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Writs Under Indian Constitution: How Courts Protect Your Rights and Ensure Justice

Writs are legal orders issued by a court, directing someone to do something or to refrain from doing something. They are a fundamental aspect of the judicial system, serving as a tool to enforce rights and remedy legal wrongs. Writs can compel actions like appearing in court, producing documents, or stopping certain activities. Common types include writs of habeas corpus (to challenge unlawful detention), mandamus (to force a government official to perform a duty), and injunctions (to halt harmful actions). Writs ensure fair and just proceedings by providing a mechanism for individuals to seek relief from the courts.

Types Of Writs:
  • Habeas Corpus
  • Mandamus
  • Prohibition
  • Certiorari
  • Quo warranto
  • Specific writs:[1]

  1. Habeas Corpus: The Latin phrase "Habeas Corpus" translates to "have the body." According to Article 21 of the Constitution, no person can be deprived of their life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law. The writ of Habeas Corpus allows individuals to challenge their detention by bringing the detainee before the court. Its objective is to ensure a swift judicial review of alleged unlawful restraint on liberty, aiming to secure the release of the individual if the detention lacks legal justification.

    Article 22 mandates a prompt determination of the grounds of arrest within 24 hours, failure of which entitles the person to release. The writ operates as a constitutional privilege, focusing on the legality of detention rather than the merits of the case. It guarantees liberty regardless of guilt, emphasizing adherence to legal procedures in depriving individuals of their freedom.
    • Exceptions: The writ of habeas Corpus is not applicable in the following instances:
      • If detention is justified;
      • Illegality arises if:
        • (a) detention does not follow lawful procedures,
        • (b) does not comply with Article 22 conditions.
      • Legal detention adheres to valid laws and strictly follows procedures.
  2. Mandamus: The word "mandamus" means order from supreme court or High court thus it is referred to as order by superior court commanding a person or a public authority to carry out a public duty or in certain cases of statutory duty which is entrusted upon them.
    • Exceptions: The writ of mandamus cannot be granted in the following circumstances:
      • When the duty is merely discretionary in nature;
      • The writ of mandamus does not lie against the private individual or against the private organization;
      • The writ of mandamus cannot be granted to enforce an obligation arising out of contract.
  3. Prohibition: The writ of prohibition is a judicial order issued to prevent a subordinate court or a tribunal from exceeding its jurisdiction or acting contrary to the rules of natural justice.
  4. Certiorari: The Latin word "Certiorari" means "to certify." A writ of certiorari can be defined as judicial order of the supreme court or High court to and subordinate court or to any other authority to exercise judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative functions to transmit to the court the records of proceedings pending with them for scrutiny and to decide the legality and validity of the orders passed by them. Through this writ the court quashes or declares invalid a decision taken by the concerned authority.
    • Grounds: The writ of certiorari can be issued on following grounds:
      • Where there is a want of excess jurisdiction;
      • Where there is an error of law but not error of fact;
      • Where there is violation of procedure or disregards of principle of natural justice;
    • Prohibition and Certiorari distinguished:
      • When an inferior court exceeds its jurisdiction, the aggrieved party can seek a writ of prohibition from the Supreme Court to halt ongoing proceedings.
      • If the inferior court already issued a decision, the aggrieved party must request a writ of certiorari to annul the decision due to jurisdictional errors.
      • If the case is pending, the Supreme Court may use both writs: prohibition to prevent further proceedings and certiorari to quash prior decisions.
      • Prohibition aims at prevention, halting improper proceedings, while certiorari serves as a remedy, correcting jurisdictional errors already made by the court.
  5. Quo warranto: The word "quo warranto" means what is your authority. It is a judicial order against a person who occupies a substantive public office without any legal authority. The person is asked to show by what authority he occupies the position or office. The writ of quo warranto is to confirm the right of citizens to hold public office and it also aims to protect those persons who are deprived of their right to hold a public office.
Conditions: The following conditions are to be present if it of quo warranto is to be issued:
  • The office must be a public office
  • It must be substantive in nature; a substantive office is independent and permanent.
  • The holder must be in actual possession of the office.
  • The holding of the post must be in contravention of law.
  • The appointment of a person to a public office must be a clear violation of law.

Case Laws:
In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration (1980),[2] a prisoner filed a letter to the apex court, alleging mistreatment by jail officials on behalf of his fellow inmate. The Supreme Court granted a writ of Habeas Corpus, expanding its scope beyond wrongful detention to encompass protection against abuse during confinement. This case underscored the writ's role in safeguarding personal liberties and ensuring humane treatment of individuals in custody, setting a precedent for addressing violations of dignity within the prison system.

In ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla (1976), [3]the court ruled that Article 21 could be suspended during emergencies, earning it the label of the "darkest judgment in history." This case, also known as the Habeas Corpus case, sparked controversy for its restriction of fundamental rights during times of crisis.

In the A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras case[4], the petitioner challenged his preventive detention under the Preventive Detention Act of 1950. The Supreme Court held that the detention was lawful, rejecting the petitioner's plea for a writ of habeas corpus. It established the writ of habeas Corpus will lie if power of detention vested in an authority was exercised the malafide and is made in collateral or ulterior purposes.

In Mrs.Santhosh Singh v. Union of India[5], the supreme court held the writ of mandamus cannot be issued for introduction of moral science as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. There is no dispute about value based education.

The supreme court in the Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas [6]held that whenever anybody of persons having legal authority to determine the questions affecting the rights of subject and having the duty to act judicially, acts in excess of their legal authority a writ of certiorari lies. It does not lie to merely remove acts or to remove or cancel executive and administrative acts.

Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution empower the Supreme Court and High Courts to issue writs, ensuring access to justice and protecting fundamental rights. These provisions enable individuals to seek redress for rights violations, even though unconventional means like letters and postcards. Writ jurisdictions act as crucial safeguards against arbitrary actions by authorities, ensuring fairness, and upholding the rule of law. Thus, their role in judiciary is pivotal role in preserving individual liberties and promoting the public interest within the constitutional framework.

  • Dr. J.N. PANDEY, Constitutional Law of India 690 (Central Law Agency 2023).
  • Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, AIR 1980 SC 1579.
  • ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, AIR 1976 SC 1207.
  • A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27.
  • Mrs. Santhosh Singh v. Union of India, AIR 2016 SC 3456.
  • Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas, AIR 1950 SC 22.

Written By: Swathika Kadieswaran,
pursuing 3RD Year B.A.,LL.B (HONS) in Tamil Nadu Dr.Ambedkar Law University.

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