Landmark cases that changed Indian Law

Landmark cases that changed Indian Law


Some of Landmark judgments have changed the Constitution as well as everyday life of common citizen of India. The Supreme Court judgments are very important for preparing Civil Services Exams. The Supreme Court Judgments come under General Studies Polity. There are lots of cases happening in a year. But some Supreme Court judgments shook the nation. The judgments by Supreme Court have a close relation with Polity .Citing important Supreme Court judgment in the answer will fetch you more marks in UPSC exams. As is the case with everything else, a country's judicial system evolves with time. The society goes through a lot of changes and to keep in tandem with it, the laws of the land need to be modified as well. Many cases in India have gained media attention and have left certain impressions not only on the public but the lawmakers as well. Based on some cases, certain laws had to be created or modified, making them landmarks in our judicial history. Here are such cases that led to the creation of new laws:

  • The Nirbhaya Case - Led to the change in the Juvenile Justice Act

On 16th December, 2012, a brutal case of gang rape & murder shook the nation. A 23-year-old girl was assaulted and raped in a bus. The criminals then threw her lifeless body onto the road. There were 6 people involved, 5 adults and a juvenile, aged 17. The adults were sentenced to 10 years in prison, while one of them was found dead in his jail cell during the course of the trial. The juvenile was sent to correctional facility for 3 years.

But brutal acts in this case had shocked people beyond belief. There were protests to try him as an adult. This subsequently led to the replacement of our Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. The age bar to be tried as an adult was lowered from 18 to 16 years. Although various changes were made, one might argue that there’s still a lot that needs to be addressed. The fact that marital rape is still not considered a crime is a serious issue in our country. Another matter that needs addressing however, is the fact that we refuse to foresee things, and only act after a heinous crime has been committed and under immense public scrutiny. Rape has been rampant in India for years. Why did it take a brutal murder for these laws to be passed? Surely they could have been discussed and passed years before? We must now make sure that the laws are stringent and the punishment for a convicted rapist should be nothing short of death.




  • Mary Roy vs State of Kerala - Daughters became equals

 The Indian Succession Act, 1925, be applied to Christians in Travancore and Cochin too where daughters got equality.


Mary Roy’s husband passed away without leaving a will. She was a mother of Arundhati Roy and decided to challenge the inheritance act which stated that without will, her daughter will lose the right to property. The Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1092, stated that if a man died without leaving a will for his daughter, she will not be entitled to anything. Therefore, a son would get the property.

Mary Roy fought a battle for her daughter and invoked article 14 by saying that she has equal right to property. Further, she stated that equal property rights should be given to all Syrian Christian women. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in favour and the Indian Succession Act, 1925 be applied to Christians in Cochin also. That means female child is entitled to a share equal to that of her brother if the father dies intestate.

  • Shah Bano Begum vs Mohd Ahmed Khan - A win for secularism & Muslim women across the country

Shah Bano was a mother of five and aged 62 when she was divorced by her husband, Mohd Ahmed Khan, in 1978. She filed for alimony, which was against Islamic customs. The government, thus, ruled in favour of her husband. 

The Supreme Court, however, keeping secularism and the welfare of women in mind, ruled in favour of Shah Bano. Thus, entitling her to maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

This judgement now entitles all ex-Muslim wives to basic maintenance of 3 months from their ex-spouses, post which their care is handed over to their relatives or the WAKF board.

  • KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra - The death of jury trials

KM Nanavati was a naval officer. His wife, Sylvia, had an affair with his friend, Prem Ahuja. On 27th April, 1959, Sylvia confessed to her husband that she was in love with Ahuja, but he did intend to marry her. Nanavati then dropped his wife and children off at the theatre and went to confront Prem Ahuja. He asked him if he was willing to marry Sylvia & take care of the children. He refused, so Nanavati shot him dead and turned himself in.

The intriguing story received a lot of media coverage and the jury was said to have been 'influenced' by it. Nanavati's connections with the influential families were also cited as reasons for the jury to rule in his favour.

The case went to Bombay High Court, and Judge overruled the verdict of the jury and found Nanavati guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. He got out of the Prison three years later. The case proved that an influenced panel of jury could be dangerous, as it abolished the jury system.

  • Triple Talaq case(Shayra Bano v UOI)

The issue which pertains with Triple Talaq i.e. Talaq-i-biddat is that with this practice husband is able to divorce his wife by simply uttering the word ‘talaq’ three-time consecutively which was quite barbaric to Muslim women. The Honorable Supreme Court verdict although is divided in terms of points of law and reasons, however, this decision must be construed as a milestone for the cause of gender justice in India.

  • Vishakha & others vs State of Rajasthan - Created laws that protects women from sexual harassment at their workplace

In 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a social worker, was gang raped in a village in Rajasthan, only because she tried discouraging a family's efforts to wed their one year daughter. She filed a case and received a lot of support from NGOs. Although their efforts didn't help her cause directly, what they did helped women all over the country.

It led to the Supreme Court announcing a prime verdict that helped protect women from sexual harassment at their workplace which by extension also helped establish gender equality. Before 1997, there were no guidelines to deal with such cases at a workplace.

