A petitioner is an applicant who files a petition in the form of a formal written application in a court of law seeking a specific judicial order to enforce a legal, statutory, or constitutional right, on a matter that lies in the jurisdiction of the court where it is filed.
In some literature, petitioners may be referred to as litigants (a broad term would include respondents as well).
Who is a petitioner?
A petitioner may be an individual, a group of individuals, the state or any "juristic person" like a statutory body, a corporate body or any other entity legally declared to be a juristic person.
There may be multiple petitioners in a particular case depending on the stage at which the case is being contested. The petitioner must have the Locus Standi for the petition i.e. they should be aggrieved or deprived of their legal rights and they must have a cause of action that gives rise to a claim enforceable in court. In the case of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) the rule relating to Locus Standi is relaxed to accommodate genuine interest or legitimate concern about the issues of the public, particularly underprivileged or marginalised sections.
A petitioner, therefore, is a party to a case and as a result, the name of the petitioner appears in the first part of the case title in a contested case.
A petitioner is represented in the court by an Advocate. A petitioner-in-person is one who pursues the matter in person by making an application to the court and upon satisfaction of the court, may appear and argue the matter in-person without an Advocate.
A petitioner is different from a plaintiff as the latter institutes a civil suit in the court of the first instance for recovery or protection of a right, the enforcement of a claim, or the redress of a wrong. The difference between the term plaintiff and petitioner is that the plaintiff seeks a remedy in a civil action whereas the petitioner is the one who invokes the help of a court to redress his grievances, for e.g.: any individual can be a petitioner and file a petition in case of public interest.
Types of petitioners
A petitioner may be referred to by various designations in court documents depending on the subject matter of the case or the court where it is being heard. These include the following:
|Referred to as
|A petitioner is referred to as an appellant while bringing an appeal in the form of a civil appeal or a criminal appeal to the appellate court against the order/judgement of the lower court. Such an appellant could have been a plaintiff or defendant in the lower court as either of the parties can present the case to a higher court for further proceedings.
|A petitioner is referred to as an applicant while filing an application to enforce a legal right under a statute like a Bail Application, Application for quashing of FIR, Review Application, Transferred Application, Interlocutory Application, Miscellaneous Application, etc.
|A petitioner is referred to as a revisionist while exercising the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court
|A petitioner is referred to as a petitioner while filing a petition in the Constitutional Courts under its Original Jurisdiction, Writ Jurisdiction, Review Jurisdiction, Contempt Jurisdiction, Curative Jurisdiction etc.
Appearance in official databases
National Judicial Data Grid
The landing page of NJDG contains high-level summaries of how many civil, criminal and total cases were filed by senior citizens and women in each court. This helps in understand to what extent petitioners with these backgrounds access the courts as a formal justice institution.
Research that engages with petitioner
Who Is in Justice? Caste, Religion and Gender in the Courts of Bihar over a Decade
A 2021 study by researchers from the World Bank examined over ten lakh cases filed in Patna High Court (Bihar) between 2009 and 2019 to assess the caste, religion and gender of petitioners. The paper tried to understand (i) statistical under-representation of muslim, women, and scheduled caste petitioners as well as (ii) whether caste indicative surnames of petitioners "matched" with their advocates or judges.
The National Open Court Data Standards (NODS) created by the National Centre for State Courts in the US allow data for race and ethnicity to be recorded based on self-identification but not merely on the basis of observation by law enforcement or court staff.
- “Bhupatiraju, Sandeep; Chen, Daniel L.; Joshi, Shareen; Neis, Peter. 2021. Who Is in Justice? Caste, Religion and Gender in the Courts of Bihar over a Decade. Policy Research Working Paper;No. 9555. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/35195 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/35195
- NODS (NCSC). "Data elements spreadsheet" Available at: https://www.ncsc.org/consulting-and-research/areas-of-expertise/data/national-open-court-data-standards-nods