In a milestone judgment, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court has ruled that the 30 days' notice to a marriage officer to register a marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, should be optional rather than mandatory.
The court said that enforcing a notice period on the couple is equivalent to intruding on their fundamental right to privacy and liberty. "If the couple does not want to go for publication of the 30-day notice, the marriage officer has to solemnize their wedding at once," said Justice Vivek Chaudhary while disposing of a habeas corpus petition filed by a Hindu man married to a woman who was born Muslim but converted before the wedding.
Petitioner Abhishek Kumar Pandey alleged that his wife Sufiya Sultana was being held imprisoned by her father because she had converted and got married according to Hindu rituals. Justice Chaudhary based his judgment on three key observations.
First, the law must keep evolving with time and societal change. Second, it should not violate anyone's privacy, a fundamental right underscored in several orders of the Supreme Court.
Finally, when there is no provision of a one month notice period to get married under various personal laws, why should this be mandatory under the Special Marriage Act?
The court, however, clarified that the onus would be on the marriage officer to verify the identity, age and valid consent of the couple and their eligibility to marry under the relevant law. "In case the marriage officer has any doubt, it shall be open for him to ask for appropriate details or proof as per the facts of the case," the court said.