Supreme Court hears review petitions against the PMLA judgment in open court, issues notice to Union Government

The outgoing Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, made it clear to the counsel that his brother Judges on the bench, who had decided the case earlier, are not agreeable to reconsider any other issue, apart from two aspects: the non-issue of ECIR to the accused, and the reversal of the presumption of innocence.

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EARLIER today, the Supreme Court said that prima facie, it felt that its judgment on the interpretation of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) required reconsideration on two aspects: non-supply of the Enforcement Case Information Report (‘ECIR’) to the accused, and the reversal of the presumption of innocence of the accused.

By hearing the review petitions in open court – as against the general practice to dismiss such petitions in the judges’ chambers – the Supreme Court appeared to send the signal that it has an open mind, at least on some aspects of the judgment.

The bench, comprising the Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) N.V. Ramana, and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar, issued notice to the Union Government on review petitions against the court’s judgment delivered on July 27. The latter two judges were part of the three-judge bench that delivered the judgment, along with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, who had authored the judgment. Justice Khanwilkar had retired last month.

With CJI Ramana retiring tomorrow, his successor, Justice U.U. Lalit has to nominate the third judge on the bench to ensure further hearing of the review petitions.

The CJI said that the bench is completely in support of prevention of black money or money laundering. While the PMLA’s object is noble, the issues of not providing ECIR and reversal of the presumption of innocence need to be reconsidered, the CJI observed.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, for the review petitioner, politician and businessman Karti Chidambram, insisted that the notice may not be limited to these two issues as there are a lot more issues that may require reconsideration. Sibal said that whether the PMLA is a penal statute is the main issue. CJI Ramana, however, said that his two brother judges are not agreeable to examine other issues.

The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta opposed the review petitions. He argued that no grounds for review were made out.

Last month, the Supreme Court had upheld various provisions of the PMLA, thereby affirming the powers and jurisdiction of the Directorate of Enforcement. It held that all of the PMLA’s provisions have a reasonable nexus with the objectives sought to be achieved by the PMLA in preventing and regulating money-laundering effectively.

The judgment was widely criticized for curtaining the liberty of citizens. Former Supreme Court judge, Justice L. Nageswara Rao, speaking on India’s Independence Day last week at a special webinar hosted by The Leaflet on the subject ‘Life and Liberty: India at 75 years of Independence’, had said that he might have taken a different view had he decided the PMLA case.