Supreme Court Judgement in Plain English

Judgement Delivered on 9th April 2018


On 24th May 2017 Justices Surendra Mohan Kuriakose and Abraham Mathew of the Kerala High Court annulled Hadiya’s marriage with Mr Shafin Jahan, on the ground that ‘a girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited in many ways’. Further, the High Court gave custody of Hadiya to her parents. Mr Shafin Jahan then filed a special leave petition challenging this judgement.

On 8th March 2018, the Supreme Court set aside the annulment of the marriage. The Bench comprised Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and D. Y. Chandrachud. On 9th April 2018, it passed the judgement explaining the reasoning behind its decision. 

The Court held that:

The High Court wrongly exercised its Habeas Corpus jurisdiction 

The writ of habeas corpus is ‘a great constitutional privilege’ or ‘the first security of civil liberty’. It is a remedy against illegal detention, which affects the liberty and freedom of the detainee. Its purpose is to see that no one is deprived of their liberty without the sanction of the law. The court’s role is to ask for the person to be produced so as to ascertain their choice and see that they are released. The purpose of the habeas corpus petition in this case ended when Hadiya appeared before the High Court and stated that she was not under illegal confinement. The High Court has no power to decide the ‘just’ way of life or ‘correct’ course of living for Hadiya. She has absolute autonomy over her person.

Moreover, in Hadiya’s case, the High Court was guided by social considerations. It was wrong and unnecessary to go into aspects of social radicalization in a writ of habeas corpus. It is the job of the law enforcement agencies to look into aspects of criminality. The Court should only look at whether the person has been detained without lawful authority. Further, the argument that Mr Jahan would take Ms Hadiya out of the country was also unnecessary to examine for a habeas corpus case. Apprehensions of any future activity must be governed and controlled by the State.

The High Court wrongly invoked the parens patriae jurisdiction

Parens patriae is the power of the State to intervene against an abusive or negligent parent or guardian. The State acts as the parent of such an individual. The courts can invoke this role only in exceptional cases where the individual is either mentally incompetent, or underage, or has either no parent/legal guardian or has an abusive one. Ms Hadiya is neither mentally incapacitated nor vulnerable. She equivocally expressed her choice, and the right to choose is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom and a facet of individual identity. It could not take precedence over social and moral values. A Constitutional Court must protect fundamental rights and thus could not reject Hadiya’s choice.

The High Court transgressed on constitutional rights

Ms Hadiya and Mr Shafin Jahan are adults, who decided to marry each other. Marital status is conferred through legislation or custom. The High Court was wrong in letting parental love and concern override the right of an adult to choose who she wishes to marry. Moreover, the Constitution guarantees that the ability to take such decisions is a part of liberty and individual autonomy. The right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21. Choice of a partner lies within the exclusive domain of an individual, and is a part of the core zone of privacy, which is inviolable. Thus, the High Court was wrong in using its powers under Article 226 to annul Hadiya’s marriage with Shafin Jahan.