The judiciary was in the news often in 2014. From district courts to the Supreme Court, it passed orders or verdicts that had a deep impact. These are the five key cases that received the most attention.

1. Manohar Lal Sharma v. Principal Secretary (Coal mine allocation case)

Supreme Court decision: The allotments of coal blocks by the Screening Committee constituted by the coal ministry and the government were arbitrary and illegal. As many as 214 of the 218 allocations since 1993 were cancelled, and a fine of Rs 295 was imposed for every metric tonne of coal extracted during the period.

Impact: Parties from across the political spectrum, who had been part of the government since 1993, were left embarrassed. The metal and cement companies whose captive mines were cancelled suffered losses as their stocks plummeted on the day of the verdict.

Little-known fact: Coalgate, as it is called, is far from over. The judgement dealt with just the cancellation of allotments. The Supreme Court made it clear that investigations and criminal trials for corruption in the allotment process will continue. The misdeeds of more prominent people may yet get exposed.

2. National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (Transgender rights case)

Supreme Court decision: All citizens have a right to expression of their self-identified gender. The rights guaranteed by the Constitution are available to all, including transgendered individuals. The scope of the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex is wide enough to include persons who identify as neither male nor female. In addition, transgender people must be treated as a socio-economically backward class.

Impact: Transgender people got the right to be identified as male, female or as belonging to the third gender, whatever they prefer. State and Central governments are now prohibited from discriminating against transgendered individuals. In fact, the governments have to provide them with welfare schemes and reservations that are applicable to backward classes.

Little-known fact: Some scholars believe the reasoning adopted in this case is contrary to the explanation given in the case of Koushal v. Naz Foundation, in which the court upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexual acts. It is possible that the reasoning and observations in this case could become the basis for decriminalisation of homosexual acts, if the Supreme Court takes up the issue again in the future.

3. Murugan v. Union of India (Rajiv Gandhi assassins’ case)

Supreme Court decision: The death sentence of all three people convicted of playing a role in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was commuted to a life sentence on the grounds that their mercy petitions had been pending for too long. “Exorbitant delay in disposal of mercy petition renders the process of execution of death sentence arbitrary, whimsical and capricious and, therefore, inexecutable,” the apex court stated.

Impact: With an eye on the sentiments of a section of voters sympathetic to the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, the Tamil Nadu government attempted to release the trio. But the Central government challenged its order. Thus, Supreme Court is now seized with a fresh question: whether the commutation of a death sentence to life imprisonment results in the state government getting the power to grant further remission and order the convicts’ release.

Little-known fact: Aside from Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins, more than 15 death sentences, including that of 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar, were commuted to life imprisonment in 2014 on grounds of excessive delay in disposal of mercy petitions.

4. Dr Ranjeet Suryakant Mohite v. Union of India (Disclosure of religion case)

Bombay High Court decision: Every individual has the right to claim that he does not practice or profess any religion. The State cannot compel any individual to specify his religion in any form or declaration.

Impact: Citizens can now refuse to fill up any form requiring them to mandatorily state their religion.

Little-known fact: The judgement specifically states that it extends to “State” as defined in Article 12 of the Constitution. This means that not only state and Central governments but also local authorities and instrumentalities of the State, such as most Public Sector Undertakings and institutions controlled by the government, are prohibited from forcing a person to declare his religion.

5. Superintendent of Police, Vigilance & Anti-Corruption v. Selvi J. Jayalalitha & Ors (Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case)

Trial Court decision: Jayalalithaa and three of her associates were convicted of committing offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and each sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. A fine of Rs 100 crore was imposed on Jayalalithaa and the other three fined Rs 10 crore each.

Impact: Jayalalithaa, then the sitting chief minister, had to surrender to prison authorities and was behind bars for 20 days until the Supreme Court granted her bail pending appeal. She was disqualified from her positions as an MLA and the chief minister because of a previous Supreme Court decision prohibiting convicted legislators from holding office during the pendency of their appeals. Tamil Nadu was hit by widespread protests and some rioting.

Little-known fact: In 2003, the Supreme Court transferred the case from Tamil Nadu to a court in Bangalore to ensure that political changes in Tamil Nadu do not affect the case and so that the accused get a fair trial. The judge who delivered the verdict was the fifth to hear the case after its transfer to Bangalore. The first judge was elevated to the Karnataka High Court and the next three retired before the hearings in the case could be concluded.

Sagar Godbole is a law student at the Gujarat National Law University.