Judicial Activism in India | Important Acts and Laws for Judiciary Exams PDF Download

Introduction

  • Judicial activism is a concept in the legal realm that involves courts taking an active role in interpreting the law, particularly in response to societal changes. This term was first introduced in a 1947 Fortune Magazine article by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
  • Through judicial activism, courts engage in interpreting legislation with a focus on evolving societal conditions and values. This approach has led to a broader social interpretation of the law.
  • Judicial activism is often associated with court decisions that may seem to go beyond the existing legislation, possibly influenced by personal or political considerations rather than strict legal interpretation.
  • One of the key aspects of judicial activism is the idea that judges have a role in correcting injustices, particularly when other branches of government fail to address such issues.
  • By actively shaping social policy, courts can address concerns related to civil rights, individual liberties, political inequality, and public morality.

Evolution of Judicial Activism

  • India's Supreme Court initially operated as a technocratic tribunal during the 1950s but gradually expanded its authority through the interpretation of the constitution.
  • The court's evolution into an activist body was a slow and subtle process. The origins of judicial activism can be traced back to the court's early stance on the nature of judicial review.
  • Indian Judicial Activism encompasses both positive and negative aspects:
    • A positive activist court endeavors to rebalance power dynamics to foster greater equity.
    • In contrast, a negative activist court employs creative legal strategies to maintain the existing power structures.

Need for Judicial Activism

  • Constitutional separation of powers doesn't rigidly exist, but state organs have distinct functions.
  • In a welfare state like ours, judiciary's role extends beyond mere interpretation due to socio-economic factors.
  • Judiciary steps in for lawmaking and ensuring statutes benefit the intended population and promote social justice.
  • Legislature may overlook future scenarios, leaving gaps for the judiciary to address.
  • Judiciary compels the executive to fulfill duties when it fails to do so.

Question for Judicial Activism in India
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What is the main characteristic of judicial activism?
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Various Theories of Judicial Activism

Theory of Vacuum Filling

  • Theory explaining that judicial activism occurs when a void is created due to inaction or incompetence within the legislative and executive branches.
  • When a power vacuum emerges, the judiciary steps in to fill the void left by other branches of governance.
  • Examples of vacuum creation include inactivity, corruption, and negligence among legislative and executive bodies.
  • Judicial hyper-activism is seen as a response to the lack of action by other branches of government.

Theory of Social Want

  • Describes how judicial activism arises from the inadequacy of existing laws to address societal issues.
  • When laws fail to offer solutions, the judiciary interprets them creatively to serve the greater good.
  • Supporters believe judicial activism is crucial for societal transformation and filling gaps in legislation.

Necessity of Judicial Activism in the Present Situation

  • Emphasizes the role of an impartial judiciary in upholding the rule of law and protecting the constitution's integrity.
  • The judiciary acts as a safeguard against legislative abuse and plays a vital role in ensuring justice and equity.
  • Failure to engage in judicial activism when needed could jeopardize democracy and the rule of law.

Course of Judicial Activism

  • Initial judicial passivity post-independence shifted towards increased activism over time.
  • Landmark cases like the Bihar under trial case marked the judiciary's proactive role in addressing social issues.
  • Examples include interventions to improve prison conditions, protect human rights, and ensure government accountability.
  • Judicial interventions have tackled issues like job reservations, educational fees, and government corruption.

Article 21 And Judicial Activism

Recognition of Right to Privacy

  • Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to privacy, though not explicitly mentioned, has been acknowledged through judicial activism.
  • This right pertains to psychological restraints or infringements rather than physical constraints.
  • It can have positive implications, such as safeguarding the privacy of personal issues like menstruation and pregnancy, especially for women.

Scope and Limitations of Right to Privacy

  • The Supreme Court has used the right to privacy in various contexts, including enhancing punishments for crimes and protecting individuals from invasive actions like telephone tapping.
  • However, the right to privacy is not absolute and may be subject to reasonable restrictions, particularly in cases concerning state security, public welfare, or the rights and freedoms of others.
  • Legal restrictions on privacy may be imposed to prevent crime, maintain order, protect health or morals, or uphold the rights of others.

Judicial Activism in Practice

  • In the landmark case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India and Others, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of passive euthanasia.
  • Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who had been in a vegetative state for 37 years following a sexual assault, became the focal point of the case.
  • The Court's judgment allowed for the withdrawal of life support from individuals in a permanently vegetative state, subject to approval from the High Court.

Landmark Cases

  • In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar: The case highlighted the dire conditions of prisoners awaiting trial, where many had languished in incarceration without being formally charged. A petition based on the right to a speedy trial under Article 21 led to the Supreme Court emphasizing the importance of timely justice and providing free legal aid to underprivileged inmates.
  • In Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra: A journalist's letter exposed the issue of custodial violence against female prisoners. The Supreme Court treated the letter as a petition, issuing guidelines to address the situation and ensure the protection of prisoners' rights.
  • In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration: The court's intervention based on a prisoner's letter alleging abuse by prison authorities showcased judicial activism. Despite criticisms of overreach, the court emphasized the protection of civil liberties and the importance of upholding individual rights.
  • Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India: This case marked a shift in judicial perspective, emphasizing personal freedoms and due process. The court expanded the concept of personal liberty, incorporating the right to travel abroad within its purview. The case also underscored principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, highlighting the need for post-decisional hearings to safeguard individuals' rights.

Conclusion

  • In conclusion, the phenomenon of judicial activism encompasses both positive and negative dimensions. It is undeniable that judicial activism has played a crucial role in delivering justice to marginalized groups within society, including the underprivileged, socially and economically disadvantaged, and victims of various injustices. By championing their cause, judicial activism has facilitated the realization of fundamental rights that might otherwise have been overlooked.
  • However, there are instances where judicial activism has been criticized for overreach. Sometimes, the judiciary's interventions may appear excessive, reflecting personal beliefs rather than strict adherence to legal principles. This can blur the line between interpreting the law, which is the core function of the judiciary, and legislating from the bench, encroaching upon the domain of the legislature.
  • In essence, while judicial activism has undoubtedly been instrumental in advancing justice, it is imperative for the judiciary to strike a balance, ensuring that its interventions are grounded in legal principles and do not undermine the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature.

Question for Judicial Activism in India
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What is one theory that explains the occurrence of judicial activism?
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FAQs on Judicial Activism in India - Important Acts and Laws for Judiciary Exams

1. What is the evolution of Judicial Activism in India?
Ans. Judicial Activism in India has evolved over the years, with the judiciary taking on a more proactive role in interpreting and enforcing laws to protect the rights of the citizens.
2. What are the various theories of Judicial Activism?
Ans. Some of the theories of Judicial Activism include the interpretive theory, the normative theory, and the strategic theory, which all provide different perspectives on how the judiciary should approach activism.
3. What is the role of the Judiciary in Judicial Activism?
Ans. The judiciary plays a crucial role in Judicial Activism by interpreting laws, protecting the rights of the citizens, and ensuring that the government acts within the boundaries of the Constitution.
4. What are the implications of Judicial Activism in India?
Ans. Judicial Activism in India has implications on the separation of powers, the functioning of the government, and the protection of fundamental rights, which can sometimes lead to conflict between the judiciary and the executive.
5. What are the challenges of Judicial Activism in India?
Ans. Some of the challenges of Judicial Activism in India include the potential for judicial overreach, the lack of accountability of the judiciary, and the need to strike a balance between judicial activism and judicial restraint.
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