Throughout 2017, the Supreme Court issued judgments on public interest litigation (PIL) cases. These include reviewing the way in which senior advocates are designated and establishing fast-track courts for criminal cases.

The most important of these cases are discussed below.

Designation of senior advocates

In Ms Indira Jaising v Supreme Court of India a PIL was filed before the Supreme Court(1) challenging, among other things, the arbitrary and opaque manner in which advocates were being designated as 'senior advocates'. In doing so, the PIL questioned the constitutional validity of Section 16 of the Advocates Act 1961.

The Supreme Court held that the expression 'is of the opinion' appearing in Section 16(2) of the Advocates Act, although subjective, must be founded on objective criteria. Further, in order to ensure that the objective criteria as entailed in Section 16 of the Advocates Act (ie, the advocate's standing at the bar or his or her special knowledge or experience in law) were met while making such designations, the Supreme Court directed the constitution of a permanent committee in order to examine such criteria based on certain defined parameters. The committee's reports in this regard must be presented before the full court.

PIL for investigation team found unwarranted

In Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v Union of India(2) a PIL was filed before the Supreme Court seeking a direction to constitute a special investigation team headed by a retired chief justice in order to:

  • investigate the alleged conspiracy and payment of bribes in order to procure a favourable order in a matter pending before the Supreme Court; and
  • take subsequent actions.

While the petition had been filed citing that this would help to protect the independence of the judiciary, the Supreme Court dismissed the same and imposed a fee of Rs2.5 million on the petitioners, holding that the petition sought to scandalise the highest judicial system of the country and that the petitioners should be prohibited from filing "so-called public interest litigation".

Fast-track courts established

In Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v Union of India(3) a PIL was filed before the Supreme Court, seeking the establishment of fast-track courts to try criminal cases and offences involving politicians and ensure the expeditious disposal of the same.

By a December 14 2017 order, the Supreme Court ordered the establishment of 12 fast-track courts, as contemplated by the central government. The Supreme Court directed that the said courts be made functional from March 1 2018 and held that the responsibility for overseeing the same was on the state governments and respective high courts.

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(1) Writ Petition (C) 454/2015 (and other connected petitions), (2017) 9 SCC 766, three-panel bench.

(2) Writ Petition (Criminal) 169/2017, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1406, three-panel bench.

(3) Writ Petition (Civil) 699/2016, order dated December 14 2017, two-panel bench.