The Supreme Court virtually reproduced the arguments that the Centre had made in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act case to support the “draconian amendments” to the law, 17 Opposition parties alleged in a statement on Tuesday.
“We hope that the dangerous verdict will be short-lived and constitutional provisions will prevail soon,” said the statement signed by the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, among others.
On July 27, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar, upheld the core amendments made to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act that gives the government and the Enforcement Directorate virtually unbridled powers of summons, arrest and raids.
Over 200 petitions were filed against the amendments arguing that they violate personal liberty, procedures of law and the constitutional mandate.
The court, however, had not passed any verdict about the amendments made through the Finance Act in Parliament. The court said that the matter needed to be decided by a seven-judge bench.
The petitioners challenging the amendments had submitted that the changes were brought through Money Bills that need to passed only in the Lok Sabha, and not the Rajya Sabha.
Petitioners had argued that these amendments were improper since the law was outside the scope of Money Bills, which are meant to deal with subjects concerning financial matters such as government revenue and expenditure.
On Tuesday, the Opposition parties said that while they hold the Supreme Court in the highest regard, they needed to point out that the court should have waited for the verdict of the larger bench that will examine the amendments made through the Finance Act.
“These far-reaching amendments strengthened the hands of a government, indulging in political vendetta of the worst kind, by using these very amended laws relating to money laundering and investigation agencies, to target its political opponents in a mischievous and malicious manner,” the parties alleged.
They said that if the larger bench holds that the amendments passed through the Finance Act are bad in law, then the entire exercise would become futile and result in a loss of judicial time.
Important provisions upheld by SC
Besides the Enforcement Directorate’s power to arrest and seize properties, the court held in its order that Section 45 of the Act was legal and not unreasonable. The provision makes offences under the law cognisable and non-bailable. It also states that when a bail plea is opposed, the court needs to be satisfied that the accused person is not guilty and will not commit any crime after release.
The judges also upheld Section 24 of the Act that states the accused person has the burden to prove his innocence. This is contrary to established criminal law principle of innocent until proven guilty.
The court also said that an Enforcement Case Information Report – or ECIR – in money laundering cases, cannot be cannot be equated with a first information report in other crimes. The judges held that it was not mandatory for the Enforcement Directorate to provide an ECIR to the accused person, and that disclosing the reasons of arrest was enough.
The court also upheld Section 3 of the Act, which defines money laundering.