. So, in Roopa Hurra v Ashok Hurra (2002), the court itself evolved the concept of a curative petition, which can be heard after a review is dismissed to prevent abuse of its process. A curative petition is also entertained on very narrow grounds like a review petition, and is generally not granted an oral hearing. It is yet to be seen if Bilkis Bano will take this route.

Sources :The Indian Express

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