Public Interest Litigation

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(a) what is public interest litigation
Public interest litigation involves the institution of actions by private citizens in courts to seek redress against public wrongs committed by government or public bodies. It is an adjudication of disputes between private individuals and the state initiated to promote the public good in terms of serving a collective societal interest. In George John v Goh Eng Wah Bros Filem Sdn Bhd & 2 Ors, Lim Beng Choon J traced the origin of public interest litigation and its justification as follows: “The concept of “public interest litigation” was said to have first been mooted by the Indian Supreme Court in Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v Union of India AIR 1981 SC 344. The judgment of Krishna Iyer J (ibid at 350) had no doubt influenced greatly the Indian judicial thinking on the concept of public interest litigation. In justifying this concept, Krishna Iyer J said at p 354: “Law, as I conceive it, is social auditor and this audit function can be put into action when someone with real public interest ignites the jurisdiction.” Therefore, the rights which an individual seeks to assert do not flow from his capacity as an individual with aggrieved interests but are public rights, with the individual seeking to vindicate the public interest. His motivation stems not from personal interest, as in the case of enforcing private rights such as enforcing a breach of contract or vindicating a tortious breach of duty causing personal loss or property damage, but from a sense of public-spiritedness and ontological inclinations. The view of the public interest litigant is that there are rights or collective interests which must be safeguarded to avoid government lawlessness which harms the social interest. These public rights are in nature diffuse, societal and fragmented. The rights to clean air, water and environment, for example, are not just matters of individual concern but affect broad sectors of the larger community. Public interest...