What does data on the most cited judgments tell us?

Over 46083 citations in total, in just the top 5 most cited judgements.

A peek into the most cited judgements by each court is more telling than one would imagine. 

It signals patterns and trends that are surely worth looking into. A few weeks back IndianKanoon contributed this incredible dataset of the top 100 cited judgements across the Supreme Court of India, High Courts and selected tribunals. 

Out of curiosity, we looked into the top 5 cited judgements of the Supreme Court of India and here is what we took away:

  1. Gian Singh vs State Of Punjab & Anr (📜cited in 14672): Many civil disputes are often escalated to criminal disputes. They are then withdrawn by the parties once the civil hurt is remedied. In this case the court explored the question, “can a High Court invoke its inherent powers to quash criminal proceedings against an offender who has settled his dispute with the victim of the crime, but the crime is not compoundable under Section 320 of the Code?” The short answer, yes! The fact that this is the most cited Supreme Court case, signals that such matters probably continue to burden the courts.

  2. Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre vs State Of Maharashtra And Ors (📜cited in 10571): Historically, most courts were stringent in granting anticipatory bail, and even when they did, they imposed significant conditions on the applicant. In this landmark judgment, the Supreme Court sought to emphasise on the rights of personal liberty envisaged in the legislation and outlined factors to be considered in determining conditions that may be imposed. In doing so, the Court also emphasised the subjectivity inherent in this exercise. As the second most cited Supreme Court decision - this judgment is indicative of the vast amount of judicial time that is probably expended in a close examination of anticipatory bail applications.

  3. Sarla Verma & Ors vs Delhi Transport Corp.& Anr (📜cited in 8012): Often, cases where no substantial questions of law are involved are brought before the higher courts. Motor Vehicles Tribunals across the country apply contradictory principles in determining compensation on death, and in this case the Supreme Court explored diverse existing approaches and laid out the principles and methods of calculation to be adopted in deciding compensation. Not only is this the 3rd most cited judgment of the Supreme Court, but the data also shows that it is heavily cited by High Courts across the country. Does that indicate that such disputes continue to clog the High Courts, instead of being finally determined at the tribunals themselves?

  4. State Of Haryana And Ors vs Ch. Bhajan Lal And Ors (📜cited in 6672): A judgement that delves into the scope of inherent (and discretionary) powers of the High Courts to quash FIRs, criminal proceedings against public servants, powers of an investigating officer in corruption cases - all make for a decision that is bound to be referred extensively in future cases. As the seminal decision of the Supreme Court on several crucial provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, it is not surprising that Bhajan Lal ranks amongst the most cited judgements by courts.

  5. Lalita Kumari vs Govt.Of U.P.& Ors (📜cited in 6156): Through this decision, the Supreme Court settled the position that if a cognizable offence is made out in a complaint, a police officer has no option or discretion - they must register an FIR. In the process of its analysis, the Court also discussed other provisions of the Criminal Code, and the balance that has to be maintained between the interest of the society and protecting the liberty of an individual. In addition, the Court stated that action must be taken against erring officers who do not register the FIR if information received by him discloses a cognizable offence. Evidently this case continues to be cited in a large number of judgments. It appears that courts are regularly called upon to intervene in the process of registration of FIRs as well as the scope of inquiry that may be done by a police officer before registering an FIR. It may also be interesting to examine the use of this case in seeking accountability on the part of investigating agencies.

We are sure a deeper exploration of the most cited judgements will reveal a lot more. What did you take away from it? Let us know in the comments below.

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Also explore the dataset of top 1000 most cited central acts and sections in judgements from the Supreme Court of India, High Courts and selected tribunals. 

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