Locus Standi and Public Interest Litigation

Locus Standi and Public Interest Litigation


Access to justice is a principle of the rule of law. Without access to justice, people will not be able to raise their voices and exercise their rights. Therefore, fair and equitable justice must be ensured for all members without discrimination.

-United Nations and the Rule of Law: Access to Justice-

It is not enough for any country to legislate and enforce justice; it must also have a system of administration of justice. Accordingly, a judicial system has been established in every country and it is also a fundamental element of the rule of law. A.V. Daisy emphasized, there must be a fair judiciary to administer justice. Therefore, every country has established a top-down judicial system under a judicial framework. Establishing a judiciary physically is also not enough and there should be an independent judiciary. People should be given an opportunity to defend their legal and fundamental rights through that just court. It is also important that judges disseminate the law in such a way that they can ensure maximum justice to the people through their interpretive role. Locus standi and public interest litigation are two of the main concepts that are important for performing the above function.

What is Locus Standi

“Locus Stand rule is based on good policy. The principle is that court time as well as energy should not be wasted on hypothetical or abstract questions or on a professional trial or a busy institution.”

Sathe , Public Participation and Judicial Process-

Locus standi is a Latin word. It means place and stand. As mentioned here, having a court as a place is not enough and there should be an opportunity to appear before the court for that. This implies not only the right to bring a case but also the right to be heard in the relevant tribunal. Locus standi is one of the main tools that enforce rights guaranteed by the Constitution or otherwise. It can also be seen as an opportunity to create the basis and power for the judiciary to act as a defender of the rights of the people.

Development and Evolution of Locus Standi

The word locus standi is used in connection with Article 32 of the Constitution of India. It reads as follows.

“The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by these parties guaranteed.”

It can be argued that Article 32 encourages individuals to appear in court. As BR. Ambedkar, the founder of the Constitution of India, states, “Article 32 is very important and without it, the Constitution is likely to be repealed, which is the heart and soul of the Constitution.” Article 226 is further important in the study of the constitutional context. “The power of the High Courts to issue to any person or authority, including any Government, instruction, order or writ, at the appropriate time for the exercise of any right conferred by Part III and for any other purpose.”

In developing as a democratic socialist state, it was necessary to promote the public interest. At the same time, there was a high tendency for lawsuits to be filed, effectively questioning various actions at different levels. With its evolution, the locus standi also began to grow. With the concept of the welfare state, there was a growing perception in society that when the government acts in the best interests of the people, it can be questioned if the administrative officials act in any way outside the law or outside the provisions of the welfare state.

Deshpande v. S (1971) 13 JILI 153 case highlights two key issues underlying the concept of locus standi.

  • The plaintiff must have some grievance. That is, another person’s grievance cannot be prosecuted. But this does not apply to Habeas Corpus or Quo Warranto writ orders. This is due to public freedom and public attention to state property.
  • There is no room for purely academic disputes to come before the court. That is, we should focus only on the grievances and attachments that are relevant to the person concerned.

But later the concept of locus standi developed beyond traditional boundaries in relation to the Indian legal system. Mr. Surendra Mohan describes this situation in “Public Interest Litigation and Locus Standi” as follow.

“Loose and stable laws were created regarding locus standi on the grounds of public interest litigation and legal aid, and this concept became confusing with liberalization.”

The rigid position that only one person can appear before the court was removed with concepts such as liberalization and the doors of the court were opened for many. Accordingly, lawyers, recognized trade unions as well as law educators filed cases before the courts on various issues. They enabled the enforcement of legal rights for the oppressed in society. Sometimes it is meant not only for the good of the plaintiff but also for the overall welfare of the people of the country. The opportunity arose to sue under sufficient interest instead of personal interest. There are several positive consequences.

  • Determining the position on access to justice.
  • Provide an opportunity for citizens to actively participate in law enforcement.
  • Disclosure of the inadequacy of encouraging professional litigants.

Accordingly, the following are some of the basic cases that are accepted in modern locus standi and related areas.

  • Personal Standing
  • Surrogate Standing
  • Associational Standing or Class Action
  • Public Interest Standing
  • Actio Popularis

The concept of locus standi can be found in every state, but how it is interpreted to enforce the well-being and rights of the people depends entirely on the functioning of the judiciary.

