Several laws that had been on the books for a very long time but had lost their significance and function have recently been abolished by the government. On July 25, 2019, the Repealing and Amending (Fourth) Bill was introduced in Parliament to further the cause of reducing the burden of unnecessary laws on the populace. The most recent Bill attempts to repeal some defunct Acts that no longer find significant application in the current environment, much like its predecessors.
The word “desuetude” comes from the Latin “desuetudo”, which means “outdated or no longer custom.” The legal definition of “desuetude” is that a law is rendered invalid by long-term inaction, at least in the sense that courts will no longer permit the punishment of lawbreakers or transgressors.
The legal system has come to the knowledge over time that eliminating unnecessary legislation will improve its performance. The “doctrine of desuetude” provides a potential remedy for accomplishing the same goal; it states that if a matter involving redundant legislation is brought before the judiciary, the judiciary acts independently and, by using this doctrine, declares the redundant statute to be a dead letter.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India stated in Municipal Corporation for City of Pune v. Bharat Forge Co. Ltd. & Ors. that though the doctrine of desuetude does not appear to have been used in India so far to hold that any statute has stood repealed because of this process, we find no objection in principle to applying this doctrine to our statutes as well. This is necessary so that a citizen can determine if he must still follow the “dead letter” requirements of a statute even when they have been inactive for a long time and a different practice is in place.
The doctrine of desuetude is somewhat similar to the Doctrine of Severability:-
Article 13 of the Constitution of India states that “All laws in force in India prior to the commencement of the Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of fundamental rights, shall to the extent of that inconsistency be void.”
This is where the validity of the doctrine comes from. According to the theory, which is an extension of Article 13, only the specific section of a statute that violates or infringes upon a person’s fundamental rights and is severable from the remainder of the statute shall be deemed invalid by the courts, not the entire statute. The concept effectively states that the non-violative provision will be upheld as legitimate and enforceable if the violative and non-violative provisions are separated in a way that allows the non-violative provision to existing without the violative provision.
Some Laws That Need to be Cleared
Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 -The unauthorized possession of telegraph cables was controlled by this Act. The telegraph facilities were totally shut down after the last telegram was sent on July 15, 2013. As a result, this Act needs to be repealed because the situation that gave rise to it has changed.
Hackney Carriages Act, 1879 – This Act was created to grant licenses for animal-drawn wheel vehicles. This Act must be abolished because there is no evidence that it was applied after independence.
Weekday Holidays Act, 1942 –This Act’s purpose was to give employees of commercial establishments weekly holidays. The Shop and Establishment Act of 1961 addressed the same issue and rendered the prior Act redundant.
There are now pending proposals as well as recommendations and judicial rulings. However, redundant statutes are still enforceable in court. Despite being out of date, some statutes are still permanently recorded in the statute book. Therefore, cooperation between the court and the legislative, the two key pillars of democracy, is essential. Additionally, there is a need to raise awareness among the populace regarding the existence and continuous application of such pointless laws that have lost their importance and purpose.
- Verma, Vivek Kumar. “Case List: Doctrine of Desuetude – Indian Case Law.” Case List: Doctrine of Desuetude – Indian Case Law, 5 July 2014, indiancaselaw.in/cases-on-doctrine-of-desuetude.
- “Doctrine of Severability: A Scalpel Rather Than a Bulldozer.” Doctrine of Severability: A Scalpel Rather Than a Bulldozer, legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4014-doctrine-of-severability-a-scalpel-rather-than-a-bulldozer.html. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.
- Municipal Corporation for City of Pune v. Bharat Forge Co. Ltd. & Ors., Civil Appeals No. 2550 of 1981
Diya Thapp, Student
Govt. Mohindra College Patiala
Edited by Sahid, Team Member, LawDiktat