Judicial activism describes judicial rulings suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law. The question of judicial activism is closely related to constitutional interpretation, statutory construction, and separation of powers. It is use of judicial power to articulate and enforce what is beneficial for the society in general and people at large.
Judicial activism is the view that the Supreme Court and other judges can and should creatively interpret/reinterpret the texts of the Constitution and the laws in order to serve the judges’ own visions regarding the needs of contemporary society. Failure on part of the legislative and executive wings of the Government to provide ‘good governance’ makes judicial activism an imperative.
India has a recent history of judicial activism, originating after the emergency in India during which attempts were made by the Government to control the judiciary. The Public Interest Litigation was an instrument devised by the courts to reach out directly to the public, and take cognizance though the litigant may not be the victim. “suo motu” cognizance allows the courts to take up such cases on its own. It is a way through which relief is provided to the disadvantaged and aggrieved citizens. In other words, Judicial activism means that instead of judicial restraint, the Supreme Court and other lower courts become activists and compel the authority to act and sometimes also direct the government regarding policies and also matters of administration.
A very prominent example in the direction of Judicial Activism was seen when the Supreme Court recently issued a notice to the Union government seeking an explanation of the steps taken by it to ameliorate the plight of Indian students in Australia, who have been facing racially motivated attacks. In doing so, Supreme Court has in effect opened a channel of communication or dialogue with the Union government, exposing the issue to national debate. The Supreme Court’s high public visibility makes it an ideal forum for such an exchange of ideas. Judicial activism was also seen when Supreme Court ordered Legislature on matters of 2G spectrum distribution.
However, Judicial activism has often been criticized on the grounds of interfering with the other branches i.e Legislature and Executive.