What is Public Interest Litigation

With the development of the locus standi came the opportunity to later sue not only individuals but also a community in general. According to the concept of the power of law, protection before the law belongs not only to one person but also to a group of individuals. Accordingly, public interest litigation also developed into social action litigation in India. SP Gupta Vs. The Union of India (1981) SC 149 case is the primary decision here. The contribution of Justices Krishna Iyer and Bhagwati is significant and they have laid the foundation for the judiciary to become a sacred temple for the people.

“A person who does not seek personal or political gain through locus standi may appear in court through public interest litigation if fundamental rights or statutory provisions have been violated as a bonafide.

There is a growing trend of public interest litigation under judicial activism in Indian courts today. Through the Kesavananda Bharathi case, the jurisdiction of the judiciary has been expanded and the Indian judiciary has become one of the most democratic courts in the world, delivering historic judgments. Against such a background it is timelier to describe the application of public interest litigation in relation to litigation.

Growing public interest litigation through judicial Activism.

  • As stated in the In the Judges Transfer Case (1974) SC 209, the purpose of the PIL is to “provide an opportunity for the public to sue for certain circumstances arising out of a violation of legal rights.” The public interest litigation helps to strike a balance between the rule of law and law and justice. But the court pointed out that the PIL should consist of clean hand, clean mind and clean objective. That is, it does not allow for the pursuit of purely personal goals under the guise of doing well to the public. The court’s openings of doors as well as the closing of unwanted doors are also a factor in the public interest litigation’s growth.
  • MC Metha, a well-known lawyer in India, filed a large number of PILs and in these cases the judiciary enforced the rights of the people by emphasizing municipal administration and environmental issues in a more progressive approach. Here are three key pointers in moving forward.
  • MC Metha vs. Union of India and Others / Oleum Gas Leak Case (AIR 1987 CS 1086): Introduced the concept of absolute liability to protect the environment.
  • MC Metha vs. Union of India and Others/ Ganga Water Pollution Case (1988 1 SCC 471)
  • MC Metha vs. Union of India and Others/ Taj Trapezium Case (1997 2 SCC 353): Article 32 of the Constitution was given a broader definition, extending environmental protection to the protection of national heritage. It was pointed out that even foreigners have the opportunity to enjoy the national heritage of our country.
  • RLE Kendra, Dehradus vs. State of UP (1985 SC 652): Environmental pollution and prevention of public hazards along limestone pits in the Himalayan foothills were discussed. Article 21 of the Constitution was broadly interpreted to emphasize the right to clean environment.
  • Sundarrajan vs. Union of India (2013 7 SCALE 102): Kundamkulam filed a petition against the construction of the power plant and the court considered the concepts of ecology and environment as a project of public utility, balancing the two. Mundy vs Central Environment Authority and Others (SC Appeal 58/2003) is one such instance in Sri Lanka where the judiciary has struck a balance between rights. The case was related to the construction of the Southern Expressway and examined a nationally important project and its contribution to future generations.
  • Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India (AIR 1996 SC 2715): Sustainable development was addressed as public interest litigation, using the polluter pay principle, the Precautionary principle, and international law such as the Stockholm Declaration and the Rio Declaration. The scope of the public international litigation was further expanded in Sri Lanka, citing this Indian legal position in the Ravindra Gunawardhana Kariyawasam vs. Central Environment Authority/ Chunnakkam Power Plant Case (SC FR Application No 141/2015), one of the most progressive cases filed by a Sri Lankan court.
  • The rights of prisoners to life, liberty and liberty can also be seen in the many cases where the PIL has been presented in the Indian legal system. Examples are as follows. Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration and Others (AIR 1978 SC 1675), Husainara Khatoon and Others vs Home Secretary Bihar (1979 SC 1360), Sheela Barse vs State of Maharashtra (AIR 1983 SC 378).
  • The public Interest Litigation also advocated for workers ‘and workers’ rights by preventing labor exploitation. Kapila Hingorani vs State of Bihar (2003 6 SCC 1), In Re Regularization of Class in Employees (2013 8 ADJ 43).
  • There are also several court rulings on child and women’s welfare. Sheela Barse vs Union of India (1986 SC 1773), Munna vs State of UP (1982), Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan (1997).

