What is Public Interest Litigation?

Law
07-Oct-2022
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The term litigation means an act of legal engaging in a legal proceeding. Therefore, public interest litigation means a legal proceeding initiated in the interest of the public at large. While the idea has been widely circulated amongst the masses through cinema, media and social media, little is known.

According to Black's Law Dictionary - "Public Interest Litigation means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."

Objective and importance of public interest litigation

Public interest litigation means empowering the citizens on matters that are crucial to society and has an unbounded impact on several lives. As the locus of these proceedings is public, one need not have a locus standi in these matters. 

Public Interest Litigation has become a powerful tool for implementing and bringing about legal systems and processes of the legislature and the executive nature. The chief objective behind Public Interest Litigation is ensuring unrestricted justice for all and endorsing the welfare of the country's ordinary people.

It is evident that while our legal system sees all in equity, not all voices reach the policymakers or the courtrooms. Hence, a pivotal need to hear and do justice to each sect of the nation is to allow a witness to the injustice to raise their voice on behalf of the aggrieved. 

India is a land of landmark judgements which caused the country to see the light of critical issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace, known as the famous Visakha Judgement, PIL by M. C Mehta against the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

Types of public interest litigation

As mentioned above, Locus Standi does not form the essentials of a Public Interest Litigation. Hence, Public Interest Litigation can be broadly divided into two types:

  1. Representative Social Action and
  2. Citizen Social Action 

Representative social action

A Representative Social Action is a form of Public Interest Litigation whereby any person in public can seek judicial redressal for a legal wrong caused to a person or a determinate class of persons who, because of poverty or socially and economically disadvantaged position, is unable to approach the judicial system. 

In such a case, the Petitioner is accorded locus standi to sue as the representative of another person or group.

Examples: Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs State Of Bihar, 1979 and Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration, 1979. In these matters, the Court accorded locus standi to a person and a right to seek judicial redressal on behalf of another person or class when such person or class could not do so by themselves. 

Citizen social action

In the S.P. Gupta vs Union of India, the Supreme Court found that anyone with a sufficient interest could assert a right. A PIL falls into this category when the Petitioner sues as a member of the public owed a public duty rather than as a class representative. PILs in this category are therefore not intended to improve access to justice for the poor, like Representative Social Actions, but to vindicate rights that are diffused among the public to be enforced, notwithstanding the absence of traditional individual rights. 

The Supreme Court, in S.P. Gupta's case, 1982, which dealt with the transfer of judges, upheld the Petitioner's argument that there existed a public interest in assuring the freedom of the Judiciary from political influence. The SC further held that the conceivable injury was the loss of faith in the rule of law and a concurrent loss of confidence in the Government.

Who has the right to issue PIL?

Any individual or organization can file a PIL either in his/her/their standing to protect a right owed to him/her/them by the Government or on behalf of the society/section which is oppressed and unable to enforce their rights.

As part of the PIL process, the locus standi has been relaxed to allow the Hon'ble Court to consider grievances filed on behalf of the poor, illiterate, deprived or disabled who cannot approach the Court themselves.

It should be noted, however, that only a person acting in good faith and having a sufficient interest in the proceeding has the locus standi to file a PIL. Persons who approach the Hon'ble Court for personal gain, private profit, or political or oblique reasons will not be heard.

The Court may also take suo moto cognizance of any matter.

How to file public interest litigation?

  • Step 1: Before filing a PIL, the Petitioner must consult the affected party.
  • Step 2: After that, collect the essential documents as evidence to support the case after filing the PIL. Further, to appoint and consult a lawyer to argue the case on behalf of the petitioners. 
  • Step 3 The format of the Apex Court has the name of the Petitioner and the name of the respondent. The format must be written and addressed to the 'Chief Justice of India. 
  • Step 5: Once the PIL copy is ready to be filed in the High Court, two more copies of the petitions will be submitted to the Court. Also, one copy must be given to the respondents in advance. This proof of serving the respondents has to be affixed to the petition.
  • Step 6: Five copies of the petition need to be submitted to the Court if thePIL is filed in the SC under Article 32 of the Constitution. The respondent is served with the petition copy when the Court issues the notice concerning the same.

Conclusion

PIL has produced remarkable results which were unimaginable three decades ago. This intervention has given relief to degraded, bonded laborers, women prisoners, humiliated inmates, blinded prisoners, beggars, and many others. For individuals seeking redress and justice, it is essential to consult with a PIL lawyer who can guide them through the process. 

The most outstanding contribution of Public Interest Litigation has been to improve the accountability of the governments toward the rights of the poor. It develops a new jurisprudence of the responsibility of the Government for constitutional violations adversely affecting the weaker elements in the community. However, the Judiciary should be prudent enough to apply PILs to avoid Judicial Overreach, which violates the Separation of Power.

References:

  1. https://byjus.com/ias-questions/how-many-types-of-pil-arethere/
  2. https://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l171-Public-Interest-Litigation.html
  3. https://corpbiz.io/online-public-interest-litigation

Author Bio: Adv. Seetharaman S is a practicing lawyer at the High Court and all relevant courts in Mumbai. He is a legal consultant & practices  All litigation matters management, civil, family, consumer, Banking & Co. op, labor & employment, business & corporate, DRT, NCLT, criminal, railway & insurance, property, money suits, arbitration etc.