The Supreme Court as the Final Pedestal of Justice: How Effective Is It in Protecting the Right to Life and Liberty?

A law may be described as an assemblage of signals declaring a will, conceived or accepted by the sovereign at a certain point in time, respecting the behaviour to be observed in a specific situation by a specific person or class of individuals who are or are expected to be subject to his authorities in that circumstance.


Law is a command delivered by a definite moderate size to whom the majority of society is used to obeying and who is not accustomed to obeying definite human superiors and reinforced by a sanction. 


The first of the following quotations is a definition of law offered by rigorous positivism who lived from 1748 to 1832 and thought that law was everything the sovereign gives to the people. The dictionary scenario is that of a positivist who flourished from 1790 to 1859 and thought that law is the sovereign’s order and that if it is disobeyed, the violation will be punished. These two methods provide us with a very tight view of the law, demonstrating that morality, ethics, procedural fairness, and social elements of law do not need to be considered by legislators when making legislation.

In light of this context, this study will examine how the Supreme Court of India has interpreted Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal freedom, through numerous case laws (from A.K. Gopalan to Maneka Gandhi), or whether there seems to be a shift in the Supreme Court’s judicial decisions. The purpose of this article is to illustrate the Supreme Court’s changing interpretation and attitude throughout time, as well as to raise the question of what recourse a common person has when his Right to Life is infringed.

The Founding Fathers’ Purpose

When framing the current Article 21 (Article 15 of the Constitutional Referendum), the New Parliament took into consideration the variations in the understandings of the liberty and equal protection of law clauses found in the Fifth as well as Fourteenth Amendments of both the United States Constitutions. In contrast to the United States, 1t did not wish to leave the words ambiguous, necessitating judicial interpretation. Although the Indian Constitution initially mirrored the American liberty provision, the Constituent Assembly eventually added the term liberty to distinguish between the two sorts of rights.

And to guarantee that the term liberty was not misinterpreted to embrace even those liberties already addressed in Article 13 of the Constitution, which is now Article 19. As a result, the meaning of the term liberty in Article 21 of our Constitution is limited to the representation made to the emotional liberty of the person or individual liberty in English law, i.e. the correct not to be subjected to confinement, arrest, or other require medication in any way that does not acknowledge of legal justification.

Article 21 further specifies that life or individual freedoms can only be taken away by legal procedures. The Assembly thought that this measure, which was based on Article 31 of the Japanese Constitution, was more precise and would help avoid a repeat of the American equal protection clause’s past. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, extended the scope of both individual freedom and legal procedure in Maneka Gandhi’s case. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution: The court determines the extent and limitations of fundamental rights and liberties, and the other arms of government are bound by the Constitution not to infringe on those rights. When it comes to resolving any disagreement, judicial scrutiny has always been there.

Over the decades, the Supreme Court not only has resurrected Article 21 from either the obscurity to which it was consigned by the Court’s judgment in A.K.Gopalan.Vs. The state of Madras around 1950, but has also given it such a broad and progressive interpretation as to elevate it to a lofty pedestal.

Since 1978, the fortunes of the company have changed dramatically, demonstrating the Court’s creative influence in the law. Even though Article 21 is written in negative terms, it is now widely accepted that it has both a positive and an affirmative component. In the Gopalan’s case, the very first issue that emerged immediately after the commencement of the Constitution, the Court took a very rigid, mechanical, textual, and positivistic reading of Article 21.

In this case, the Court took Article 21 very literally, holding that the phrase “procedure required by law” only meant “any process laid down in the statutory provision by the great productivity to deprive a person ’s dignity or individual freedoms,” and that it was not acceptable to read judicial independence, due process of law, or rationality into the Article. The Court also determined that each basic right is distinct from the others and that Article 19 did not extend where Article 21 existed. Article 19 is nly applicable to a free individual, not to someone who was being held in preventative custody.

As a result, even if the method was unreasonable or inconsistent with natural justice, it could not be contested.

This case was heavily criticized, and it remained on the books for twenty-five years, which during the time the right to life wasn’t guaranteed. Article 21 had a little part in providing a person with any protection in terms of his or her life or liberty. After terrible experiences during the 1975 internal crisis, which was removed in 1977, the judicial tone changed.

The Supreme Court resolved some of the lingering issues concerning Article 21 as Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, the very first case brought before it after the emergency ended. The Court now determined by a majority that Articles 21 , as well as 19, are not mutually contradictory, that they must be interpreted together, and that any process impacting any of the rights must be reasonable. Also, the law’s process under Article 21 means right, just, and method gave, not arbitrary, whimsical, or oppressive, and any method which was not right, merely, and equitable was no method at all.

The Court further concluded that the notion of reason must be incorporated in the method envisioned by Article 21 if it fails to fulfil the criteria set out in that article.


We’ve seen how the Supreme Court has interpreted the law differently since 1950, when it issued its judgment in A.K. Gopalan’s case, and how this has evolved as a result of numerous cases, before being impacted by the emergency declaration and issuing its verdict in Maneka Gandhi’s case. This trip can be used to track the Supreme Court’s movement in jurisprudence. The debate between Parliament, as well as the Supreme Court, hasn’t been about positivism or natural law.

But not in the traditional meaning of the word, but between two natural justices. There is a battle going on between public welfare and particular interests. A careful examination of the Supreme Court’s decision reveals that it was influenced by the facts of the individual cases as well as the country’s political situation. Consequently, while the Supreme Court was cautious to intervene in legislative and political choices until 1977, trusting the people’s representatives, it began insisting when it believed the administration was on the verge of dictatorship and was willing to break the norms of the rule of law.

In the current case scenario, the Supreme Court recently ruled in the SAIL and BALCO cases that the Judiciary does not have the authority to interpret laws approved by Parliament. It will follow whatever legislation the Parliament has enacted. The Court must remember the restrictions, namely that Parliament is paramount and must be followed. As a result, in the current situation, we can observe that the Court has returned to the strict positivism paradigm used in Gopalan’s case.

Now, the question that remains unanswered is what recourse is open to an ordinary man in light of the Supreme Court’s shift in attitude. What should he do to protect his Right to Life as well as Liberty, which is inscribed in the Constitution of the world’s greatest democracy as one of the most essential Fundamental Rights?

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case of A.K. Gopalan was handed down fifty-five years ago. When it came to interpreting Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, it changed its mind several times throughout the years. There has been no solid response to this as of yet. Only the Supreme Court can respond to how many additional interpretations and points of view it will take to create a correct opinion, eliminating the divide between both the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Author: Madhvi Patidar

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