As of April 2013,  The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 has been established, and the Vishakha Guidelines were certainly very crucial in making the new law effective.

  • Rajagopal vs State of Tamil Nadu - Extended the boundaries of right to privacy for media & the freedom of expression

In 1994, A prisoner had been convicted of murder and wrote an autobiography. He asked a weekly magazine in Madras to publish it, and they decided to go ahead with it. The autobiography had details of the murder and the fact that many senior officials were also involved. 

The officials, obviously scared, claimed the story to be false and sued the publication for libel & defamation. But the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the media house, stating that public officials can only sue publishing houses if the published material was untrue. 

This judgement for Rajagopal vs State of TN upheld freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

  • Mathura –

Amendment: The Criminal Law Act, 1983

There was a minor tribal girl called Mathura, in the year 1972 on 26th March she was summoned to the police station at night. An officer at the police station raped her and let her go. Mathura decided to file a rape case against the officer. But do you know that Supreme Court ruled in favour of the policeman. As, it was stated that there were no signs of struggle on Mathura’s body and also she did not even shout or called anyone for help.

But this case gained lots of support from public and finally an amendment in the Criminal Law Act, 1983 was effected. According to this amendment custodial rape is an offense and therefore, it is punishable and the method to deal with consent was henceforth included under India’s Rape Laws.

  • S. R. Bommai case (1994): (Misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution of India)

S. R. Bommai case was a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of India, where the Court discussed provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution of India and related issues. This case had a huge impact on Centre-State Relations. The judgement attempted to curb blatant misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which allowed President's rule to be imposed on state governments.

R. Bommai v. The Union of India raised a serious question of law relating to the Proclamation of President's Rule and dissolution of Legislative assemblies according to Article 356 of the Constitution of India. This verdict stopped the misuse of Article 356 (imposition of the president rule).




  • Menaka Gandhi case (1978): (Significant towards the transformation of the judicial review on Article 21)

This case is a landmark judgement which played the most significant role towards the transformation of the judicial view on Article 21 of the Constitution of India so as to imply many more fundamental rights from article 21. A writ petition was filed by Maneka Gandhi under Article 32 of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.

The main issues of this case were whether the right to go abroad is a part of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 and whether the Passport Act prescribes a ‘procedure’ as required by Article 21 before depriving a person of the right guaranteed under the said article.
A new doctrine of a post-decision theory was evolved and the most significant interpretation was made on the interconnections between the three articles 14, 19 and 21.

It was finally held by the court that the right to travel and go outside the country is included in the right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. The Court ruled that the mere existence of an enabling law was not enough to restrain personal liberty. Such a law must also be “just, fair and reasonable”.

  • Kesvananda Bharti case (1973): (Defined the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution)

The Supreme Court reviewed the decision in Golaknath v. The state of Punjab and considered the validity of the 24th, 25th, 26th and 29th Amendments. The Court held that although no part of the constitution, including fundamental rights, was beyond the amending power of Parliament, the "basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment.

It is a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of India, and is the basis in Indian law for the exercise of the Indian judicial of the power to judicially review, and strike down amendments to the Constitution of India passed by the Indian Parliament which conflict with the Constitution's basic structure.

The judgment also defined the extent to which the Indian Parliament could restrict the right to property, in pursuit of land reform and the redistribution of large landholdings to cultivators, overruling previous decisions that suggested that the right to property could not be restricted.

  • I.C. Golaknath case (1967): (Validity of the First and Seventeenth Amendments and described the scope of Article 13)

The validity of the First and Seventeenth Amendments to the Constitution in so far as they affect the fundamental rights was again challenged is this case. The fourth amendment was also challenged.

The Supreme Court adopted a doctrine of prospective overruling under which the three constitutional amendments concerned would continue to be valid. Moreover, the Supreme Court held that article 368 dealt only with the procedure for amendment and an amendment to the Constitution is made as part of the normal legislative process. It is, therefore, a "law" for the purpose of article 13 (2).

  •  NOTA (2013)

Right to negative vote.

On October 14, the Supreme Court recognised the right to negative vote for the electorate in the country. The voters will now have a “None of the Above” option if they don’t feel that the candidates deserve a vote. “Negative voting will lead to systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under Constitution,” the court said.

NOTA, as of now, is nothing but a hoodwink. It is just a right to register a negative option, but doesn’t have any effect on the final result. Think of it this way – Out of a 100 votes, if 99 are NOTA votes, the candidate with one vote will come into power, rendering the 99 votes useless. Our detailed analysis of NOTA can be found

  • A.K. Gopalan Case (1950): (Interpreted key Fundamental Rights including Article 19 and 21)

This is a significant decision of the Supreme Court because it represented the first case where the court meaningfully examined and interpreted key fundamental rights enlisted in the constitution including article 19 and 21. The contention was whether, under the writ of habeas corpus and the provisions of the preventive detention act, there was a violation of the fundamental rights entitled in article 13, 19, 21 and 22.