The Legal Lock



What is Judicial Activism? All you must know!


In India, there are three organs of the government. Legislature who makes the law, Executive who executes the law, and Judiciary who controls and passes the laws. All three are independent bodies.

The judiciary is one body that is expected to be the most unbiased organ and it acts as the framework of the Indian Constitution. This kind of function is in general known as ‘Separation of Powers’. The judiciary supports the Rule of Law and enhances the standards laid down in the Constitution. 

What is Judicial Activism?

The term ‘Judicial Activism’ was first coined by an American historian namely Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The definition as given in the Black Law of Dictionary states that:

               “Judicial Activism is a philosophy of judicial decision making whereby judges allow their personal views about public policy, among other factors, to guide their decisions, usually with the suggestion that adherents of this philosophy tend to find constitutional violations and are willing to ignore precedent.”

In simpler words, it may be defined as judicial rulings which are suspect of being personal or political consideration. It plays a very active role in the judiciary by imparting justice.

Origin of Judicial Activism:

The origin of it traces back to the era of the British empire when their Constitution was not written in the 1600s. The then Chief Justice Coke said that if any law made by the Parliament is against the principle of common law and reason then the Court has the power to review it and declare it Void.

A famous case namely, Marbury vs. Madisona landmark case of the United States which established the principle of judicial review and it was the first case which strikes down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the context of being Unconstitutional. Since that time, the federal courts have started to exercise their power.

Judicial Activism in India:

In India, the first case can be traced back to 1893, when a Justice namely Mehmood delivered a judgment in the Allahabad High Court. The judgment was dissenting and for a man under trial and had no money to hire a lawyer. This showed the seed of activism and the Supreme Court attained the powers to invalidate any amendment of the Constitution on substantive grounds.

A few other cases include:

  • Keshavananda Bharati Casewhere the Honourable Supreme Court introduced the structure of Basic Doctrine, that is the power to amend the Constitution without altering its basic structure.
  • Golaknath Case: where the Honourable Supreme Court declared that the Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution are immutable and cannot be amended.


Therefore, with the power of judicial activism, the Courts act as a guardian to protect all the rights and duties guaranteed by the Constitution. With the growing technologies and functions, it is necessary to have a judicial intervention while making any administrative or executive decisions. In addition, it makes sure that the ideals of democracy are not buried under the influential voices screaming the failures of the three organs of the Government.