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Doctrine of Guilt by Association [UPSC Notes]

The Supreme Court of India has overturned its 2011 judgments and reinstated the concept of “guilt by association” in criminal law. It has been stated that being a member of a banned organization will now be considered a crime under the country’s anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of 1967. This concept is an important topic for the UPSC exam polity and governance segment.

Doctrine of Guilt by Association

This doctrine means that an individual can be held responsible for the actions of a group or organization they are associated with, even if they did not personally participate in any illegal activity.

  • This means that individuals who are found to be members of a banned organization can be prosecuted and punished for their association with the group, regardless of their actual involvement in any illegal activities.

UAPA Issues

  • The UAPA is an anti-terror law in India that was enacted in 1967 to prevent unlawful activities that pose a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • The law was amended in 2019 to allow the central government to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their properties.
  • Under the UAPA, the government can ban organizations that it deems to be involved in unlawful activities, including terrorism, and prosecute their members.
  • The law allows for preventive detention of individuals who are suspected of planning or committing terrorist acts.
  • Critics of the law argue that it is vaguely worded and gives the government broad powers to suppress dissent and target individuals who are not involved in terrorism.
  • The law has also been criticized for its potential to violate civil liberties, including the right to free speech and association, and for its use of prolonged detention and denial of bail to individuals accused of terrorism.
  • The recent Supreme Court ruling that reinstated the doctrine of “guilt by association” under the UAPA has raised concerns about the potential misuse of the law to target innocent individuals.

UAPA & Doctrine of Guilt by Association

  • Section 10(a)(i) of the UAPA declares that being a member of a banned organization is a punishable crime that can lead to a jail term of up to two years. 
  • However, the Supreme court in the 2011 ruling rejected the doctrine of ‘guilt by association’  and stated that being a member of a banned organization alone would not be enough to incriminate individuals unless they engage in violent acts, incite others to commit violence, or carry out any other overt action that disrupts public peace.

Significance of the recent ruling

  • Legal implications: The ruling now makes mere membership in a banned organization a punishable crime, which was not the case earlier. This can potentially lead to increased arrests and detentions of individuals suspected of having links with banned organizations.
  • Counter-terrorism measures: The ruling is being seen as a measure to strengthen India’s counter-terrorism measures, as it allows for the prosecution of individuals who are suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.
  • Public perception: The ruling has sparked a debate in the public domain, with some supporting it as a necessary measure to combat terrorism, while others criticize it as a threat to civil liberties and democratic values.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to a provision in the UAPA based on concerns about the potential for its misuse. It emphasized that the possibility of misuse cannot be a relevant consideration when evaluating the constitutionality of a provision and that only actions that are the result of actual abuse or misuse of law can be subject to challenge. The court also stated that a law that is otherwise constitutionally valid cannot be declared unconstitutional based solely on the possibility of its abuse or misuse.

Hence, the constitutionality of the law and its abuse need to be seen separately and both can’t be mixed together. 

Doctrine of Guilt by Association :- Download PDF Here

Related Links
Important Supreme Court Judgements for UPSC Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
Advisory Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court Indian Judiciary
UPSC Calendar 2023 Judicial Doctrines


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