May 18, 2022

The Meaning of Epistolary Jurisdiction

The Court also held in S.P. Gupta’s case as also in the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Ors. v. Union of India[1], and in Bandhua Mukti Morcha’s case that procedure being merely a hand-maden of justice it should not stand in the way of access to justice to the weaker sections of Indian humanity and there- fore where the poor and the disadvantaged are concerned who are barely eking out a miserable existence with their sweat and toil and who are victims of an exploited society without any access to justice, the Court will not insist on a regular writ petition and even a letter addressed by a public spirited individual or a social action group acting probono publico would suffice to ignite the jurisdiction of this Court.

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India(supra) the court wholly endorsed this statement of the law in regard to the broadening of locus standi and what-has come to be known as epistolary jurisdiction.

The Meaning of epistolary jurisdiction

Epistolary jurisdiction means ‘the writ petition in the form of letter addressed to any judge of Supreme court. In various case such Sunil Batra v. Delhi administration (1978), Charles Shobhraj and other cases, the court gave landmark judgement while accepting the letter sent to supreme court judge as writ petition.

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha’s case (supra) some of judges apprehending that letters addressed to individual justices may involve the court in frivolous cases and that possibly the view could be taken that such letters do not invoke the jurisdiction of the court as a whole, observed that such letters should not be addressed to individual justices of the court but to the Court or to the Chief Justice and his companion judges.

But, In M.C. Mehta case (supra), the court denied to accept such approach and said that,

“We do not think that it would be right to reject a letter addressed to an individual justice of the court merely on the ground that it is not addressed to the court or to the Chief Justice and his companion Judges. We must not forget that letters would ordinarily be addressed by poor and disadvantaged persons or by social action groups who may not know the proper form of address.

They may know only a particular Judge who comes from their State and they may therefore address the letters to him. If the Court were to insist that the letters must be addressed to the court, or to the Chief Justice and his companion Judges, it would exclude from the judicial ken a large number of letters and in the result deny access to justice to the deprived and vulnerable sec- tions of the community.

We are therefore of the view that even if a letter is addressed to an individual Judge of the court, it should be entertained, provided of course it is by or on behalf of a person in custody or on behalf of a woman or a child or a class of deprived or disadvantaged persons.

We may point out that now there is no difficulty in entertaining letters addressed to individual justice of the court, because this Court has a Public Interest Litigation Cell to which all letters addressed to the Court or to the individual justices are forwarded and the staff attached to this Cell examines the letters and it is only after scrutiny by the staff members attached to this Cell that the letters are placed before the Chief Justice and under his direction, they are listed before the Court.

We must therefore hold that letters addressed to individual justice of the court should not be rejected merely because they fail to conform to the preferred form of address. Nor should the court adopt a rigid stance that no letters will be entertained unless they are supported by an affidavit. If the court were to insist on an affidavit as a condition of entertaining the letters the entire object and purpose of epistolary juris- diction would be frustrated because most of the poor and disadvantaged persons will then not be able to have easy access to the Court and even the social action groups will find it difficult to approach the Court.”

REFERENCE

M.C. Mehta and Anr vs Union Of India; 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819


[1] [1983] 1 SCR 456