Nibbling at judicial powers

The unseemly power struggle of politicians is there for all to see in the media. But the hunger of the bureaucrats for authority is so subtle that it can be detected only in a clause or two in the law they draft — like inserting ‘may’ in place of ‘shall’.

Shifting of a comma in a sovereign decree famously saved a criminal from the noose and in the US cost billions of dollars in government revenue. It requires the skill of judges to lay bare the effect of such slippery syntax. Two Supreme Court judgments of recent weeks revealed how the babus yearn to wear …

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