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  • Will only decide if 2022 PMLA verdict needs relook, says SC | India News

Will only decide if 2022 PMLA verdict needs relook, says SC | India News

The Supreme Court bench hearing petitions challenging the 2022 ruling upholding the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the powers of the ED under it Wednesday said that its mandate was not to decide the merits of the matter but only to see if it needs a relook by a larger bench.

“We are not here to decide the merits in that sense. Whether there is a need at all for having a relook or not. That the limited ambit…we have to also see whether we feel it’s a matter that needs to go to a five-judge bench,” Justice S K Kaul presiding over a three-judge bench said as the Centre objected to the court taking it up while petitions seeking review of the 2022 judgment are pending.

“Can it be done so by Your Lordship?,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre, asked the bench, also comprising Justices Sanjeev Khanna and Bela M Trivedi. Justice Kaul answered in affirmative, citing the court referring some land acquisition matters to a five-judge bench.

“Of course. Land acquisition Act issue was there by a three judge bench. Three judge bench concurrently differed with another three-judge bench, ultimately it went to a five-judge bench. This is not something new,” he said. Mehta said he will argue the point when his turn comes. Justices Khanna and Trivedi, too, referred to the pending review pleas.

But Justice Kaul said: “I think the contours would be whether a view or legal point settled by a three-judge bench, seen by another three-judge bench, (whether) it raises (an) issue which requires to be considered by a larger bench. I perceive that’s the only limited scope of what we can do in this matter… Matters have always gone from 3 to 5, 5 to 7…Somebody says this needs a larger bench, it does from 3 to 5, 5 to 7. The only thing is it should not jump. Beyond that we don’t have any mandate or ambit to go.”

Festive offer

Mehta contended that the 2022 judgment in ‘Vijay Madanlal Chaudhary vs Union of India’ came after a three-judge bench of the SC heard the matter for 25 days. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the leader of the opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Gobind Singh, however, said there are matters which are heard for even more days and are reversed. Justice Kaul said that “the beauty of the legal system is that we keep rethinking. That’s why I feel (what) the judges’ (say) is only an opinion. It may be my opinion. It may tomorrow sustain, not sustain, it doesn’t mean I am wrong, somebody else is right”.

On the Act, Sibal said “the whole statute and the intent of the statute has been gone by. And we have reached the stage where the ED, I use this expression intentionally, ‘is an unruly horse’. ” He said that the agency doesn’t tell a person summoned if he is summoned as a witness or an accused and this violates his right of personal liberty under Article 21. The 2022 ruling states PMLA is not a penal statute, he said. It also equates investigation with enquiry and thus concludes those making the arrest are not police officers, Sibal pointed out. Justice Khanna pointed out that in the case of Customs Act, Excise Act, etc., an SC Constitution Bench had already held a similar view regarding the officer recording statement.

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