As mentioned above, the public interest litigation has been filed before the courts in a more progressive manner covering all areas and the judiciary is also seen to be focusing on every issue with a more open mind. It can be argued that public interest litigations considers different concepts, responsibilities and liabilities, corrections, officials’ preferences, matters of administrative law, environmental factors, etc., rather than simply making judgments. What is special is that even when the judiciary is at peace, the peace itself is interpreted in the constitutional context. Therefore, it has also eliminated the possibility of a social challenge. That is, the judiciary has been given a basis to enforce constitutional rights to a certain extent through the public interest litigation.

Combined analysis of Public Interest Litigation and locus standi

“Historically the judicial branch has often been the sole protector of the rights of minority groups against the popular majority”

-Diane Watson-

The two concepts of public interest litigation and locus standi discussed separately above are interrelated in relation to administrative law and that relationship can be argued on various grounds. In particular, the purpose of administrative law is to provide remedies to the public through certain situations that arise in connection with the actions of administrative officers. It happens through judicial review. The door to court must be opened for a successful judicial inquiry to be established. The public interest litigation provide the opportunity for many people to access the gates through the locus standi, and if there is a community in the community that loses that opportunity, it is through their representation or opportunity. Therefore, public interest litigation can be seen as an opportunity to look into the activities of the government in depth. Also, when inquired about functionally, it can be identified as another extension of the concept of locus standi itself.

Both of these concepts are intertwined with issues of participatory democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights, constitutional constitutionality, and the role of the judiciary in constitutional law. Therefore, the fundamental rights in bringing a PIL can be brought as litigation as well as a writ petition. As writ law is a fundamental subject in the administration of administrative law, it is possible to have the opportunity to appear before a court satisfying very few technical issues.

As both Sri Lanka and India are concerned with social welfare, the rights of the people can be further empowered by providing an opportunity to question the actions of such administrative officials. In the case of Sri Sachidanand Panday and Another vs The State of West Bengal and Others (1987 2 SCC 295) , for example, it was emphasized that state lands or public lands could not be used at the sole discretion of the executive. That is, it was emphasized that it should be used for the maximum good of the people. A similar view was expressed in the Bulankulama vs Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development and Others (2000) in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the decisions made through this public interest litigation can also be seen as an opportunity to use the Red Light Theory to control the discretionary power of the administrative officers.

But it is also the basis for the expansion of the scope of the locus standi and the criticism leveled at the developmental status of the public interest litigation. That is, if this is used to question the actions of administrative officials in every way, it may undermine the real purpose. Dr. Mario Gomez points out, “The public interest litigation is essentially a political act.” That is, the question arises as to whether this is an unnecessary opening of the doors of the courts. The court itself has provided a positive solution. According to the Kalyaneshwari vs. Union of India (2012 12 SCC559) lawsuit, the court ruled that the concept “should be used very carefully to avoid wasting valuable time in the courts” to prevent PIL filing for business purposes. Judges Krishna Iyer and Bhagwati have teamed up with the Ministry of Law and Justice to formulate a series of guidelines to prevent these situations.

There can be some degree or anomaly in any concept. But it is more appropriate to develop as far as possible based on the concepts of administrative law than to subject this developmental situation to criticism, which is meant to open the doors of justice to the people who are unable to speak for themselves and their people. There can be some degree or anomaly in any concept. But it is more appropriate to develop as far as possible based on the concepts of administrative law than to subject this developmental situation to criticism, which is meant to open the doors of justice to the people who are unable to speak for themselves and their people. Otherwise the law would be just a physical thing. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that every citizen belongs to the phrase “We are the people of …” in the preamble of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the judiciary, as the guardian of the people, must discreetly interpret these concepts and interpret them in such a way as not to overwhelm the actions of the administrative officers and to protect the maximum responsibilities of the people. Further, the growing democratic features of the modern world and the importance of locus standi and public interest litigation in the context of economic development and globalization must be enhanced. That vision, which is legal, must be for the present and not for the future.

“The judiciary has a permanent place in the hearts of the people. It would be a more humane concept to focus on the protection of minorities and the protection of the weaker sections through judicial review. “

-Kesevanada Bharathi case (1973 4 SCC 225) 

Author: Tharuka Hettiarachchi,
Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

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