Judicial Activism Case Laws







The first act of judicial activism to get widespread recognition was the case of KesavanandaBharati v. State of Kerala. Although not often recognizes as an act of judicial activism the majority judges in this case evolved the concept of a ‘basic structure’ to the constitution that was not explicitly mention or even implied in any part of the constitution. The rationale of the court behind this may be two fold. The first is that the court interpreted it on the basis of the legislative intent behind the constitution and the second to protect the rule of law in the country. While the first explanation may still be in compliance with the traditional role of the court, the second would be an extension of the courts authority. Thus this is the first example of the court extending its powers of interpretation to such an extent that it crosses the line between traditional function and judicial activism.

2:- MANEKA GANDHI CASE[(1978) 1 SCC 248]

In this case the court agreed to stretch its powers of interpretation to an extent as to allow natural law to come within its ambit. In ruling that the right to travel was a fundamental right and can thus not be deprived except by procedure established by law and in addition this procedure must not be arbitrary the court was committing an act of judicial activism, first by extending the scope of life and liberty to include travel and second by over ruling the Gopalan judgement and holding that the principles of natural justice must apply in all cases.

The court made two ground breaking changes to Indian jurisprudence in this case. The first is that natural law now became a subject matter of Indian law and judges were now vested with the authority to adjudge if a particular action was just, fair and moral. This marks the formal beginning of judicial activism as judging on the basis of natural law widens the scope of interpretation to an extent that requires personal opinion as natural law is not codified for it to be positively interpreted.

The second change is the scope the court allowed in the interpretation of the words ‘life and personal liberty’ till the Maneka judgement liberty was only construed to mean physical liberty as opposed to physical confinement. The judgement extended its meaning to also mean freedom to travel not only within the country but also without. This case is only the beginning in a long line of extensions to the meaning of the words ‘life’ and ‘liberty’.


The Supreme Court observed “The right to life with human dignity encompasses within its fold, some of the finer facets of human civilization which makes life worth living.” This justification was one of the many used by the Supreme Court in the recent RamlilaMaidan case in which the court held that right to sleep is a part of right to life under Article 21. This interpretation by the court shows how the court has covered almost every aspect of life in its expansion of Article 21. The court was however careful to state that by this interpretation they only impose a negative duty on the state to not infringe on a person’s right to sleep and not a positive duty to ensure that every citizen can sleep.


In this case the Supreme Court held that the circumstances of the case were so grave and extraordinary that the conventional remedies provided for by the law are insufficient and hence the court resorted to issuing directions on the basis of some of the recommendations of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) that was looking into the issue of illegal mining in Karnataka that was causing widespread environmental degradation and deforestation. The directions in no way contradict existing provisions that give effect to the environmental scope of Article 21 but only go to strengthen these provisions.


The scope of judicial interpretation one step further from imposing a positive duty to imposition of particular rules and regulations and also bringing private companies into the purview of Article 21.

The court, in this case held that they are justified in looking to international treaties and conventions to fill a void in domestic law so long as the international law is not in contravention to domestic law. The international practices to prevent sexual harassment in the work place are not in contravention to international law but rather, fall under Article 21 as sexual harassment violates the woman’s right to live a dignified life.

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