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Suo Motu Cognizance by the Indian Judiciary

Suo Motu cognizance is when the courts in India take a case on their own. Suo Motu in India has been warranted under Article 32 & Article 226 of the constitution. Recently, a lot of instances can be seen where Indian judiciary has taken up suo motu cases such as Murthal Rape Case.
Written by:
Shivi Gupta
Published on

The Indian Judiciary has been undoubtedly holding the baton for democracy for the past few years. In numerous instances, different High Courts and the Supreme Court have risen to the occasion by taking cognizance of a legal issue on their own and provided swift justice. Various courts in India have initiated legal proceedings on their own based on media reports, telegrams and letters received by aggrieved people, taking a suo motu cognizance of the issue. Suo motu action is when a High Court or Supreme Court on its own take the control over the matter or the case.

A suo motu cognizance is a Latin term which means an action taken by a government agency, court or other central authority on their own apprehension. A court takes a suo motu cognizance of a legal matter when it receives information about violation of rights or breach of duty through media or through a third party’s notification by letter, telegram, or other means of communication.

In India, Article 32 of the Indian Constitution  and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution lay down the provisions for filing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India in Supreme Court and High Courts respectively. This has given rise the court's’ power to initiate a legal action on their cognizance of a matter. Suo-motu actions by Indian courts are a reflection of activism by the judiciary and captivated the general public with speedy delivery of justice by the courts. Suo motu cases in India are generally taken up by the Supreme Court.

The Indian courts have taken suo motu cognizance in the following instances:

  • Contempt of court:  Contempt of court means disobedience towards the court and ignorance to rules and regulations, code of conduct and ethics followed in a court. The court generally initiates a case for suo motu contempt against an officer who prevents delivery of justice or challenges the dignity of 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 motu 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 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.


There have been numerous suo motu cases in India where the Indian courts have taken cognizance in the matters based upon a letter or a report and have passed judgements in such suo motu cases in public interest.  Suo motu action by the courts have given a hope to the general public that the wrong done to the public at large will be corrected by the courts by taking suo motu cognizance.

Suo motu power of supreme court has been provided under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution. Suo motu in India has ensured that justice should prevail in the civil as well as the criminal matters. Suo motu in Indian Constitution has been widely recognized and Indian judiciary time and again has proved its power by taking up suo motu cases.

Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has taken suo motu cognizance in Murthal rape case in which many senior police officers of Haryana came to Sukhdev Dhaba to escort the women to Delhi border. The court has asked the State Government for the call details of the  IG, DSP, SHO, SP and other junior rank officers who were present in Murthal area that night.

The Supreme Court also took suo motu cognizance and asked the Central Government to work with companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and WhatsApp to suggest list of keywords to block explicit videos that depict rape, gang rape and child pornography. An NGO named Prajwala wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India in 2015 and sent a pen drive containing two videos. The letter asked the court to take appropriate measures against the culprits who were committing gang rape in a video. The Supreme Court converted the letter into a PIL.

The Jammu & Kashmir High Court recently took suo motu cognizance and asked the State government to respond to deficiency and other issues relating to the health sector of the state. The court took suo motu cognizance of a newspaper article titled ‘Medical Corruption’. The article contained an open letter by G.S. Grewal written to the Prime Minister highlighting the excessive prices charged for medicines, malpractices of referring patients to undergo unrequired diagnostic tests and medical examinations.

The High Courts and Supreme Court have started to play a predominant role in highlighting various social issues and taking swift legal action against them on their own. The courts have become chief social activists by giving interest of the society paramount importance and instituting legal actions against State’s failure to uphold and protect rights of its citizens.

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