Ex Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi

The retired judge cautioned that Public Interest Litigation is also like a double-edged sword.


Distinguishing between ‘judicial activism’ and ‘judicial overreach’, former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on Friday maintained that it is the responsibility of the judiciary to choose when to act as a catalyst for change and when to uphold the status quo.

He also underscored the need for judicial systems to adapt to the changing times, which is being recognised globally.

“This delicate act of navigation – choosing when to act as a catalyst for change and when to uphold the status quo – underscores the judiciary’s immense responsibility. It is within this context that the distinction between ‘judicial activism’ and ‘judicial overreach’ becomes profoundly significant,” Justice (retd) Gogoi said.

He was delivering the keynote address at the 76th foundation day of Gauhati High Court.

“Judicial activism is not the same as judicial overreach. The former is a peacemaker; the latter is a trespasser,” the Rajya Sabha member added.

He said that ‘adventurous’ judicial activism carries with it the risk that decisions, though well-intentioned, sometimes lead to unintended consequences, muddying the waters of legal certainty.

He maintained that the advent of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has marked a revolutionary shift in the legal landscape, “transforming the judiciary from a passive arbiter of disputes into an active force for social change and at times even bringing in debatable changes in political life and values”.

The former CJI, however, cautioned that the PIL is also like a double-edged sword.

He said, “On one side, PIL has been instrumental in effecting landmark changes in various sectors, including environmental protection, human rights, and government accountability. On the other side, the broad latitude provided by PIL has sometimes led to what can be seen as judicial overreach, with courts encroaching upon the domains traditionally reserved for the legislative and executive branches and trenching upon political morality.”

Highlighting the need for judicial systems to adapt, the former CJI said the urgency in this regard has been recognised worldwide.

“These systems are called upon to be prophetic, to understand the undercurrents of their rulings, and to promote an environment wherein the law befriends vitality rather than unwittingly hindering it,” he said.

A functional judiciary, endowed with sufficient resources and personnel, is no longer a luxury but an imperative for the sustained development of the nation, he added.

“In the absence of timely justice, the public’s trust in the institution wanes, and the rule of law is undermined, affecting the nation’s overall wellbeing,” Justice (retd) Gogoi said.

The former CJI maintained that the judicial institutions are not merely constructed of bricks and mortar, rather these are corridors of hope.

“The moment hope falters in the hearts of the common man, questioning whether this institution will stand by them through thick and thin, that is the moment we risk losing the essence of our establishment,” he said.

He asserted that the true measure of the judiciary’s strength does not lie in its resistance to executive control or material infrastructure or resilience against eternal forces.

“Rather, its vitality and relevance are deeply intertwined with the faith that the citizen places in it,” he said.

Innovating ways to make the judicial system more approachable, adaptable, and responsive to the evolving needs of society are integral steps in preserving this trust, he added.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Newsbust India staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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