HIERARCHY, FUNCTION & POWERS OF COURTS IN INDIA
BY LAWNN INTERN: AISHWARYA AGRAWAL
The Indian legal system is one of the unique features of the Indian Constitution. Judiciary in India acts as the guardian protector of the Constitution and the fundamental rights of the people. It provides a single integrated system of Courts to administer both Union as well as State laws. The Supreme Court of India is the highest appellate authority in Indian legal system. Below the Supreme Court, each state or a group of states have High Courts and several subordinate courts are under these High Courts.
As every State is divided into Districts, these Districts are presided by a District and Sessions Judge. The DJ have original as well as appellate jurisdiction. The Sessions Judge is the highest judicial authority in a District. Under the District and Sessions Judge, there are Courts of civil and criminal jurisdiction i.e. Civil Judge (Senior Division) which have unlimited power to decide the civil matters of any pecuniary value and Civil Judge (Junior Division) known as Munsif which have limited power to decide the civil matters. Similarly in criminal jurisdiction, comprise the Chief Judicial Magistrates or Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and Judicial Magistrates or Metropolitan Magistrate of First and Second Class.
In addition to traditional judicial system, the Parliament or the appropriate legislature may, by law, provide for the adjudication any disputes and complaints, establish the tribunals (Article 323-A & 323-B).
- THE LEGAL SYSTEM OF INDIA
- Defining legal systems:
- Legal system refers to a procedure or process for interpreting and enforcing the law.
- Jurisdiction‘s basis of applying law consists of:
- aconstitution, written or oral;
- primarylegislation, statutes, and laws; authorized by constitutionally authorized legislative body;
- primary legislation authorized body enacts subsidiary legislation or bylaws;
- traditional practices upheld by the courts;
- Civil, common, Roman, or other code of law as source of such principles or practices.
- The Indian Legal System:
In the entire legal history of the world the Indian Legal System is one of the oldest legal systems. The Indian Legal System has developed and altered over the past few decades. The Constitution of India which came into existence in 1950 is the fountainhead of the Indian Legal System. Indian Legal System has Anglo-Saxon character of judiciary which is basically drawn from the British Legal System.
- Source Of Law In India:
- Customary law
- The Indian Constitution
- Statutes (legislation).
- Case law (judgments of the SC and HC)
- Enactment Of Laws In India:
The Parliament of India is empowered to make laws enumerated in the Union List and the State Legislatures are competent to make laws on matters enumerated in the State List. While both the Union and the States have power to make laws on matters enumerated in the Concurrent List. Only Parliament has power to make laws on matters not included in the State List or the Concurrent List. Where the Parliament and the State Legislatures under Concurrent List make laws inconsistence to each other, in that events the laws made by Parliament shall prevail over law made by State Legislatures, to the extent of the inconsistency and the State law shall be void unless it has received the assent of the President, and in such case, shall prevail in that State.
Laws made by Parliament apply throughout or in any part of the territory of India and the laws made by State Legislatures apply only within the territory of the State concerned.
- Indian Judiciary:
The Indian Judicial system is one of the unique features of the Indian Constitution. It provides a single integrated system of Courts to administer both Union as well as State laws. The SC of India is the highest appellate authority in Indian legal system. Below the SC, each state or a group of states have HC and several subordinate courts are under these HC.
As every State is divided into Districts, these Districts are presided by a District and Sessions Judge. The District Judge have original as well as appellate jurisdiction. The Sessions Judge is the highest judicial authority in a District. Under the District and Sessions Judge, there are Courts of civil and criminal jurisdiction i.e. Civil Judge (Senior Division) which have unlimited power to decide the civil matters of any pecuniary value and Civil Judge (Junior Division) known as Munsif which have limited power to decide the civil matters. Similarly in criminal jurisdiction, comprise the Chief Judicial Magistrates or Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and Judicial Magistrates or Metropolitan Magistrate of First and Second Class.
