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Abuse of Public Interest Litigation - A Major Threat on Judicial Process

Written by: Shinsy P.S - Final Year LLM Student ,Govt Law College Thrissur, Kerala
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Law, is the social auditor and this audit function can be put into action only when some one with real public interest ignites the jurisdiction.

Public interest litigation is a highly effective weapon in the armory of law for reaching social justice to the common man . It is a unique phenomenon in the Indian Constitutional Jurisprudence that has no parallel in the world and has acquired a big significance in the modern legal concerns. This technique is concerned with the protection of the interest of a class or group of persons who are either the victims of governmental lawlessness, or social oppression or denied their constitutional or legal rights and who are not in a position to approach the court for the redressal of their grievances due to lack of resources or ignorance or their disadvantaged social and economic position.

However with the passage of time, petitions have been filed which attempted to appropriate PIL for corporate gain, political advantage or personal interest. It is an undemocratic, unrealistic and dangerous tendency which is to be impeded by our judicial attitude. Former Chief Justice A.S. Anand cautioned the over use of PIL and emphasized “Care has to be taken to see that PIL essentially remains public interest litigation and is not allowed to degenerate into becoming political interest litigation or private inquisitiveness litigation”. It has been held in a number of cases that the court must not allow its process to be abused by politicians and others to delay legitimate political objectives . Words of Krishna Iyer J reveals the change of public interest litigation after following its history for over two decades:

Abuse of PIL, misuse of this strategy, hijacking of this versatile process by enemies of the poor and even trivialization of public interest litigation bringing it into contempt are now on the cards, gambling with the court’s mood and using this factotum facility as intimidatory tool. These trends justify a critical study of PIL as a panacea or placebo, as a magic drug or a free formal curial ploy.

In public interest litigations , misuse comes in various forms. Publicity, private interest, political rivalry, or other oblique motives can be a motive for its misuse. The tragedy is that it retards the flow of justice delivery system. A spirit of moderation is needed but a consistent jurisprudence is not at all easily possible to evolve for retarding abuse. In PIL cases, the most crucial question for the court is to measure the seriousness of the petitioner, and to see whether he is actually the champion of the cause of the persons or groups he is representing. The effect of public interest litigation should go beyond the sphere of the parties present in the proceedings, and it is to be noted that public interest litigation must be accompanied by adequate judicial control so as to prevent this technique from being used as an instrument of coercion, blackmail or for other oblique motive.

A vexatious litigation under the colour of public interest litigation brought before the court for vindicating any personal grievances, deserves rejection at the threshold . It is necessary to take note of the fact that a writ petitioner who comes to the Court for relief in public interest must come not only with clean hands like any other write petitioner but also with clean heart, clean mind and clean objective . While tracing its growing abuse, Law commission of India recommended a ‘Code of conduct’ for the regulation of PIL cases in India. Twice, once in 1993 and later in 1996 PIL bills were introduced for regulating Court’s Jurisdiction Bill had particularly strong provisions in the question of locus standi. Our Supreme court also issued guidelines for regulating PILs.

In a series of judgments justice Arjith Pasayat has reiterated the principles that PIL were not meant to advance political gain and political scores under the guise of PIL In Ashok kumar v State of W.B. Court laid down certain conditions on which the court has to satisfy itself while entertaining PILs.

The Court has to be satisfied about
a) the credentials of the applicant
b) the prima facie correctness or nature of the information given by him.
the information being not vague and in definite; The information should show gravity and seriousness involved. Court has to strike a balance between two conflicting interest;
i) no body should be allowed to indulge in wild and reckless allegations besmirching the character of the others;
ii) avoidance of public mishcief and to avoid mischievous petition seeking to assail, for oblique motives, justifiable executive actions. In such case, however, the court cannot afford to be liberal.Although supreme court issued guidelines on entertaining letter petitions as PILs, and not reluctant in imposing penalty on vexatious litigants, abuses on PIL Jurisdiction is on a rise. . Now a time has come to make a sound rule on regulating abuses on PIL.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabji opinions 3 basic rules for regulating abuse of PIL
(a) Reject dubious PIL at the threshold and in appropriate case with exemplary costs.

(b) In cases where important project or socio economic regulations are challenged after gross delay, such petitions should be thrown out the very threshold on the ground of latches. Just because a petition is termed as PIL does not mean that ordinary principles applicable to litigation will not apply.

(c) PIL petitioners should be in strict terms such as providing indemnity or giving an adequate undertaking to the court to make good the damage, if PIL is ultimately dismissed.

. If the courts do not restrict the free flow of cases in the fake of PILs, traditional litigation will suffer a lot, and that would be a threat to Indian democracy and to the entire judicial process.From Media and lawyers, proper assistance for impeding abuse is needed. Media covers celebrated judgements various aspects, public interest and its expanded scope. Media plays a significant role in the formation of public opinion, so while highlighting celebrated scans and sting operations, violence against children & women, media should not forget to highlight the cases of abuse on PIL, deterrent punishment given to the litigants by court. Media should analyse the impact of abuse of PIL on judicial process. Through workshops, seminars through visual media, it can give awareness to the people. It can impede the tendency to abuse PILs through its programmes. As judge Louis Brandeis said - “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectant; electro light the most efficient police man”. The media is to provide the sunlight and focus the electric light in the area of public concern. In large of PILs petitioner through his counsel are trying to abuse the process of the court Lawyers should discourage the tendency to abuse the process of the court by vexatious, dishonest litigants by not defending their cause. An internal discipline and an awareness of being the part of considerable public service may help them to discourage fraudulent tendencies of abuses.

Above all, the great strength of the judiciary must be utilized for public good and always in public interest in the service of the people. In order to curb frivolous litigation by proper check at entry and quick disposal is the main remedy. Remember, delay breeds frivolous PILs. Exercise of power of SC under Art 32, itself a fundamental right, with the aid of plenary power of the Supreme Court under Art 142 to make such order as is necessary to do complete justice in the cause can make the fulfillment of the promise of preamble more real. Social justice is not an accomplished rule of law or life in India. The ultimate guardian of the constitution and of the imperative of independence is the militant consciousness and vigilant alterners of the people of the land. From a broad, perspective one may still asset that the achievements upto now are only the early steps towards the redemption of social justice with destiny. For effective promotion of social justice, public interest litigations in its original sense only can assist courts. Through a PIL free from abuse, battles for social justice can succeed.
. It would be appropriate to remember the words of Lord Bridge in Mcc v. Mullan.

“If one judge in a thousand acts dishonestly within his Jurisdiction to the detriment of a party before him it is less harmful to the health of the society to leave that party without a remedy than that nine hundred and ninety nine judges should be harassed by vexatious litigations alleging malice in the exercise of their proper jurisdiction”.

The author can be reached at: - Ph no: 9495712684 / Print This Article

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