Posted in My Law Icons

Moulding the Law: Justice Bhagwati

Justice P.N. Bhagwati pioneered Public Interest Litigation (15 mins into this interview) . He moulded constitutional law.

Do you know? – He apologized for a judgement.

A controversial judgment of Bhagwati was in the ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla case (popularly referred to as the ADM Jabalpur case or the habeas corpus case) where he decreed that during Emergency, a person’s right to not be unlawfully detained (Habeas Corpus) can be suspended. This judgment received a lot of criticism since it reduced the importance attached toFundamental Rights under the Indian Constitution. Bhagwati later agreed with popular opinion that this judgement was short-sighted and “apologised” for the same.


Thirty-six years ago, a woman lawyer confidently climbed the 17 steps of the Supreme Court and walked into a cold, thick-walled courtroom without a thought for the frowns trained at her from the high priests of Indian judiciary and her male colleagues.

Senior Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani had a mission that day in December — one that the Supreme Court had never heard of before and one which would eventually kick off a revolution called the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) across the country.

The two pages she carried to the court contained the plight of undertrial prisoners languishing in jails — men, women, children, lepers and mental patients cast away into jails and forgotten by the state. She wanted the court to intervene immediately and give orders to release them on bail. The historic case, later known to every law student in India as Hussainara Khatoon Vs Home Secretary, Bihar, drew its name from one of the prison inmates. It was the first PIL in India.

A shocked Supreme Court Bench led by Justice P.N. Bhagwati went on to release over 40,000 undertrial prisoners from various jails nationwide.

“The success of the Khatoon case was so widespread that the Supreme Court in the 1980s opened a new section in the Registry devoted to PILs.

Listen to Justice Bhagwati, the soft-spoken strong man! As is Adv. M C Mehta, whom we heard today. Worth emulating these leaders. What do you think?