- Salient Features of Indian Judiciary:
- Single and Integrated Judicial System:
The SC of India is the highest court of the country and below it are the HC at the state level. Other courts (Subordinate Courts) work under the HC. Hence, there is an establishment of a single integrated judicial system for the whole of India.
- Independence of Judiciary:
The Constitution of India makes judiciary truly independent.
It provides for:
- Appointment of judges by the President,
- High qualifications for appointment as judges,
- Removal of judges by a difficult method of impeachment,
- High salaries,
- pension and other service benefits for judges,
- Independent establishment for the Judiciary, and
- Adequate powers and functional autonomy for the Judiciary.
- Judiciary as the Interpreter of the Constitution:
The right to interpret and clarify the Constitution has been given to the SC. Hence, Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the provisions of the Constitution of India.
- Judicial Review:
The SC and High Court has the power to determine the constitutional validity of all laws. It can reject any such law which is held to be unconstitutional.
- High Court for each states as well a Provision for Joint High Court:
The Constitution lay down that there is to be a High Court for each state. However, two or more states can have a Joint High Court provided they have mutually consented to the same.
- SC as the Arbiter of legal disputes between the Union and States:
The Constitution gives to the SC the jurisdiction in all cases of disputes:
- Between the Govt. of India and one or more states,
- Between the Govt. of India and any state or states on one side and one or more states on the other, and
- Between two or more states.
- Guardian of Fundamental Rights:
The people have the Right to Constitutional Remedies under which they can seek the protection of the courts for preventing a violation or for meeting any threat to their rights which is done by issuing writs by SC and HC.
- Separation of Judiciary from the Executive:
The judiciary in India is a separate organ and is neither a branch of the executive nor in any way subordinate to it. The judicial administration in India is organised and run in according to the rules made and orders given by the Supreme Court.
- Open Trial:
The courts in India are free. These conduct open trials. Full opportunity is given to the accused to defend. The state also provides free legal aid to the poor and needy.
- Judicial Activism:
Judiciary has been providing directives to public officials for ensuring a better security for the rights of the public. The Public Interest Litigation system has been picking up. Also, there is constitution of Lok Adalats.
- Public Interest Litigation System:
Under it any citizen or a group or a voluntary organisation, or even a court herself, can bring to notice any case demanding action for protecting and satisfying a public interest.
III. THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Supreme Court stands at the apex of the ‘Judicial System of India’. It is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution and the laws of the land. The SC is the apex level court and the court of final appeal in India. Prof. K.V. Rao describes, “the most powerful court in the world having the largest jurisdiction.” Article 124 (Part VI, Indian Constitution) states the establishment and constitution of the SC. The Constitution (Article 124) provides: “There shall be, a SC of India.” It enjoys supreme judicial authority in the country. The whole of judicial administration is organised and run in accordance with the orders and rules of the SC.
SC was inaugurated on 28th January 1950. At the time of the inauguration of the Constitution, the SC consisted of one Chief Justice and seven other Judges. Presently, the SC can have 31 judges (one Chief Justice of India and 30 Judges). As per Article 124, to be a judge of Supreme Court one has to a judge or advocate of High court for 5 years and 10 years respectively or a distinguished jurist and such person on appointment as a judge shall be paid salary as decided by Parliament.
1. Powers and Functions of Supreme Court in India:
The role and position of the SC is vital in the judicial and political system of India. The SC has been equipped with enormous powers. By virtue of its place at the apex of the judicial pyramid, the SC acts as a great unifying force and its decisions and verdicts are binding on any court within the territory of India. The role and functions of the SC in has been discussed below:
- As a Federal Court: Article 131 of the Indian Constitution vests the SC with original and exclusive jurisdiction to determine the justiciable disputes between the Union and the States or between the States.
- Interpreter of the Constitution and Law:Where a case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the constitution either certified by the High Court or being satisfied by the SC itself, an appeal shall lie to the SC for interpretation of the question of law raised.
- As a Court of Appeal (Article 132, 133 and 134): Appeal lies to the SC of the cases involving interpretation of the constitution and also in respect of civil and criminal cases irrespective of any constitutional question.
