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Judicial Review and Judicial Activism

Judicial review and judicial activism are two essential concepts that play a crucial role in the functioning of modern democratic societies. These terms pertain to the role of the judiciary in interpreting laws, scrutinizing the actions of the executive and legislative branches, and ensuring that justice is upheld. While both concepts are intertwined in their pursuit of maintaining the rule of law, they differ significantly in their approach and scope. This article explores the principles behind judicial review and judicial activism, their impact on governance, and the delicate balance required to achieve justice and protect democratic values.

Judicial Review and Judicial Activism

Judicial Review

Judicial review is the power vested in the courts to assess the constitutionality of laws, executive orders, and government actions. In many democratic countries, including the United States, India, and others, the judiciary possesses the authority to strike down any law that is deemed inconsistent with the constitution. This essential function acts as a check on the actions of the other branches of government, ensuring they do not overstep their constitutional limits.

Judicial Activism

Judicial activism refers to instances where judges go beyond a passive role of interpreting laws and instead proactively participate in shaping public policy. In such cases, judges may take a more expansive approach to interpreting constitutional provisions, aiming to address societal issues and injustices that may not have been explicitly contemplated by the framers.

Proponents argue that judicial activism is necessary to address legislative and executive inaction on critical issues and protect the rights of marginalized groups. However, critics caution that it risks overstepping the separation of powers, as unelected judges may end up making policy decisions that should be within the purview of elected representatives.

Aspect Judicial Review Judicial Activism
Definition The power of the judiciary to review and When the judiciary actively interprets the law and
invalidate laws, executive actions, or takes a proactive role in shaping public policy and
government decisions that are inconsistent addressing societal issues beyond the traditional
with the Constitution. scope of judicial review.
Constitutional Basis Article 13 of the Indian Constitution Not explicitly defined in the Constitution but
empowers the judiciary to review and strike based on the principles of justice and equality.
down laws inconsistent with the Constitution.
Scope Focuses on the constitutionality of laws and Extends beyond constitutional interpretation to
government actions. address societal problems and policy matters.
Role of Judiciary Passive role as interpreters of the law. Proactive role in addressing social issues and
The judiciary ensures laws are within the seeking remedies in the absence of legislative
constitutional framework. action.
Exercise of Power It’s a reactive process; the judiciary acts It’s a more assertive and interventionist approach
when a case is brought before it challenging by the judiciary to promote social justice and
the constitutionality of a law or action. protect fundamental rights.
Approach to Legislation Judges refrain from interfering in policy Judges may intervene in policy matters to provide
matters unless there is a clear violation of remedies or direction to the government in cases of
constitutional provisions. public interest.
Accountability Focuses on the separation of powers and Critics argue that judicial activism may lead to
respects the roles of other branches of judicial overreach and undermine democratic
government. accountability.

Balancing Power and Justice

The delicate balance between judicial review and judicial activism is essential for the proper functioning of a democracy. Judicial review acts as a safeguard against unconstitutional actions, ensuring that laws align with the constitution. This approach is based on the principle of restraint, where judges refrain from delving into policy matters unless there is a clear violation of constitutional provisions.

On the other hand, judicial activism, when exercised with caution, can bring positive changes by addressing systemic issues and promoting social justice. However, it must be balanced with the principle of judicial restraint to avoid infringing upon the powers of elected officials and undermining democratic accountability.


In conclusion, both judicial review and judicial activism are integral to upholding the rule of law and protecting democratic values. Judicial review ensures that laws and actions conform to the constitution, providing a check on potential abuse of power by the other branches of government. At the same time, judicial activism, when practiced judiciously, can help address societal injustices and promote positive change.

The key lies in striking the right balance between judicial review and judicial activism. Judges must exercise restraint while interpreting laws and intervening in policy matters, respecting the democratic process and the roles assigned to each branch of government. By doing so, the judiciary can fulfill its vital role as the guardian of justice and the protector of the constitution in a democratic society.

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