The doctrine of prospective overruling was first recognised in America in the early 1900s when the legal jurisprudence in the country shifted from the age-old Blackstonian theory. The doctrine slowly developed in America and was soon accepted by English jurists and English Courts. It was recognised and adopted in India for the first time by the Supreme Court in the case of I.C.Golaknath vs State of Punjab.
The doctrine of prospective overruling finds its roots in American jurisprudence. But before this doctrine was applied and followed, the American judicial system followed the Blackstonian theory. According to this theory, Courts did not have the power to create new laws but could only follow, interpret and expound the existing laws. But several American jurists were against this theory and this opposition paved the way for the adoption of the doctrine of prospective overruling. The Blackstonian theory that was followed in England was criticised by English jurists like Bentham and Austin . Austin stated that the mere ideology that a law is not made by a court and just miraculously exists is nothing but fictional. Law has been and will be in the future made by the judges in Courts of law from time to time.
The House of Lords in practice statement observed that the Blackstonian theory does not pass the test of time and the Courts are empowered to modify and depart from existing laws and decisions if it deems fit to do so. In Milingas vs George Textiles Ltd. , the House of Lords while dealing with a claim for liquidated damages held that the application of the doctrine of prospective overruling would not affect any past transactions but will only affect the future transactions from the date of the judgement.
Objections raised against the doctrine of prospective overruling in India
- There is no evidence regarding the application of the doctrine of prospective overruling on decisions regarding amendments of ordinary laws. Only decisions regarding constitutional law amendments can be subject to this doctrine.
- Indian jurisprudence follows a precedent-based system. It would not be advisable to shift from this approach and adopt an international doctrine.
- According to Article 13 of the Constitution, any law that is in violation of fundamental rights would be deemed to be void to the extent of the violation. In Deep Chand vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court held that any law which violates the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution is a still-born law. Thus, any law that has been declared unconstitutional should be deemed void from the moment of its enactment and therefore the doctrine of prospective overruling would be against the guideline set under Article 13 of the Constitution.
Observations regarding the application of the doctrine of prospective overruling
The Supreme Court initially propounded three essential conditions that were necessary for invoking the doctrine of prospective overruling. The conditions have been enumerated below:The doctrine of prospective overruling can be invoked only in cases that arise regarding the interpretation of the Constitution.The doctrine of prospective overruling can be applied only by the Supreme Court.The Court may modify the aspects of prospective application of its ruling in accordance with the justice of the cause or matter before it.By applying the aforesaid conditions, the Court came to a conclusion that if it follows the principle of retrospective overruling, it would create chaos and will affect several transactions that were carried on under the old regime. Thus, the doctrine of prospective overruling will be applicable in the present case.The Constitutional amendments already in place would not be affected by the decision of the Court. Only future amendments would have to follow the ratio laid down by the Court in this case.
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