With prospective court ruling on law, what happens to past actions?

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This topic contains 1 reply, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Dr. Ashok Dhamija Dr. Ashok Dhamija 1 year, 10 months ago.

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  • #1490


    If the Supreme Court gives a ruling on a law and says that this ruling will apply prospectively, ie, in future, what will happen to the past actions which have already been taken under the same law? Would those past actions be valid even though such ruling declares the law invalid?

  • #1555

    When the courts declare the law by way of interpretation, the rule of retrospectivity of such declaration is the norm. This means that the declaration made by the court is deemed to applicable from the date of coming into existence of law. For example, where a law is declared invalid by a court, it is deemed to be invalid from the date that particular law had come into existence. This is because a court only declares the law by way of interpretation, so that declaration is effective for the entire duration of that law.

    On the other hand, the concept of prospective overruling is a deviation from the principle of retroactive operation of a court ruling.  It implies that such a court ruling would not have retrospective operation but would operate only in the future and will have only prospective operation. The purpose of prospective overruling is to avoid reopening of already settled issues and to prevent multiplicity of proceedings. It is essentially meant to protect the interests of the litigants whose cases have already been decided and settled. This means that all actions which have already been taken prior to the declaration of such law by court, do not stand invalidated.

    Since the prospective overruling affects only future actions, the past actions that have already been taken under the same law continue to be valid even if the such law has been held to be invalid.


    Dr. Ashok Dhamija is a New Delhi based Supreme Court Advocate and author of law books. Read more about him by clicking here. List of his Forum Replies. List of his other articles. List of his Quora Answers. List of his YouTube Videos.

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