Nitya Shukla, ICFAI University, 2nd year
The ability of the court to hear cases on its own is known as Suo moto cognizance. The Indian Constitution’s Articles 32 and 226 permit the Supreme Court and High Court to decide cases on their own. Suo moto is a Latin phrase that refers to a government agency’s action. As soon as they learn something through the media or from a third party, the courts take Suo moto cases. This idea accelerates the administration of justice and is typically regarded as a component of judicial activism. The public interest lawsuit has increased the extent of the judiciary’s ability to get involved in critical public interest cases.
Advocat Arif Khan Makki says, “The rationale behind the Suo moto actions of the High Court and Supreme Court is the desire to deliver justice to everyone, even to the people who might not be able to afford it.”
Justice activism is essential to the smooth operation of a democratic society. The judiciary has played a significant role in the advancement and defense of people’ rights in India. Suo moto cognizance is one of the ways that judicial activism is expressed. Without a formal complaint or petition, the judiciary may take up cases through Suo moto cognizance. The effectiveness of Suo moto cognizance as a tool for judicial activism in India is examined in this essay. A democratic society cannot function properly without justice advocacy. In India, the court has been crucial to the advancement and safeguarding of human rights. The practice of Suo moto cognizance is one example of judicial activism. Suo moto cognizance allows the judiciary to take up cases without a written complaint or petition. This essay analyses the viability of Suo moto cognizance as a tool for judicial activism in India.
Suo moto cognizance is the term for the judiciary’s inherent authority to bring about legal proceedings on its own. The courts can now address problems that could otherwise go overlooked or untreated thanks to it. Due to this system, judges can get involved in public interest cases even if the parties involved choose not to come before the court.
Article 131 of the Indian Constitution justifies the Supreme Constitution’s Suo moto authority. It has made
sure that both in civil and criminal cases, justice will win. Supreme Court or High Courts may exercise Suo moto jurisdiction over the following matters
1.Contempt of court– In general, contempt refers to disobedience to the court or disregard for its rules and regulations. Therefore, any person who prevents the administration of justice may be subject to Suo moto cognizance by the courts.
2.Reopening of old cases: If any closed case receives new or significant evidence, the courts may reopen it by taking Suo moto cognizance.
3.To order an investigation for a new case: If the court determines that there has been injustice committed against a person or a group within society, it may order any agency or entity responsible to conduct an investigation and take any required steps after obtaining information from the parties involved or from the media.
The “Epistolary Jurisdiction,” which was established in the late 1970s as a result of judicial activism efforts to increase access to the legal system for the underprivileged, poor, and socially and economically disadvantaged segments of society, is where the Suo moto cognizance originates.
The Murthal Rape case had just been taken up by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on a Suo moto basis. The court ordered the state government to provide the call logs of numerous senior police officers who were present in that area, including the IG, DSP, SHO, SP, and others.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court took Suo moto cognizance of a matter that was mentioned in an article titled “Clinical Corruption,” which highlighted medical misconduct, exorbitant drug prices, and sending patients for unnecessary tests.
Suo moto cognizance has a rich historical background in India as a tool for judicial activism. This idea has evolved as a result of a number of significant legal rulings and cases that have impacted the judiciary’s function in defending citizens’ rights. This article offers a historical overview of the evolution and utility of Suo moto cognizance in Indian law.
1. Early Years: The Foundations of Judicial Activism
During the years leading up to independence, the roots of judicial activism in India were planted. Even then, the judiciary showed its dedication to upholding social fairness and fundamental rights. The groundwork for judicial activism in independent India was laid by significant instances such as A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950) and Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973). These decisions highlighted the judiciary’s responsibility for safeguarding constitutional principles and applying the law to changing societal requirements.
2. During the Emergency (1975–1977), Judicial Independence was put to the test
During the Emergency from 1975 to 1977, when civil liberties were restricted, judicial independence underwent a crucial test. In famous decisions like ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla (1976), the Supreme Court of India had to strike a balance between the rights of the person and the authority of the state. Although the Court’s ruling in this case was viewed as a setback for judicial activism, it also made clear how crucial an independent judiciary is to protecting the rights of the populace.
3. In the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Era, Judicial Activism Has Expanded
Suo moto cognizance was made possible by the advent of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the 1980s, which revolutionized the Indian legal system. PILs gave the judiciary the authority to take up matters for poor and marginalized groups in society who might lack the resources or awareness to independently approach the court. The courts’ proactive attitude to resolving social issues is best demonstrated by landmark judgements like Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979) and Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984).
4.Environmental Law: Closing the Legislative Gaps
Suo moto cognizance by the judiciary has been important in environmental matters in recent decades. The courts took up lawsuits to safeguard the environment and enforce pollution control measures after realizing the deficiencies in the legislative frameworks. Suo moto cognizance by the judiciary in the historic M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986) case, which involved the preservation of the Taj Mahal from contamination, is a shining example of the court’s environmental action.
5.Accountability for Social Justice and Human Rights
In India, accountability has been made a priority, and human rights have been protected thanks in large part to Suo moto cognizance. Guidelines and regulations to protect citizens’ rights have been established as a result of the judiciary’s aggressive action in cases involving, among others, deaths committed while in custody, abuse against women, and child labour. These court rulings have not only handled particular issues, but they have also established guidelines that support openness, responsibility, and social fairness.
