The origin of the term Suo Moto comes from Latin which means an action initiated by the government, judiciary or any other central agency on their own discretion and apprehension. In a layman’s term, it means taking control over a matter into one’s own hands. It is usually taken up by the courts in cases of gross negligence… Read More »

The origin of the term Suo Moto comes from Latin which means an action initiated by the government, judiciary or any other central agency on their own discretion and apprehension. In a layman’s term, it means taking control over a matter into one’s own hands. It is usually taken up by the courts in cases of gross negligence on behalf of public authorities or the state or whenever the court deems fit. The court takes suo moto cognizance of legality when it receives data about the infringement of rights or a breach of duty through a third party or the media.


A Suo Moto cognizance is a Latin term which implies an action taken by a government office, court or other central body at their own discretion. A court takes a Suo Moto Cognizance of a legal matter when it gets data about the infringement of rights or breach of certain legal obligations through media or a third party’s warning.

In India, Article 32 of the Indian Constitution and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution set out the arrangements for documenting Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India in Supreme Court and High Courts respectively. This has led to the court’s ability to start legal action on their cognizance of a matter. Suo Moto’s actions by Indian courts are an impression of activism by the judiciary and captivated the overall population with the speedy delivery of justice by the courts. Suo Moto cases in India are by and large taken up by the Supreme Court.

The Indian Judiciary has been without a doubt holding the baton for a democratic government for recent past years. In various examples, various High Courts and the Supreme Court have adapted to the situation by taking cognizance of a legal issue all alone and gave speedy justice. Different courts in India have started legal procedures all alone dependent on media reports, messages and letters received by aggrieved individuals, taking a Suo Moto cognizance of the issue. Suo Moto action is the point at which a High Court or Supreme Court on its own assumes responsibility for the matter or the case.[1]

The Suo Moto has its genesis in the concept of “Epistolary Jurisdiction”, which emerged in the late seventies through judicial activism in order to make the judicial process more accessible to poor, socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the Society.

Suo Moto cases are instances wherein the High Courts and the Supreme court of India using their inherent powers initiate a hearing by taking cognizance of any matter on its own, without anybody filing any appeal or writ petition. It is the article Article 32 and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution enable the Supreme Court and High Courts respectively to issue any directions to do or refrain to do an act. By virtue of these two Articles and also the emergence of Public Interest Litigation has allowed these Courts to take up Suo Moto cases. The rationale for such actions also draws upon the desire of the courts to broaden the reach of justice to those who might not be able to access the court.


Until the advent of the PILs in India, the moniker was generally utilized concerning the contempt references and legal review jurisdiction of the courts. It has its inception in the idea of ‘Epistolary Jurisdiction‘, and draws food from Article/s 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India. For the exercise of this jurisdiction, it’s anything but important that the individual who is the victim of infringement of a fundamental right ought to approach the court personally which would itself be able to take cognizance of the matter and continue suo motu.[2]

The idea accumulated strength just in the late 1990s with the Supreme Court taking cognisance of the air pollution in Delhi, and the High Court joining the conflict on various issues like a strike by emergency clinic representatives, smuggling of stone idols[3] and others.

The Karnataka High Court voiced its concern about the absence of a system administering the engaging of PIL cases suo motu by the appointed authorities. A full bench of that Court held that,

“No Judge of the High Court can claim himself any intrinsic ability to take cognizance of a specific reason either on being moved or suo motu except if it is allotted by the Chief Justice to the Judge concerned”.

Suo motu actions are not only specific to India, and are especially uncontrolled in the adjoining theocratic nations, where there is a near-total absence of rule of law, democratic government, and the press capacities under extreme requirements.

Be that as it may, somewhere else in other common law nations, one goes over either too little hints of it or none by any means. In Canada, the courts are illegal from taking such notice except if explicitly allowed by a rule. The idea is to a great extent obscure in Australia and South Africa. In the United States and Brazil, the courts have by implication practised such powers by widening and growing the extent of petitions-enquiries before them.[4]

The Indian courts have taken Suo Moto cognizance in the following instances:

  • Contempt of Court: Contempt of court means disobedience towards the court and ignorance of rules and regulations, code of conduct and ethics followed in a court. The court generally initiates a case for Suo Moto contempt against an officer who prevents the delivery of justice or challenges the dignity of the court.
  • Reopen Old Cases: If some new and substantial evidence is discovered after a case is closed, the courts have the power to take Suo Moto action and reopen the case to try it again.
  • Order probe for a New Case: If any court is of the opinion that some injustice is being done to an aggrieved person or a section of people, the court can order a probe at any level by any government authority, police department, the CBI, etc. The court may also take such action after receiving a letter from the affected section of people or on the basis of any news, documentary or media source.[5]

In What Cases Can the Court take Suo Moto Action

The ambit of Suo Moto action of the courts has not been characterized in any legislation or in any act, consequently, there are no organized occasions where the courts can take Suo Moto cognizance. It has been advanced by the judicial activism of the judges to think about the goal of the general population in general.

