Case Brief: A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras

Case Brief

Name of the Case- A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras

Citation: AIR 1950 SC 27

Court- Supreme Court of India

Coram – Hiralal Kania, Saiyid Fazl Ali, M. Patanjali Sastri, Meher Chand Mahajan, B. K. Mukherjea, S.R. Das.

Theme: The abrogation of fundamental rights under article 19,21 and 22 of the constitution

Subject: Constitutional law

Judgement: India


In A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, A.K. Gopalan was a communist leader who had been imprisoned by the state of Madras in 1947 under convictions of ordinary criminal law, however those convictions were set aside. While he was imprisoned, he was served with another order of detention under the Preventive Detention Act, IV of 1950. A.K. Gopalan challenged the constitutionality of the act and filed a writ petition via article 32(1) contending the violation of his rights under articles 19,21 and 22 of the constitution.


Does the detention act contravene the provisions of Ar.19 and 21 of the constitution?

Are the act’s provisions in accordance with Ar.22 of the constitution?


In A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, The majority opinion held that preventive and punitive detention were outside the ambit of Ar.19 and hence the detention act of 1950 didn’t violate it. It was also contended that the said article provides protection to citizens who are free, therefore a citizen whose freedom is lawfully restrained, the question of enforcing Ar.19(1) does not arise.

The preventive detention act followed the valid procedure i.e., in the form enacted by the state’s law and therefore the court came upon the reasoning that it does not infringe upon the rights under Ar.21.

The various provisions of the preventive detention act 1950 are covered under Ar.22 and those which aren’t, are codicil through the aspects of Ar.21. The court held that S.3 of the act was justified as it was valid to give such discretionary powers to the executive, additionally the majority also agreed upon the validity of S.11 and 7 of the said act as under Ar.22(7)(b) the parliament is not mandated to set a minimum detention period and under 22(5) and 22(6) the right of representation and that off to be heard orally are not necessary. S.14 was however declared ultra vires because it contended the court’s right to determine the validity of detention.


It was held that none of the sections of the Preventive detention act, IV of 1950 infringed the provisions of Part III of the constitution barring S.14, restricting the disclosure of the grounds of detention. Section 14 of the act was declared Ultra Vires, nonetheless the declaration did not affect the validity of the act as a whole.


The dissent by Fazl Ali was that the court when analyzing fundamental rights violations needs to harmoniously interpret the various Articles under Part III and not simply as silos. Further, S.12 and 14 while contravening Ar.22 were also contended to be violating personal liberty and freedom of the individual. Moreover, Justice Mahajan while agreeing to the majority’s interpretation differed in his conclusion holding S.12 to be ultra-vires.


The reasoning of procedural due process wherein the fundamental rights are read separately, interpreted as such in the A.K. Gopalan case was denounced and the understanding of substantive due process was brought in with future cases. In Maneka Gandhi v Union of India[1] the court held that the procedure for Ar.21 has to be just, reasonable and fair and should be in accordance with the principles of equality and freedom under Ar.13 and 19, thus the provisions of different fundamental rights were established to be read together.


“Critical analysis of the Judgement in light of the Hart-Fuller debate.”

The majority opinion in the A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras was that article 21 covering procedure established by law would simply mean the law established by the state.[2] The meaning of Law in itself is deliberated upon, and it is contented that reading it within rules of natural justice would provide too vague an understanding as the connotations of natural justice leaving them erstwhile undefined. This judgement progresses from the idea that law and natural morals are incoherent. This is in abstract, Professor Hart’s reasoning who said that there is a link between law and morals but there is no interdependence.[3]The court in the said case inumbrated this reasoning through the interpretation that there is a specific standard set for law i.e., formulation through legislation,[4] which legitimizes it.

I disagree with the positivist interpretation of law followed through in the judgement of the said case, and the recusant understanding that law does not refer to natural justice and progressively morals too. The idea of legitimacy of a law originates from the understanding that law is a part of system which is formed from the norms of justice which undeniably have moral connotations; hence the law and its aspects must not be read individually.

Professor Fuller’s idea that Laws stem from the behavioral standards that people desire and that these standards are essentially set by morals and the norms of social justice, must be validly applied in the cases’ reasoning. It is incorrect to understand an article of the constitution as simply to be the relegated direct understanding of law without diluting it with the interpretation of moral/ natural justice as this contradicts the idea of legitimacy. Even professor Hart, however contradictory it may be to his writings, conceded that there must be a minimum moral standard in recognition and application of laws.[5]

Furthermore, I agree with the idea put forth in favor of the plaintiff in A K Gopalan that law was meant to be understood as “jus” i.e., law in the abstract sense of principles of natural justice and not as “rex” i.e., enacted law.[6] The true form of legitimacy for any law is recognition for the principles of natural justice.

I would like to conclude the analysis by saying that that law and its connotations can’t be read divorced from the understanding of morality and natural justice as such an interpretation would lead to a system based on repression.[7]

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[1] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597.

[2] A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27.

[3] HLA Hart, The Concept of Law 185-200 (3rd ed., 2014).

[4]Supra note. 5.

[5] HLA Hart, Positivism and the separation of law and morals, Vol 71, no. 4, Harvard Law Review at 593-629 (1958).

[6] Supra note. 5.

[7] Id.

Contributed By: Sri Hari Mangalam (Student, The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences)

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