The Social Justice Bench of the Supreme Court of India: A New Development

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Gill, Gita (2016)
  • Publisher: Sweet & Maxwell
  • Subject: L700 | M100

On 12th December 2014 the Supreme Court of India established its Social Justice Bench (SJB). The Supreme Court is no stranger to the terms ‘social justice’ and ‘human rights’ as this paper demonstrates. In the 1980’s the Supreme Court created a unique procedure entitled Public Interest Litigation, (PIL) to promote, in the widest manner, access to the courts. Paradoxically, the very success of PIL constitutes a reason for the creation of the SJB. This paper traces the genesis of this novel bench.\ud \ud This article shows how the Indian judiciary, working within a common law system, has applied a human rights lens to analyse and address social justice issues. The constitutionally protected ‘right to life’ under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is examined in this context. The question of what is social justice has been vigorously debated over centuries. A generally accepted definition of social justice is hard to achieve and harder to implement. Implementing social justice requires the creation of a geographical, sociological, political and cultural network thereby building a platform upon which relations between individuals and groups can be understood, assessed, and characterized as just or unjust. Social justice in contemporary context is treated as synonymous with distributive justice requiring the promotion of “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” and of “the economic and social advancement of all peoples”. Putting it succinctly, we consider social justice in India, based upon dicta taken from Supreme Court judgments, to be a dynamic term that seeks to remove social imbalances through processes, including the law, that harmonise rival claims or interests of different groups, sectional interests or individuals in order to build a welfare state.
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