Public interest litigation [‘PIL’], typically defined as proceedings in which the public or the community at large has some pecuniary or legal interest, demonstrates an ability to foster human rights compliance. It does this by enabling broader community or ‘public’ interests to be recognised and enforced through the judicial process, thereby revealing greater potential than private rights litigation in addressing the systemic nature of many human rights violations. This in turn has presented greater opportunities domestically to monitor each state's accountability to international human rights standards.
This paper compares and contrasts the emergence and development of PIL in two jurisdictions - India and Australia. India was chosen for its remarkable and extensive development of PIL unparalleled in Commonwealth jurisdictions to date, and Australia, for its adoption of a much more restrained and traditional trajectory in line with other members of the Commonwealth. Although PIL has developed differently in the two countries, inevitably shaped by differences in culture, economic development, law and politics, both provide illustrations of PIL's potential (and limitations) in facilitating the development of human rights norms in domestic legal systems.