Case Analysis: Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. v Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1979)

By | June 6, 2021
Case Analysis: Hussainara Khatoon & Ors

Last Updated on by Admin LB


Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. is a landmark case, decided on 9th March 1979, which provided a wider interpretation for Article 21 and held that speedy trial is the fundamental right of every citizen. It is the most famous case which discusses the human rights of prisoners in India. The honourable Supreme Court pointed out that the State must ensure free legal aid and a speedy trial for the administration of justice.

Citation: 1979 AIR 1369

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: Bhagwati, P.N., Pathak, R.S. Koshal, A.D


An article was published in the newspaper Indian Express in 1979 regarding the detention of under-trial prisoners in the Bihar jail. Few of these under trial prisoners were serving in prison for a very long time, in fact, a period longer than their actual span of imprisonment awarded by the courts.

Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani was one amongst the readers of the article and filed a case as Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India. This was the first reported case of PIL in India and Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani is regarded as the ‘Mother of Public Interest Litigation in India’.


A writ petition of habeas corpus was filed under Article 32 before the Court for the release of 17 under-trial prisoners whose names were mentioned in the newspaper article in the state of Bihar. The state of Bihar was directed to file a revised chart showing the year-wise break-up of the under-trial prisoners after dividing them into two broad categories viz. charged with minor offences and the other with major offences.


  • If the right to speedy trial be considered a part of Article 21?
  • Can the provision of free legal aid be enforced by the law?


It was asserted in the counter-affidavit produced at the Court that many under-trial prisoners, confined in the Patna Central Jail, the Muzaffarpur Central Jail and the Ranchi Central Jail before their release have been regularly produced before the Magistrates numerous times and have been remanded to judicial custody as needed.

However, the Court found these claims unsatisfactory as they do not comply with the order to produce the dates on which these under-trial prisoners were remanded.

Moreover, to justify the pendency of cases, it has been contended that in almost 10% of the cases, the investigation is held up due to delay in receipt of opinions from experts.


The Court directed that these under-trial detainees whose names and were given in the list recorded by Mrs Hingorani ought to be released as further detainment of those human beings was considered illegal and disregarding their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution since they have been in prison for a span surpassing the greatest term that they ought to have been indicted for.

The court observed, “What faith can these lost souls have in the judicial system which denies them a bare trial for so many years and keeps them behind bars, not because they are guilty, but because they are too poor to afford bail and the courts have no time to try them”.

The Court likewise coordinated that on the following remand dates, when the undertrial detainees, accused of bailable offences, are delivered before the Magistrates, the State Government ought to designate a lawyer at its own expense for making a bail application, restricting remand and with a point that fast trial can commence.

The State Government and High Court were required to produce particulars of the location of the courts of magistrates and courts of sessions in the State of Bihar along with the total cases pending in each court as of 31st December 1978.

They were additionally needed to disclose why the disposal of those cases that have been pending for more than six months not possible.


Speedy trial is a constitutionally guaranteed right in the United States.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights also provides that a person arrested or detained shall be entitled to a trial within a reasonable period. Therefore, the court believed that “Speedy trial is of the essence of criminal justice and there can be no doubt that delay in trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice.”

Hence the right to a speedy trial was regarded as a fundamental right of the prisoner under Article 21 of the constitution. The chance of some of them being acquitted of the offences charged against them yet having gone through quite a long while in prison for offences which they are eventually found not to have committed is a gross violation of their freedom.

The court was also of the opinion that the then bail system that existed in India was biased towards the poor who cannot often arrange for a lawyer to plead for them and advised for a drastic change. A system that deprives the poor to be legally represented cannot be considered as just and fair.

The State cannot deny the constitutional right to a speedy trial to the accused by pleading financial or administrative inability and it was high time the system of bails on personal bonds like the ones in western countries were introduced.

According to the court, while providing bails on personal bonds, the roots of the accused in the community was to be considered which would prevent him from fleeing, which includes:

  1. The length of his residence in the community,
  2. His employment status, history and his financial condition,
  3. His family and his relationships,
  4. His reputation, character and mental condition,
  5. His record of convictions and record of appearance at court proceedings,
  6. The identity of responsible members of the community who would vouch for his reliability,
  7. The nature of the offence charged and probability of conviction,
  8. Any other factor indicating the ties of the accused to the community or bearing on the risk of willful failure to appear.


The importance of this case can be seen in the fact that almost 40,000 under trial prisoners were released after this judgement. The case motivated various socially committed citizens and lawyers to raise their voice for the underprivileged and utilise the wide scope of Public Interest Litigation to get justice.


Read Full Text of Judgment Here:

[1] 1979 AIR 1369

  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *