Marriages under special law can be registered virtually: SC
Law has to march with technology, said the Supreme Court on Monday as it asserted that a marriage under the Special Marriage Act can be registered through video-conferencing, without insisting on the physical presence of both spouses.
A bench of justices Indira Banerjee and V Ramasubramanian said that letters of law cannot work in a manner that makes it impossible for people to follow them even when they desire to. “Special Marriage Act was enacted in 1954. The technology of computer and Internet has come much later. Therefore, the law has to march along with technology,” said the bench while dismissing an appeal filed by the Haryana government against an order of the Punjab and Haryana high court that allowed a couple to depose remotely under the special law.
“Where there is difficulty, the letter of law cannot be so rigid that it makes it impossible for the parties to follow them. Moreover, the registration department is there to facilitate the parties and not to create obstruction or hurdles,” it observed.
The court directed the Haryana government to comply with the high court order within 45 days and make sure the couple has a marriage certificate.
The order has come in the wake of a couple expressing inability to show up before a marriage officer in Haryana’s Gurugram for getting their marriage registered under the Act.
The man is an IT consultant based in the United Kingdom while the woman is a resident doctor in the United States. They got married in India in December 2019 and travelled back.
They applied for registration of their marriage and the marriage officer sought their presence on April 3, 2020. However, due to Covid-19, all flights were cancelled and they could not travel to India. In August 2020, the couple moved a plea to let them process the registration through video-conferencing, but the marriage officer declined it.
The couple then moved the Punjab and Haryana high court where the man pointed out that he couldn’t travel to the US to meet his wife without the marriage certificate. The plea asked for the woman to be exempted from physical appearance being on emergency Covid duty in US.
A single-judge bench dismissed the request last December, holding that there is no provision in the law for marriage registration without the physical presence of the couple and two witnesses. This order was challenged before a two-judge bench of the high court, which ruled on March 9 that no provision of the SMA would be violated if the woman could be present through video-conferencing and the husband could be physically present with the witnesses. Haryana filed an appeal against the order in SC, saying that couple’s signatures were needed to register marriage.
But the bench was unimpressed. “We do not deem it appropriate to interfere with the practical directions given by the high court by its impugned judgment and order. The special leave petition is, accordingly, dismissed. The order of the division bench shall be complied with within 45 days,” directed the bench.