- Advisory Role (Article 143):The SC has an advisory jurisdiction in offering its opinion an any question of law or fact of public importance as may be referred to it for consideration by the President.
- Guardian of the Constitution: The SC of India is the guardian of the constitution. There are two points of significance of the SC’s rule as the protector and guardian of the constitution.
First, as the highest Federal Court, it is within the power and authority of the SC to settle any dispute regarding division of powers between the Union and the States.
Secondly, it is in the SC’s authority to safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens.
- Writ Jurisdictions:Under Art. 32 of the constitution of SC can issue Writs for the enforcement of fundamental rights. These writs are in the nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamas, Prohibition, and Quo-warranto Certiorari.
- Power of Judicial Review and SC (Article 137):The power of the Judiciary to examine the validity of such law is called Judicial Review. If it occurs to the SC that any law enacted by Parliament or by a State Legislature curbs or threatens to curb the citizen’s fundamental rights, the SC may declare that law as unlawful or unconstitutional. If any law is inconsistent with the spirit or letter of the constitution and if the Govt. oversteps the legal bounds, it is for the SC to see to it.
- SC as the Court of Record: The SC is a Court of Record. Its decisions bind all courts in India. HC and Subordinate Courts use its decisions/judgments as laws and decide the cases before them.
- Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India:
(1) Original Jurisdiction:
The SC can directly hear several cases which cannot be heard by any other court. It constitutes its original jurisdiction. In involves following cases:
(i) Disputes between the Govt. of India and one or more States.
(ii) Disputes between the Govt. of India and any State or States on the one side and one or more States on the other.
(iii) Disputes between two or more States which involves any question on which the existence of a legal right depends.
In other words, all legal disputes between the centre and states and among the states can be heard and settled by the SC.
- Appellate Jurisdiction:
The SC is the highest court of appeal in all civil and criminal cases. It can hear appeals against the decisions of the State HC, and this constitutes its Appellate Jurisdiction. The appeal can come before the SC in case the High Court issues a certificate to this effect.
- Advisory Jurisdiction:
The President of India can seek the advice of the SC in respect of any legal matter of high public importance. In such a case the SC has to give its advisory opinion to the President. However, advice given by Supreme Court to the President is not binding upon him.
3.Some Facts Related To The Supreme Court:
- The first CJI was Harilal Jekisundas Kania (26.01.1950 to 06.11.1951)
- The present CJI is Jagdish Singh Khehar( 4 Jan 2017 to incumbent)
- 6 women SC judges-
- Justice M Fathima Beevi,
- Justice Sujata V Manohar ,
- Justice Ruma Pal,
- Justice Gyan Sudha Misra,
- Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai ,and
- Justice R Banumathi
- No judge in the SC has been Impeached so far.
- The first case of impeachment is that of Justice V Ramaswami of the SC in Lok Sabha(1991-93).
- First judge in Indian History, against whom impeachment motion was passed in Rajya Sabha-Justice Saumitra Sen of Calcutta HC.
- HIGH COURTS
High Court of India is at the top of the hierarchy in each State but are below the SC. These courts have control over a state, a UT or a group of states and union territories. HC are established under Part VI, Chapter V. The HC are the principal courts of original jurisdiction in the state, and can try all offences including those punishable with death.
We see that, article 214 of the Constitution of India states that there shall be a High Court for each of the states. In addition to that, Article 231 of the Constitution provides setting up of one High Court for two or more states. For example, High Court Guwahati’s jurisdiction is spread over the not only the State of Tripura but also to other states of North- East India. However, works of most HC consists of Appeals from lowers courts and summons, petitions in terms of Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The jurisdiction of each High Court varies from each other. To be a High Court judge, one should have the qualifications and fulfill conditions as mentioned in Article 217.
- Powers And Functions Of High Court:
- Powers of issuing Directions, Order or Writs:
The High Court has been empowered to issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, and prohibition certiorari and quo warranto for the enforcement of the fundamental rights and ‘for other purposes’.