Suo moto cognizance in India has evolved historically, reflecting the judiciary’s dedication to judicial activism and the defense of citizens’ rights. The courts have proven their readiness to get involved in public interest cases, bridging legislative gaps, and guaranteeing accountability from the time before independence to the present. Suo moto cognizance has been a significant weapon for the judiciary to advance justice, equality, and social welfare in India, despite hurdles and objections. The judiciary is anticipated to change as the nation continues to develop.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SUO MOTO COGNIZANCE
1. Ability to Protect Fundamental Rights
The protection of basic rights in India has shown to be very efficient when using suo moto cognizance. This procedure has been employed by the judiciary to swiftly resolve numerous social and human rights issues. The Supreme Court, for instance, has taken suo moto cognizance in matters involving, among others, violence against women, environmental contamination, and custodial fatalities. Such aggressive action has ensured justice and equality by protecting and enforcing citizens’ fundamental rights.
2. Addressing Policy Gaps and Inaction in the Legislature
Suo moto cognizance’s capacity to solve legislative inaction and policy deficiencies is another noteworthy feature. The judge has the power to intervene through Suo moto cognizance in situations when the legislature has failed to implement the necessary laws or policies. By doing this, the courts fill the gap between the current legal system and brand-new social demands. This system has been particularly useful in environmental cases where the courts have stepped in to enforce pollution control laws and close legal loopholes.
3. Fostering transparency and accountability
Suo moto awareness is essential for encouraging openness and accountability in government. Through this system, the judiciary holds the government to account for any actions or inactions. It makes ensuring that the government operates within the bounds of the constitution and abides by the rules of good governance. The courts help to raise the nation’s standards of governance by actively observing and taking action in situations of corruption, irregularities in government operations, and abuses of human rights.
4.Improved Access to Justice
Suo moto awareness improves marginalized and vulnerable groups of society’s access to justice. It makes it possible for the courts to speak for the voiceless and correct structural injustices. The judiciary can offer relief and remedies to persons who might not be able to approach the court on their own by taking proactive actions. By assuring their inclusion and engagement in society, this mechanism has been crucial in defending the rights of minorities, women, and children.
The courts have the authority to declare any law unconstitutional on the grounds that it breaches the fundamental rights outlined in the Indian Constitution. This is known as judicial review. Unless a complaint is made by an aggrieved party, the courts cannot declare a legislation illegal Suo moto. However, recently the courts have used their judicial review authority to Suo moto take up cases where it was determined that certain orders had been granted unlawfully and needed to be corrected
To address certain areas of concern and guarantee the preservation of citizens’ rights, numerous commissions and statutory organizations in India have been granted Suo moto cognizance powers. These organizations significantly contribute to the advancement of social justice, accountability, and transparency. Here are a few instances:
The Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),
which has the authority to take Suo moto cognizance in cases involving the violation of human rights. To protect human rights and handle complaints or instances of human rights breaches, it can launch investigations and take the necessary actions.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), which was founded in accordance with the National Commission for Women Act of 1990, has the authority to take Suo moto cognizance of instances involving the denial of women’s rights and gender-based discrimination. It looks into complaints, asks questions, and makes recommendations for corrective action to deal with these problems.
NCPCR, the National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights, The Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act of 2005 authorized the NCPCR to take Suo moto cognizance of cases involving the infringement of children’s rights. It oversees and upholds the application of laws and regulations pertaining to child protection.
The NCSC, or National Commission for Scheduled Castes, The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 established the NCSC, which has the authority to take Suo moto cognizance of complaints of atrocities perpetrated against Scheduled Castes. It looks into complaints, takes the required steps, and makes recommendations for policies that will promote the socioeconomic advancement and welfare of Scheduled Castes.
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)-The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order of 1950 established the NCST, which has the authority to take Suo moto cognizance of complaints pertaining to the violation of Scheduled Tribes’ rights. The interests and rights of Scheduled Tribes are safeguarded and protected, and the application of preventative measures is monitored.
National Green Tribunal (NGT)
: The NGT was founded by the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 and has the power to adjudicate cases involving environmental problems and infractions on its own. It has the authority to hear and decide cases involving environmental protection, forest preservation, and pollution avoidance.
CHALLENGES AND CRITICISM
Suo moto cognizance has proved successful in many situations, but it is not without difficulties and detractors. One issue is the potential overlap between the executive and judicial branches, as judicial action may be viewed as infringing on the legislative branch’s purview. Critics contend that the judiciary should avoid deciding cases that are the responsibility of the legislative or executive branches.
Suo moto cognizance is subjective, which raises questions regarding the possibility of selective judicial action. Critics contend that the judiciary might use its discretion in an inconsistent manner, emphasizing some issues while ignoring others. This may result in charges of bias or judicial overreach.
The High Courts and Supreme Court can take up Suo moto cognizance of such situations when information from any individual or through media reports is obtained regarding any infringement of basic rights, obligations, or liberties. Suo moto cases have increased significantly over the last few decades, including the Delhi air pollution case and problems like the hospital workers’ strike. As a result, the judiciary has been a steadfast foundation in defending human rights and dispensing justice when and when it is needed. In India, Suo moto cognizance has proven to be a powerful tool for judicial activism. It has been essential in defending basic rights, resolving policy inadequacies, encouraging accountability, and enhancing access to justice. The courts have proven their dedication to social justice and the rule of law by adopting cases on their own initiative. Suo moto awareness has certain drawbacks, but overall, its advantages exceed these. Suo moto cognizance will continue to play a major role in the advancement and defense of individuals’ rights in India so long as the judiciary employs its authority responsibly and in a fair manner.