Locus Standi, or, Is It Any of Your Business?

Dad once told me a story, one of many that enriched me. Most were funny, in retrospect. This one was about a quarrelling couple in the station master’s railway compound at Grant Road, Mumbai, where Dad grew up.

Floating groups gravitate to railway stations. Resources are limited, privacy nil. A sure catalyst for violent, husband-wife interactions. So it happened with one couple and the husband beat up his wife. As the hammering progressed, some Samaritans rescued the wife from the battering. The next moment, the wife turned on her saviours, beating the daylights out of them. According to the woman, the pounding that her husband was giving her was his way of showing his ardent love for her! How dare they interfere? It’s all about locus standi.

Simply put, locus standi asks, “Who the hell are you?” Do you have a right to intervene? MYOB (mind your own business). Buzz off. Don’t poke your dirty nose into other people’s business… and such other insults.

The courts have more parliamentary language for keeping out busybodies. Locus standi, a Latin term, means a ‘place to stand’. And to be heard. The latter being more important when it comes to defending one’s right. One that is often misused, especially in public interest litigations (PIL). More of that later.

An old man, Paul McDonough, felt aggrieved at some sort of reservation in Portland’s taxi business certification. He felt that the licensing system was skewed. He sued the city authorities. An association, Non-Reserved Taxi Group, joined the fray. The action against Portland’s policies would affect it, it said.

You be the judge. Would you allow the Group to be a party to the suit?

The court allowed the Group to intervene. No matter what the outcome, they were an interested party. They needed to be present and be heard. In short, they had locus standi, or simply ‘Locus’.

As matters unfolded, McDonough was asked to explain why the licensing system was, according to him, flawed. He did his best to explain: a matter of discrimination; a matter of capping the number of permits. He sought constitutional relief, based on his race and origin. When asked if he were willing to pay the US$800 fee for a permit, he answered, “I am 71 years old, I’ve driven a cab for 47 years, and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be doing this. If I am physically able to continue working over 50 hours a week, and to change my hours to match when the planes arrive, then I would definitely pay the $800 for a... permit.”

You be the judge. Is the explanation enough for locus?

The court decided that the poor man was not really interested in the job but had a feeling that something was wrong with the taxi business, his livelihood for half a century. An attachment that had led him to seek justice against perceived wrongs. At that age, many of us see the world, as we knew it, going to pieces. Too old to march, too frail to shout in the hot sun, oldies tend to gravitate towards the courts. Very surprisingly, and very correctly, our judges show a lot of compassion and a lot of patience, to many of them.

Where does locus start and where does it end? The courts ask a simple question, “How are you affected?” The answer must justify your presence and the right to have your say. They will not allow misuse and may come down heavily on those who litigate endlessly. PILs are often one such vehicle, with unreal, imagined, vengeful, coercive or trumped-up grievances. Opacity is converted into transparency before astute judges who determine locus. If not justified, out goes the PIL, these days with a fine.

There are exceptions, of course. Abandoned children, sick and elderly folk, mentally inhibited or illiterate persons, accident victims, all can be represented by rank outsiders, called the ‘next-best-friend’. They are allowed to draw the attention of the courts to grant relief. Often, even courts ask for such help. They appoint advocates of standing to assist the court, as amicus curiae, friend of the court. Salman Khurshid and 3T is the latest.

3T is not new cricket. It stands for triple talaq.

 

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