Suo Moto means “on its own accord,” in other words taking control over the matter on your own. For example, the pandemic has triggered the involvement of the Supreme Court to look into issues involving migrant workers, prisoners, vaccines, etc. The reason behind taking such action is to provide justice to the needful, poor, economic, or socially weaker and underprivileged section of the society. In this article, we will discuss what Suo Moto is, what Suo Moto Cognizance is, what Suo Moto intervention is, and whether judicial review and Suo Moto are the same and under what scenario can the court takes Suo Moto Cognizance.
What is Suo Moto?
Suo Moto or Suo Motu is practised in India. It is also exercised in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and the Maldives. However, other common law countries like Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom do not recognize such powers.
In India, the Suo Moto power was first recognized in the late seventies. It emerged from the concept of “Epistolary Jurisdiction,” which originated from judicial activism to make the judiciary easily accessible to the poor and weaker sections of the society.
Article 131 of the Indian Constitution provides for the Supreme Court’s Suo Moto powers. This article states that, in disputes between the States or between the Centre and the State, the Supreme Court has the original jurisdiction to exercise its Suo Moto power without referring the matter before any lower court or reviewing any lower court’s judgments.
What is Suo Moto Cognizance?
When the court, government agencies, or other central authorities take action on their own, it is called Suo Moto Cognizance. Such Suo Moto Cognizance is taken when the court receives any information through media or a third party’s notification about the breach of duty or violation of human rights. Thus, Suo Moto Cognizance helps in speedy redressal of grievances and providing justice to the general public.
Article 32 & 226 of the Indian Constitution put forth the provisions for filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court and the High Court in India. These Articles have given the power to the courts to take cognizance of the matter on their own when the matter involves the interest of the general public. Hence, the court has started taking cognizance of the issues and initiated legal proceedings on receiving information from the aggrieved person. However, the aggrieved person doesn’t need to refer the matter personally. Such information could be through media reports, letters, or telegrams, and the court can Suo Moto proceed with the case.
Under what scenario can the court take Suo Moto Cognizance?
There are instances where the court has taken Suo Moto Cognizance of the matter. Some of these scenarios are:
Contempt of Court: When the matter relates to ignorance of ethics, code of conduct, and rules and regulations followed in the court and disobedience of court. Then in such a case, Suo Moto action is taken against the officer who challenges the court’s dignity and hinders the delivery of justice.
Reopen Old Cases: When any new and substantial evidence is identified against the case that has been closed. Then in such a scenario, the court has the power to take Suo Moto cognizance of the case and reopen the case for trial.
Order probe for new cases: when the court is acquainted with the fact that some injustice has been done to an aggrieved section of the society or a person, the court may order any police personnel, government authority, CBI, etc. to probe or inquire into the matter. Such acquaintance can be gained through letters from the aggrieved person himself or any news report, media source, or documentary.
What is Suo Moto’s power?
Suo Moto enables the High Court and the Supreme Court to take up the matter on its own, in the interest of the public, to ensure that no injustice is caused to the aggrieved person who cannot raise its voice or take actions. The Suo Moto power also enables the judiciary to ensure that justice is delivered. The court has the power to direct or restrain from doing any act that causes injustice to the aggrieved person.
The idea behind Suo Moto power is to broaden the scope and jurisdiction of the courts to reach the person who is unable to access the court.
Is judicial review Suo Moto?
Judicial review is the court’s power to declare any action of the legislative or executive as unconstitutional if it exceeds the constitutional validity. The court can Suo Moto exercise its power of judicial review to check the constitutional validity of the legislative actions when it believes that the order passed by the legislature is arbitrary or illegal.
Landmark Suo Moto Cases
The High Court and the Supreme Court play a predominant role in the interest of justice to take legal actions on several issues like a gross constitutional violation, injustice, violation of law or to maintain public order.
Following are the instances when the court has taken Suo Moto cognizance:
IN RE: PRAJWALA LETTER DATED 18/2/2015 VIDEOS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND RECOMMENDATIONS [SMW (Crl.) No(s). 3/2015]
Prajwala is an NGO that wrote a letter to the Supreme Court informing about the videos that show sexual violence circulated on the internet. This letter had gained the Courts’ attention and was treated as PIL.
The Supreme Court took Suo Moto cognizance of the case. Websites like Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Microsoft, Yahoo were made parties to the petition. The court had ordered the Centre to appoint a committee to ensure that videos containing gang rape, rape, and child pornography are not available online and inform the court about it. In addition, the committee would examine the technological solution, such as auto-blocking of the website by using keywords and hashtags.
IN RE: POISONOUS GAS LEAKAGE IN VISAKHAPATNAM [Suo Moto WP (PIL) No. 112 of 2020]
Poisonous gas, i.e., Styrene Gas, was leaked in Visakhapatnam from the LG Polymers factory. The leakage of the gas and its inhalation is dangerous to the life and health of the people.
The High Court took cognizance of the case and directed the State to provide necessary medical facilities to the victim and evacuate the affected people from the area, open a private hospital for providing medical facilities and nutritional diet and take the steps required to reduce the effect of poisonous gas. It had further directed the State to appoint a committee to look into the matter and submit the report.
IN RE: COGNIZANCE FOR EXTENSION OF LIMITATION [Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020]
In this petition, the court had extended the limitation period under the general or special law in both the Central and State, for compoundable as well as non-compoundable cases.
IN RE: REGARDING CLOSURE OF MID-DAY MEAL SCHEME [Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No. 2 of 2020]
The State had shut down the schools and Aganwadi due to pandemics. Because of which, the scheme for providing nutritional food to children, i.e., mid-day meal for children and nursing mothers, was stopped in the school and Aganwadi. In this petition, it was suggested that all the states should come together with a uniform scheme of providing nutritional food to the nursing mothers and children and at the same time ensure the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.
The court had directed the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of the Union of India, and the Chief Secretaries of all the states to look into the matter and reply to the court within a week. It had also appointed learned Senior Counsel Mr. Sanjay R. Hegde to assist the court as learned Amicus Curiae.
SHASHANK DEO SUDHI VS. UNION OF INDIA & ORS. [WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) DIARY NO. 10816 OF 2020]
In this petition, the court had given an interim direction stating that all the laboratories, whether government or private, shall conduct all tests relating to COVID- 19, free of cost. And such tests should be undertaken in NABL accredited labs or other agencies approved by WHO or ICMR.
IN RE: CONTAGION OF COVID 19 VIRUS IN CHILDREN PROTECTION HOMES [Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No. 4 of 2020]
In this petition, the court had issued directions or guidelines keeping in mind the pandemic situations, in the interest of children who are kept in children’s homes, observation homes, foster or kinship care, children in contact with the law (CiCWL), and Child Care Institutions (CCIs). These children fall within the ambit of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The court has put forth measures to be taken by the Government, Juvenile Justice Boards and Children Courts, Child Welfare Committees, Child Care Institutions, and guidance to ensure children’s wellbeing and educate children about the preventive measures.
When the court acts on its own, it is called Suo Moto action. The Supreme Court and the High Court have the power to exceed their jurisdiction and take cognizance of the matter in the interest of justice. Such action is taken when the court is informed about the injustice either through the aggrieved person or through any media report or letter. Article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Supreme Court and the High Court to issue direction to do or refrain from doing any wrongful act. Such initiative aims to enable the court to deliver justice to the people who cannot access the court.