A.K. Gopalan vs The State of Madras

A.K. Gopalan vs The State of Madras

Bench: Kania, Hiralal J. (Cj)

Citation: 1950 AIR 27


Mr. Gopalan was detained by the Madras Government in Madras jail. While in detention the Madras Government served him with Section 3(1) of Preventive Detention Act (P.D.A.). No reasons were accorded for the detention. He challenged the order in the court under a writ of habeas corpus under Article 32 stating that the detention order was violative of Article 14,19,13,14 and 21. His lawyer demanded that the word that the words ‘procedure established by law’ should be read in the same as the American Due Process Clause has been interpreted.


Could Article 19 of the constitution be read together with Article 21?


The Supreme Court said that Article 21 could be invoked only upon a complete deprivation and not upon restriction of movement. The SC said that word ‘law’ in Article 21 could not mean rules of natural justice. These rules were vague and ambiguous and such laws cannot be read in the light of the Constitution. The word ‘law’ was used in context of state-made laws and not ‘natural justice’.

Could Article 19 and Article 21 be read together in Article 21?

The Supreme Court held that Article 19 and Article 21 cannot be read together and emancipated the Doctrine of Exclusivity. Personal liberty in Article 21 in itself has a comprehensive context. It would also include various provisions under Article 19. However, Article 19 deals with very few specific provisions and does not mentions freedom from detention.

The court said that Personal liberty does not only mean liberty of a person, but also, liberty or rights attached to that person. Article 19 does not mention life and personal liberty and including these terms would strain the context in which Article19 exists. Therefore, it cannot be read in accordance with Article 21.

What is ‘Procedure Established by law’?

The Supreme Court held that under Article 21 the term ‘procedure established by law’ meant that the procedure as laid down in the law and enacted by the legislature and nothing more. A person could be deprived of his life and personal liberty by procedure laid down in a given law. Law is not general law, but law established by the state.

The Supreme Court said that the procedure was just, fair or reasonable or according to natural justice was not the concern of Article 21. The legislature can pass any law they feel is right. It is not necessary that the law or the procedure established by it should be in conformity with theory of natural justice and reasonableness. The Due Process Clause of United States Constitution has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as that the law or the process laid down must be just, fair and reasonable. The SC of India rejected this stance by stating that it would give a very wide scope to Article 21 which indeed was not the vision of the Legislature.

Therefore, the court laid down a 3-prong test stating that a person can be deprived of his personal liberty –

  1. There must be a law.
  2. It should lay down a procedure to implement the law.
  3. The executive should follow the procedure while depriving life and personal liberty in accordance with the procedure.

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