What is Doctrine of Prospective Overruling?

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : November 7th, 2022

The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling refers to a decision taken in a specific case that will have an impact only in the future and will have no retrospective effect on any previous decisions. It has its origins in American law. The Supreme Court of India recognized and acknowledged the Doctrine of Prospective Overruling for the first time in the case of I.C Golaknath v. the State of Punjab (1967).

Doctrine of Prospective Overruling

The American Judicial System established the Prospective Overruling Doctrine. The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling was first recognised when America's legal system moved away from the age-old Blackstonian theory in the early 1900s.

  • Though the concept took some time to develop in America, the English instantly adopted it.
  • The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling is distinguished from the Blackstonian legal approach, which maintains that judges should follow the Doctrine of Stare Decisis in courts and that a judge's power is confined to stating rather than establishing law.
  • This point of view undoubtedly validates the precedent's retrospective ruling. There are two schools of thought on Prospective Overruling.
  • The first view is by Blackstone view and the second is of Cardozo J. who is known as the originator and propounder of Prospective overruling.

The doctrine of prospective overruling was for the first time adopted in the case of I.C Golaknath v. the State of Punjab (1967). The Court laid down certain provisions restricting the application of the doctrine in the Indian system, which are:

  • The doctrine of prospective overruling can be invoked only in matters arising under our Constitution.
  • It can be applied only by the highest court of the country, ie. The Supreme Court as it has the constitutional jurisdiction to declare law binding on all the Courts as it has in India.
  • The scope of the retrospective operation of the law declared by the Supreme Court superseding its earlier decisions is left to its discretion to be molded in accordance with- the justice of the cause or matter before it.

Thus, the American idea of Prospective overruling differs from what is adopted by the Indian Legal system.

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FAQs on Doctrine of Prospective Overruling

  • The Prospective Overruling Doctrine refers to a decision made in a given case that will have an effect only in the future and will have no retroactive effect on any earlier decisions.

  • The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling was propounded by Justice Cardozo and Justice Lerned Hand, as it narrows down the vague operational scheme of judicial pronouncements.

  • The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling was for the first time adopted in the case of Golak Nath v. State of Punjab by the Supreme Court of India.

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