Adultery is no more an offence: SC

Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra said adultery is not a criminal offence

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Adultery is no more an offenceSupreme court of India has termed two laws on adultery – IPC Section 497 and 498 as unconstitutional and a colonial rule. On Thursday, SC struck down these two sections. Along with this, the apex court has also struck down section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC) that allows only the husband of the woman to be considered as aggrieved under IPC sections 497 or 498.

The judgment was passed unanimously by SC’s Constitution Bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra, comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra.

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In the judgment, it was observed that mere adultery cannot be a crime unless it attracts the scope of IPC’s Section 306 (Abetment of suicide). However, the court said that it can be a ground for divorce and a person will have civil remedies for it.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra said in an opinion on Adultery verdict that, Adultery may not be the cause of an unhappy marriage but a result after all. “Attaching criminality to adultery is going too far… a retrograde step. Of course, adultery can be a ground for a civil remedy – dissolution of marriage”, he wrote.

What is Section 497?

Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code earlier dealt with Adultery. The Section 497 (adultery) gives a husband the exclusive right to prosecute his wife’s lover. As per the Indian law, a woman cannot be punished for the offense of adultery. Only a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without his consent can be punished under this offense in India.  If the man found guilty, he faces imprisonment of upto 5 years or fine or both.

A similar right is not conferred on a wife to prosecute the woman with whom her husband has committed adultery. Secondly, the provision does not confer any right on the wife to prosecute her husband for adultery.

Key Highlights of the Adultery Verdict – 

  • Supreme Court strikes down IPC 497, IPC 498 decriminalizing adultery.
  • Supreme Court also struck down section 198 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) that allows only the husband of the woman to be considered as aggrieved under 497 or 498.
  • The court felt 497 treats woman as a chattel or a property of a man as there is no offense if there is consent of the man.
  • Businessman Joseph Shine filed a PIL for IPC 497 to be struck down on grounds of being unconstitutional, unjust, illegal and arbitrary.
  • The government in its affidavit said IPC 497 was enacted to safeguard the sanctity of marriage, diluting it would be detrimental to matrimonial bond.

The judgment on Adultery came after a businessman, Joseph Shine has filed a PIL for Section 497 to be struck down.

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