- Judging the validity of laws:
In the original Constitution the HC were given powers of judging the validity of the Central and the State laws which was taken away by the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution but restored though the 43rd Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1978.
- Powers of superintendence:
Every High Court has a general power of superintendence over all the lower courts and tribunals within its jurisdiction except military courts and tribunals.
- Powers of taking up cases:
If a case is pending before a sub-ordinate court and the High Court is satisfied that it involves a substantial question of the constitutional law, it can take up the case and decide it itself.
- Control over sub-ordinate courts:
The High Court controls all the subordinate courts in the State. Consultation to the Governor in the matter of appointing, posting and promoting district judges shall be made.
- Other powers:
Besides the above powers, the High Court performs some other functions:
- Like the SC, the High Court also acts as a Court of Record.
- It has the power to punish for contempt of itself.
- The High Court can frame the required rules to carry out its judicial functions.
2. Jurisdictions Of The High Court:
The following are the jurisdictions and powers which the HC enjoy all over the country.
1. Original jurisdiction:
The Constitution of India does not provide a detailed description of the jurisdiction of the High Court. The SC can issue the writs only for the enforcement of fundamental rights and not for other purposes. The power of the High Court to issue writs in the nature of habeas corpus cannot be curtailed even during emergency. Art. 226 of the Constitution vests in the High Court the power to issue writs for the restoration of fundamental rights.
2. Appellate Jurisdiction
This jurisdiction of High Court extends to both criminal and civil cases. In civil cases, its jurisdiction extends to cases tried by Courts of Munsifs and District judges. In the criminal cases it extends to cases decided by Sessions and Additional Sessions Judges. Thus, the jurisdiction of the High Court extends to all cases under the State or federal laws.
- SUBORDINATE COURTS
Subordinate courts, at the level of districts and lower, have almost similar structure all over the country. They deal with civil and criminal cases in accordance with their respective jurisdictions and administer the Code of CPC and the Code of CrPC. Each State is divided into judicial districts. The subordinate judiciary is headed by a District and Sessions Judge, in every district.
The usual designations on the civil side are DJ, ADJ, and Civil Judge. For criminal cases, there are Sessions Judge, Additional Sessions Judge, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Judicial Magistrate etc. The Governor in consultation with the High Court appoints the district judges. A person who is not already in Govt. Service should have at least seven years’ experience at the bar to become eligible for the position of a district judge (Art. 233).
1.District Courts of India:
The jurisdiction of the District Courts of India is placed below the supervision of the HC of the country. A particular District Court shall be controlled by the High Court of the State of which the district is a part. Such courts conduct Appellate and Original jurisdiction in all matters related to criminal and civil cases. District Courts render justice at the district level. These courts are entitled to exercise all sorts of judicial powers, which extend to granting capital punishment to convicts. District Courts are empowered to control the subordinate courts belonging to the districts.
2.Sessions Courts of India:
District Courts assume the name of Sessions Courts when they deal with matters concerning criminal cases, which can be categorised under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Section 9 of CrPC asserts that Sessions Courts are set up by the State Govts. These courts administer justice to cases involving theft, pick-pocketing, robbery, murders and other cases of similar types. Sessions Court is empowered to provide all sorts of punishments to criminals, which includes death penalty. Initially, Sessions Courts used to hear every case in various sessions, continuously, before arriving to decisions and presenting the judgments immediately upon the completion of the hearings. Therefore these courts attained the name, ‘Sessions Courts’, as they disposed of the cases speedily.
It can hence be concluded that the Indian legal system ,which derives its powers from the Indian Constitution (one of the longest legal documents in the world) , was created keeping in mind the intricacies of governing such a vast country.
Indian Courts provide for PIL and lok adalats for efficient and faster justice.
Presence of courts help citizens to achieve justice along with a platform of appealing to higher courts for any dissatisfactory decisions of the lower courts.
Aishwarya Agrawal is a student pursuing B.A.LL.B from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur and is passionate towards the field of Law.