Sunday 17 December 2023

Relaxation of 'locus standi' rule for offences and proceedings arising out of marriage and its justification

 The concept of 'locus standi' in Indian law dictates who has the legal right to initiate court proceedings in a particular matter. Traditionally, the rule for matrimonial offenses and proceedings was strict, meaning only the directly affected spouses had the standing to file complaints or petitions. This often left vulnerable individuals, particularly women, facing challenges in seeking legal redressal for marital wrongs.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing recognition of the need to relax the locus standi rule for offences and proceedings arising out of marriage. This relaxation aims to improve access to justice for victims of domestic violence, adultery, cruelty, and other matrimonial offenses.

Reasons for Relaxation:

  • Protection of Vulnerable Individuals: Restricting standing only to spouses excludes others with a legitimate interest in safeguarding the victim, such as parents, children, or concerned citizens. Relaxed rules allow them to act on behalf of the victim, especially in situations where the victim is under duress or lacks the courage to come forward.
  • Public Interest: Matrimonial offenses often have broader societal implications beyond the immediate family. Allowing concerned individuals to initiate proceedings helps address social issues like domestic violence and promote public welfare.
  • Ensuring Effective Enforcement: In cases where the victim is unwilling or unable to file a complaint due to fear, intimidation, or dependence on the offender, allowing others to initiate proceedings helps ensure that offenses are not condoned and perpetrators are held accountable.

Examples of Relaxation in Indian Law:

  • The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: This act grants standing to not only the aggrieved wife but also her parents, children, siblings, and other close relatives to file complaints against perpetrators of domestic violence.
  • The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: Under certain circumstances, even blood relatives of a spouse can file petitions for nullification of marriage or divorce, particularly if the affected spouse is incapable of doing so due to mental illness or other limitations.
  • The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973: Section 156(3) allows any person, not just close relatives or the victim, to file a complaint on behalf of a woman subject to cruelty by her husband or his relatives.

Justification for Relaxation:

The relaxation of the locus standi rule for matrimonial offenses and proceedings is justified based on:

  • Constitutional Right to Justice: Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, which includes the right to access justice. Relaxed standing rules ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to seek legal recourse due to technicalities.
  • Social Justice and Gender Equality: Restricting standing to spouses often disadvantages women due to their subordinate position within the family structure. Relaxed rules promote gender equality by empowering more individuals to advocate for victims and prevent marital injustices.
  • Prevention of Misuse: While concerns exist about potential misuse of the relaxed rule, safeguards can be implemented, such as requiring complainants to provide evidence of genuine concern and preventing frivolous litigation.

Overall, the relaxation of the locus standi rule for matrimonial offenses and proceedings in India represents a significant step towards ensuring access to justice and protecting vulnerable individuals within the family unit. This evolving legal landscape reflects the changing societal perception of marital relationships and emphasizes the importance of safeguarding individual rights and promoting public well-being.

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