Public interest litigation describes legal actions brought to protect or enforce rights enjoyed by members of the public or large parts of it. It has been used as a tool for great social change in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Uganda, Australia, the Philippines, etc., on such diverse issues as the environment, health and land issues. "Public interest Litigation", is not defined in most statutes or Acts, however judges have interpreted it to mean bringing a court action for or on behalf of public interest. According to Bhagwati J. in Bandhua Mukti Morcha-Vs-Union of India, AIR 1984 S.C. “Public interest litigation is not in the nature of adversary litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and economic justice, which is the signature tune of our Constitution”. In Australia, the criteria used by the Public Interest Law Clearing House (Vic) Inc. and the Public Interest Law Clearing House Inc. (NSW) to determine public interest cases to support are: The matter must require a legal remedy and be of public interest, which means it must: * a) Affect a significant number of people not just the individual or; * b) raise matters of broad public concern or;
* c) impact on disadvantaged or marginalized group, and
* d) it must be a legal matter which requires addressing pro bono publico (‘for the common good’) In Tanzania, in Mtikila-Vs-Attorney General [H.C.C.S No. 5 of 1993] the judge observed that: “It is not the type of litigation which is meant to satisfy the curiosity of the people, but it is a litigation which is instituted with a desire that the Court would be able to give effective relief to the whole or a section of the society…the condition which must be fulfilled before public interest litigation is entertained by the Court is that the court should be in a position to give effective and complete relief. If no effective relief can be granted, the court should not entertain public interest litigation.” An action can be brought for public interest litigation under the following: 1. Environmental degradation
2. Violation of basic human rights of the poor
3. Content or conduct of government policy
4. Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty
5. Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights
Public interest litigation and environmental protection
Public interest litigation has been used as an effective tool to control acts of environmental degradation. In Uganda for example, civil societies have been active in compelling government and private organizations to observe measures to protect the environment. In TEAN Vs Ag and NEMA [Misc. Application No. 39 of 2001], court forced a tobacco company to increase the size of the cigarette warning on cigarette packs and advertisements; the court also held that public smoking pollutes the environment and is a danger to the health of non smokers. In India smoking was held to be a violation of the right to life of non-smokers in Ramakrishnan and others Vs State of Kerala [AIR 1999 Kerala 385], while in Enviro-Legal Action Vs Union of India  2 LRC 226, the Indian supreme court held that uncontrolled pollution of water sources and air by industrial wastes was a threat to right to life. What is common with all the above court actions was that they were brought by individuals against a violation or a threat of environmental destruction. This has made public interest litigation part of and partial to environmental protection.
Why public interest litigation
Public interest litigation is important because of several factors. Important among these are: * In most developing countries, the legal regime of environmental laws is weak and the laws are difficult to enforce and sometimes ambiguous. Public interest...