3 Feb 2010

Guidelines for PILs: Supreme Court

In a recently delivered judgment running over 200 paragraphs the Supreme Court has traced the history of Public Interest Litigations in India, the trends which the courts have seen in regard to PILs, the situation in other countries relating to litigation of such nature and has also examined the impact of the PIL movement in India over the legal system in the other countries of the Indian subcontinent. The Court undertook this exercise to bring to fore the diametric shift in the nature of cases being brought to the courts in the garb of PILs and the abuse thereon so as to come out with the guidelines to be observed by all the courts in the country while entertaining such petitions.  

The Supreme Court was dealing with a challenge to a decision of the High Court wherein a PIL had been filed before the High Court challenging the appointment to the position of the Advocate General of the State of Uttrakhand on grounds which in the opinion of the Supreme Court were settled five decades ago by categorical pronouncements of the Supreme Court. In this background, feeling the requirement to streamline the process, the Supreme Court concluded as under;

194. We must abundantly make it clear that we are not discouraging the public interest litigation in any manner, what we are trying to curb is its misuse and abuse. According to us, this is a very important branch and, in a large number of PIL petitions, significant directions have been given by the courts for improving ecology and environment, and directions helped in preservation of forests, wildlife, marine life etc. etc. It is the bounden duty and obligation of the courts to encourage genuine bona fide PIL petitions and pass directions and orders in the public interest which are in consonance with the Constitution and the Laws.
195. The Public Interest Litigation, which has been in existence in our country for more than four decades, has a glorious record. This Court and the High Courts by their judicial creativity and craftsmanship have passed a number of directions in the larger public interest in consonance with the inherent spirits of the Constitution. The conditions of marginalized and vulnerable section of society have significantly improved on account of courts directions in the P.I.L.
196. In our considered view, now it has become imperative to streamline the P.I.L.
197. We have carefully considered the facts of the present case. We have also examined the law declared by this court and other courts in a number of judgments.
198. In order to preserve the purity and sanctity of the PIL, it has become imperative to issue the following directions:-
(1) The courts must encourage genuine and bona fide PIL and effectively discourage and curb the PIL filed for extraneous considerations.
(2) Instead of every individual judge devising his own procedure for dealing with the public interest litigation, it would be appropriate for each High Court to properly formulate rules for encouraging the genuine PIL and discouraging the PIL filed with oblique motives. Consequently, we request that the High Courts who have not yet framed the rules, should frame the rules within three months. The Registrar General of each High Court is directed to ensure that a copy of the Rules prepared by the High Court is sent to the Secretary General of this court immediately thereafter. 
(3) The courts should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a P.I.L. 
(4) The court should be prima facie satisfied regarding the correctness of the contents of the petition before entertaining a PIL. 
(5) The court should be fully satisfied that substantial public interest is involved before entertaining the petition.
(6) The court should ensure that the petition which involves larger public interest, gravity and urgency must be given priority over other petitions.
(7) The courts before entertaining the PIL should ensure that the PIL is aimed at redressal of genuine public harm or public injury. The court should also ensure that there is no personal gain, private motive or oblique motive behind filing the public interest litigation.
(8) The court should also ensure that the petitions filed by busybodies for extraneous and ulterior motives must be discouraged by imposing exemplary costs or by adopting similar novel methods to curb frivolous petitions and the petitions filed for extraneous considerations.
199. Copies of this judgment be sent to the Registrar Generals of all the High Courts within one week.


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