Suo moto cognizance means the power of the court to take up cases on its own. Article 32 and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution warrants the Supreme Court and High Court to take up matters by its own. Suo moto is a Latin term which means action taken by the government agencies.
The courts take suo moto cases after receiving information through media or from a third party. This concept generally is considered to be a part of judicial activism and increases the speed in delivery of justice.
The public interest litigation has widened the scope of judiciary’s power to intervene in urgent matters concerning public interest. Advocat Arif Khan Makki says, “The rationale behind the suo moto actions of the High Court and Supreme Court is the desire to deliver justice to everyone, even to the people who might not be able to afford it.”1
Suo moto power of the Supreme Constitution is warranted under Article 131 of the Constitution of India. It has ensured that justice will prevail in civil and criminal matters. In the following matters, Supreme Court or High Courts can take suo moto cognizance:
- Contempt of court- Contempt generally means disobedience of court or ignorance of rules and regulations. Hence, the courts can take suo moto cognizance of any person who obstructs the delivery justice.
- Reopening of old cases- If some new or substantial evidence is received in any particular case which is closed, the courts can reopen it by taking suo moto cognizance.
- To order probe for a new case- If the court finds injustice being done to an individual or a section of the society, on receiving the information from the affected people or through media the courts can direct any agency or authority responsible to investigate and take necessary actions.
The suo moto cognizance stems from the “Epistolary Jurisdiction”, which emerged in the late seventies through judicial activisms for the purposes of making the judicial process more accessible to the poor, socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society.2
The Punjab and Haryana High Court, had lately taken up the suo moto cognizance in the Murthal Rape case. The court asked the state government to furnish the call records of several senior police officials such as IG, DSP, SHO, SP and others who were available in that region.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court took suo moto cognizance of a case which was reported in an article named ‘Clinical corruption’, which pointed out the malpractices in medical field, extreme costs charged for medications and referring patients to undergo tests for unrequired symptoms.
Judicial review- review is the power of the courts to declare any law unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the fundamental rights of the Constitution of India. The courts cannot take suo moto cognizance to declare a law invalid unless filed by an aggrieved party. However, recently the courts do have taken up suo moto cognizance of matters under its judicial review power wherein it was observed that there is a need to rectify certain orders which were passed illegally.
Whenever there has been an infringement of fundamental rights, duties or liberties the High Courts and Supreme Court can take up suo moto cognizance of such matters for which information from any person or through media reports are received. Over the past few decades we have seen a tremendous growth in suo moto cases, such as the air pollution case in Delhi or issues such as strike by hospital employees. The judiciary has thus been a strong pillar in protecting the rights of people and in delivering justice at the right time and for the right people.
- Suo Motu Cognizance by the Indian Judiciary, MYADVO, (Sept. 14, 2021, 5: 27 PM), https://www.myadvo.in/blog/suo-motu-cognizance-by-the-indian-judicary/.
- Antariksh Anant, Suo Moto Cognizance by the Judiciary, LEGAL BITES, (Sept 14, 2021, 5: 32 PM), https://www.legalbites.in/suo-moto-cognizance-by-the-judiciary/.