What is the role of the judiciary in interpreting the indian constitution

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court and High Courts of India, plays a pivotal role in interpreting the Indian Constitution. This role is multifaceted, encompassing the protection of fundamental rights, the enforcement of checks and balances within the government, and the maintenance of the rule of law. The judiciary’s power of interpretation is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution but is implied through various provisions and has been affirmed through landmark judgments.

Protection of Fundamental Rights

One of the judiciary’s primary roles is to protect the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. Articles 32 and 226 empower the Supreme Court and High Courts, respectively, to issue writs for the enforcement of these rights. Through judicial review, the judiciary can declare laws and executive actions that infringe upon fundamental rights as unconstitutional. This was exemplified in landmark cases such as Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

Enforcement of Checks and Balances

The judiciary acts as a guardian of the Constitution by ensuring that the legislative and executive branches operate within their constitutional limits. This is achieved through the doctrine of separation of powers, which, although not explicitly stated in the Constitution, is a principle that has been upheld by the judiciary. The Supreme Court and High Courts have the authority to review the constitutionality of legislative acts and executive decisions, ensuring that they do not exceed the powers granted by the Constitution.

Maintenance of the Rule of Law

The judiciary upholds the rule of law, ensuring that laws are applied fairly and consistently. It interprets the Constitution and laws to reflect the intent of the framers and the principles of justice, equity, and good conscience. The judiciary’s interpretative role is crucial in adapting the Constitution to changing times and societal needs without altering its fundamental essence.

Basic Structure Doctrine

A landmark in the judiciary’s interpretative role is the Basic Structure Doctrine, established in the Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case. The doctrine holds that the Constitution has certain basic features that cannot be altered or destroyed by amendments, including the supremacy of the Constitution, secularism, federalism, and the separation of powers. This doctrine ensures the Constitution’s core principles remain inviolable, preserving its integrity and purpose.

Judicial Activism and Public Interest Litigation

The judiciary has also embraced judicial activism, taking proactive measures to address social injustices and public grievances. Through Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the courts have made justice more accessible to the marginalized sections of society. This has allowed the judiciary to address a wide range of issues, from environmental protection to human rights, often filling legislative and executive gaps.


The role of the judiciary in interpreting the Indian Constitution is fundamental to the functioning of India’s democratic polity. It ensures the protection of fundamental rights, enforces checks and balances among the branches of government, and maintains the rule of law. Through its interpretative judgments, the judiciary has played a crucial role in evolving the Constitution to meet the aspirations of the people while preserving its foundational principles.

You may also like...