The word habeas corpus literally means to have a body. A writ of habeas corpus is in the nature of an order upon the person who has detained another to produce the latter before the court, in order to let the court know on what ground he has been confined and set him free if there is no legal justification for the imprisonment.
The writ was regarded in England as a foundation of human freedom and British citizen insisted upon this privilege wherever he went whether for business or colonization. This is how it founded a place in the constitution of the United States when the British colonies in America won their independence and established a new state under the U.S. Constitution. In India the power to issue a writ of habeas corpus is vested only in the Supreme Court and the High Court.
Habeas corpus is the writ which was visualized as an effective means to provide a quick remedy to a person who has lost his personal liberty without any legal justification. Therefore, it cannot be used for complaining against past illegal detention. But the Supreme Court in India has expanded its dimension and compensation is being paid not only for past illegal detention but also for loss of life. Initially, the state was asked to pay special cost to the prisoner.
Detention should not contravene Article 22, as for example, a person who is not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of his detention is entitled to be released. The power of detention vested in an authority, if exceeded, abused or exercised mala fide makes the detention unlawful. Article 21 of the Constitution having declared that no person shall be deprived of life and liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law, a machinery was needed to examine the question of illegal detention with utmost promptitude. The writ of habeas corpus has been described as a writ of right is grantable ex debito justitae.
When physical restraint is put upon a person under a law there is no right to habeas corpus unless the law is unconstitutional or the order is ultra vires the statute.
When Habeas Corpus May Lie
The writ of habeas corpus is available as a remedy in all cases of wrongful deprivation of personal liberty. It is a process for securing the liberty of the subjects by affording an effective means of immediate release from unlawful or unjustifiable detention, whether in prison or in private custody. The Constitution confers ample powers on the Supreme Court and all High Courts in the matter of issue of a writ of habeas corpus.
The right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 for the enforcement of fundamental rights is itself a fundamental right, while the right to move a High Court under Article 226, though not a fundamental right, is still a constitutional right.
When Habeas Corpus Does Not Lie
In the following cases, a writ of habeas corpus will not lie and will be refused by a court:
- Where the person or authority against whom habeas corpus is sought is not within the territorial jurisdiction of the court;
- Where imprisonment or detention of a person is in accordance with a decision rendered by a court of law or by an authority in accordance with law;