New Delhi: The Supreme Court had stepped into the realm of legislation through its March order preventing automatic arrests on complaints filed under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act), attorney general K.K. Venugopal argued before the court today.

The attorney general sought the matter to be placed before a constitution bench comprising five judges.

“A complete new set of rules has to be observed in all cases now. The SC/ST Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, effectively stand amended. You cannot declare that the law in the country will be this, contrary to the existing law", he said.

According to him, the top court could not legislate and should observe the principle of separation of powers.

The attorney general said members of the SC/ST community had been subjected to 1,000-2,000 years of suppression and the nature of atrocities against them demanded that they be amply protected under law.

Justice U.U. Lalit clarified that the judgment did not say that there should be no registration of crime against complaints by SC/ST member but there should be a filter placed on the arrests following the complaints to ensure that there is a need to arrest the person in question.

A similar clarification had been given by Justice A.K. Goel at an earlier hearing, where he said that the court was not trying to stand in the way of the rights of members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and was concentrating on preventing the implication of an innocent person.

The court was hearing the Centre’s review petition challenging a ruling that prevented automatic arrests on complaints filed under the SC/ST Act.

The government’s decision to approach the court in a review petition came after the top court’s order passed in March raised concerns over a possible dilution of the law meant to protect the marginalised section of society.

The Centre sought a review of the judgement, saying it was vitiated by the fact that the court had proceeded on the basis that it can legislate and has the power to make law when none exists.

This is “wholly fallacious" as we live under a written Constitution, of which “separation of powers between the legislatures, the executive and the judiciary is the very basic structure and is inviolable", it added.

The order “adversely affects a substantial portion of the population of India who are SC/ST members". It is also “contrary to the legislative policy of the Parliament" as reflected in the Act, it said.

It is also the Centre’s stand that any dilution of the provisions of the amended SC/ST Act would result in depriving the community of its constitutional rights.

On 20 March, a bench of justices Lalit and Goel held a public servant could be arrested only after the approval of the appointing authority and a non-public servant only after the approval of the senior superintendent of police, if considered necessary, for reasons recorded.

The ruling triggered protests by Dalit groups across the country, with sporadic violence during a Bharat Bandh on 2 April.

On 3 April, the top court refused to keep in abeyance the order preventing automatic arrests on complaints filed under the SC/ST Act and asked the parties to file written submissions within two days.

The case will be heard next on 16 May.

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