The court can take Suo Moto cognizance where it considers fit. Nonetheless, throughout the long term it has been seen that the court through the letters, media reports, and so on have taken Suo Moto cognizance where there has been an infringement of essential common liberties, or of direct of government approaches, or infringement of strict rights or other essential thing rights, Fundamental obligations of India and so on

One such model is that when the Supreme Court took Suo Moto cognizance of Delhi air pollution. The courts in numerous examples have additionally taken Suo Moto cognizance of contempt of court, any place the poise of the court has been tested or where somebody had attempted to discourage the conveyance of equity.

Suo Moto Cases in India

There have been various cases in India where the Indian courts have taken Suo Moto cognizance in the issue depends on a letter or a report and have passed decisions in such cases in the public interest. Suo Moto action by the courts has offered desire to the overall population that some unacceptable done to people in general everywhere will be remedied by the courts by taking Suo Moto Cognizance.

Suo Moto’s force of high court has been given under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution. Suo Moto in India has guaranteed that equity ought to win in the common just as a criminal issue. Suo Moto in the Indian Constitution has been generally perceived and the Indian judiciary on numerous occasions has demonstrated its force by taking up Suo Moto cases.

Suo Moto in Murthal Rape Case

Lately, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has taken Suo Moto Cognizance in Murthal assault case in which numerous senior police officers of Haryana came to Sukhdev Dhaba to escort women to the Delhi border. The court has asked the State Government for the call details of the IG, DSP, SHO, SP and other junior position officials who were available in the Murthal region that evening.

Jammu and Kashmir High Court

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently took Suo Moto Cognizance and requested that the State government to respond to inadequacy and different issues identifying with the wellbeing area of the state. The court took Suo Moto Cognizance of a paper article named ‘Clinical Corruption’. The article contained an open letter by G.S. Grewal written to the Prime Minister focusing on the extreme costs charged for medications, malpractices of referring patients to go through unrequired symptomatic tests and medical examinations.[6]

Is Judicial Review Suo Moto?

Judicial Review is the power of the Courts to determine the constitutionality of the Legislative actions. It is the power which allows the court to declare any legislative or executive actions of the government as void on the basis of unconstitutionality if, in the Court’s opinion, such actions transgress the Constitution. However, the court cannot Suo Moto decide the constitutionality of any government action unless moved by an aggrieved party and also unless the determination of unconstitutionality be necessary for the decision of the case.

The legislature itself being the maker of law is not competent to determine the constitutionality of any legislative Act. An unconcerned independent and impartial body like the court is the proper authority to look into legislative lapses. This is necessary for the maintenance of the spirit of democracy. However, there have been instances where the Court, Suo Moto exercised the power of Judicial review where it came to the conclusion that certain orders have been passed illegally and in an arbitrary manner.

[1] Ramnath, Kalyani. “Guarding the Guards: The Judiciary as State within the Meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution.” Student Bar Review, vol. 18, no. 2, 2006, pp. 75–94. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2021.

[2] Galanter, M., & Ram, V. (2019). Suo Motu Intervention and the Indian Judiciary. In G. Rosenberg, S. Krishnaswamy, & S. Bail (Eds.), A Qualified Hope: The Indian Supreme Court and Progressive Social Change (Comparative Constitutional Law and Policy, pp. 92-122). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108565530.005

[3] AIR 1999 Ori 53

[4] SAHU, GEETANJOY. “Why the Underdogs Came Out Ahead: An Analysis of the Supreme Court’s Environmental Judgments, 1980-2010.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 49, no. 4, 2014, pp. 52–58. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2021.

[5] Singh, K.D. Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 47, no. 4, 2005, pp. 581–583. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2021.

[6] Kamboj, N.S. “HUMAN RIGHTS AND JUDICIAL ACTIVISM.” Journal of the Indian Law Institute, vol. 41, no. 1, 1999, pp. 110–115. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2021.

  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 29 Jun 2021 9:21 AM GMT
Antariksh Anant

Antariksh Anant

Antariksh is a Law student at RGNUL - Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law Patiala, Punjab, India.

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