Hussainara Khatoon V Home Secretary , State of Bihar



Petition was filed for the issue in a form of writ of HABEAS CORPUS. The petitioner declared that plenty of prisoners including men, women as well as children were in prison for years waiting for their trial inside the court. The offence is proved in the court would not warrant punishment for more than not many months. This was the first reported case of PIL(Public Interest Litigation) in India. The urgent accountability of introducing far-reaching legal services programme impressed upon the Government of India as also the State Governments. That is not only mandatory for equal justice which contained in Art. 14 and Right to life and liberty given by Art. 21 but also the duty of the constitutional directive integrates in Art.39A. This landmark judgment displayed the importance of a part of fair trial and enlightens the importance of free legal aid for the poorer section of society.

Keywords : Article 21, Article 39A, Article 14, Public Interest Litigation, Habeas Corpus, Legal aid.

Judgement Cause TitleRespondent – State of Bihar Appellant – Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani
Case NumberWrit petition no. 57 of 1979
Judgement Date9 MARCH, 1979
AuthorJustice P.N. Bhagwati
Citation1979 AIR 1369
Legal Provisions InvolvedConstitution of India – Article 21 – under   trials, right to life – Right to speedy trial. • Constitution of India – Article 39A – Right to free legal aid. • Criminal procedure code – Sec. 309, power to postpone or adjourn proceeding.  


Speedy trial is a Human Right. Speedy trial is conducted according prevailing rules and procedure that takes place without unreasonable or undue delay or within a statutory period. The right to speedy trial is codified in fundamental legal documents in several Jurisdiction and may be further defined by statutory law. No one can deny an accused a speedy trial. It plays a major role in managing the justice system. Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. it is a landmark case. It gives a proper definition of Article 21 of Indian Constitution which stated that a speedy trial is fundamental right of every citizen.


There was an article which was published in Indian express newspaper in 1979 about the detention of under-trial prisoners in the Bihar jail. Some prisoners were serving in prison for longer period than their actual detention period. Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani was one of the readers of article and filed a case as a public interest litigation (PIL) in the supreme court of India.
Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani is called as ‘Mother of Public interest litigation in India.’ This case was about the rights of under trial prisoners on the Habeas Corpus petition.


This case was related to the rights of under trial prisoners on the habeas corpus petition and their following release. The writ petition of Habeaus Corpus under Article 32 of Indian Constitution was files by Advocate Kapila Hingorani on behalf of the undertrial prisoner of Bihar. Many of these prisoners have been charged with petty offences and sentences to several months in prison than usual. The petition states that under trial prisoners who have committed petty offences are suffering in jail for more than 5-10 years, without trial. It was filed on the behalf of woman offender, Hussainara Khatoon. She was detained and held in ‘protective custody’ for four years even though the Indian government had issued direct orders to release prisoners who are detained under the Foreigners Act coming from Bangladesh, on bail. The petition acknowledged that the under- trial prisoners who have done minor offences as they were imprisoned for quite 10 years. Those people were considered to the poorest strata who were not even able to afford an advocate and, they were refused to grant bail.


1.Whether right to speedy trial come within the ambit of Article 21?

2. What is the essence of speedy trial under criminal justice? 3.Whether the state should provide “legal aid” to financially disadvantaged under-trial prisoners?


  1. The counsels for Petitioner / Appellant submitted that:

The petitioner, Pushpa Kapila Hingorani’s argument was surrounding around the right of speedy trial which is a part of fundamental right as per the Indian constitution and the provision of legal services to poor people. She fought for the plight of many under trial prisoners who were there in Patna central jail and the Muzaffarpur central jail under detention for many years without trial. Large number of prisoners have been charged with petty offences and was prisoned for several months than usual. Another reason of this was their poverty, which made them impossible to even obtain bail.


  1. The counsels for Respondent submitted that:

Respondent argues that large number of prisoners awaiting trial, petitioners, in this case, held in the Patna Central Jail, the Muzaffarpur Central Jail, and the Ranchi Central Jail regularly appeared before the Magistrates before their release and were subsequently repeatedly remanded to judicial custody by the Magistrates. The respondents were unable to prove the dates on which these under-trial detainees were remanded, hence the Court did not believe this affirmation to be true. The Respondents further argued that the rise in the number of pending cases is a result of the necessity of stopping investigations usually because of a delay in collecting expert opinions. The Court rejected this argument, saying that the state can utilize other methods to achieve the same end.


i.          Article 21 of Indian constitution

ii.         Article 39A of Indian constitution


The court observed and directed that the under-trial prisoners who were mentioned in the file by Mrs. Hingorani should be released. It was because the imprisonment was false imprisonment which was considered to be an illegal and violation of fundamental rights given under article 21 of Indian constitution. Another ruling issued by Hon’ble court was to provide free legal aid by the state to under trial convicts accused with bailable charges in the coming days of their trial before the Magistrates.   

The Judgement have some notable observations:

1. It was decided that a legislation that keeps a significant number of convicts behind bars for an extended period of time violates article 21’s guarantee for “just, reasonable, and fair” limits.
2. The apex court strictly mentioned that a fair and speedy trial is one of the vital essences of criminal justice and delay in a fair trial directly implies delay in justice. Though right to speedy trial is not explicitly mentioned in the charter of fundamental rights of Indian Constitution, but has its essence imbibed in the broad interpretation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. A speedy trial, which is a trial that is sufficiently fast, is an essential component of the basic right to life and liberty guaranteed in Art. 21


The Court gave order to the release of all under-trial prisoners whose names were there on Mrs Hingorani’s list. The Court also said that detaining them for any length of time would be unconstitutional and certainly violate their fundamental right under Article 21[5] as they are being held for a period of time that is far longer than what they could have be awarded if they had been tried and convicted. The Hon’ble Court further governed the State to offer free legal assistance to under-trial convicts accused of bailable offences on their next remand dates before the Magistrates. This was done so that even the poorest under-trial detainees may file a bail application, ensuring that the aim of a speedy trial was met. The Supreme Court further ordered the State Government and the High Court to provide information about the locations of the courts of magistrates and courts of sessions in Bihar, as well as the total number of cases outstanding in each court as of December 31, 1978. If a matter has been outstanding for more than six months, they must also explain the reason which led to the delay in the disposal of the case.


The court said that it is a shame on judicial system which keeps men, women & children behind bars without the commencement of trial. This thing emphasis the urgency and importance of ensuring a speedy trial for all accused persons. This observation highlighted the systematic biases and inequalities in the legal system, particularly affecting those from the disadvantaged backgrounds.


Justice served to many under trial prisoners and those who were released after this judgment. Importance of public interest litigation (PIL) was also highlighted and got prioritised. Voices were raised against the deprived section of society. It exposes the loopholes in the justice system of the country. Also, the bail system in the India has been unfair to lower class and poor people who cannot afford the cost of legal action. About 40,000 undertrial prisoners were released, which shows that if a person is committed to the welfare of the country, he/she can do it and witness comprehensive results. Although the right to a speedy trial is a Fundamental Right which is mentioned in our Constitution, the case brings gross violation of the same, where undertrial prisoners had to suffer long terms of imprisonment merely because the courts did not have time to either acquit them or award them their proper sentence.


  1. Important Cases Referred           
    Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India            
    Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration
  2. Important Statutes Referred
    Constitution of India            

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