don't just crack CLAT, come hack CLAT with us.
Ok, high time for some more legal GK. This is to explain in a simple manner the court structures in India, and the credit for writing this goes to Peter Adam from NUJS.
The judiciary is a watching tower above all the big structures of the other limbs of the state.
It keeps a watch on the like a sentinel on the functions of the other
limbs of the state as to whether they are working in accordance with
the law and the Constitution, the Constitution being supreme.
-Justice Utwalia in Union of India v. Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth
The Indian Judicial system has a unified structure unlike the American judiciary despite having
a quasi federal structure when it comes to governance. The judiciary
consists of the Supreme Court, the High Courts and the lower courts.
The judicial system is divided into Union judiciary and State judiciary.
The Supreme Court is the apex court at the top of the hierarchy. The
High courts are the highest judicial authority in a state. As of now,
we have 21 High Courts in the country, three of which have jurisdiction
over more than one state. Bombay High Court has the jurisdiction over
Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. Guwahati
High Court, which was earlier known as Assam High Court, has the jurisdiction
over Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal
Pradesh. Punjab and Haryana High Court has the jurisdiction over Punjab,
Haryana and Chandigarh. The lower courts are organised in a hierarchy
on the civil and criminal sides on the basis of their jurisdiction,
territorial or pecuniary i.e. monetary jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court
Article 124 of the Supreme Court deals with establishment and constitution of the Supreme Court. Article 124 (1) reads as follows:
“There shall be a Supreme Court of India consisting of a Chief Justice of India and, until Parliament
by law prescribes a larger number, of not more than twenty five other
The Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President
of India vide article 124(2). In the appointment of the latter, the
Chief Justice is always consulted. The seat of the Supreme Court is
in Delhi but may be shifted to another place if the Chief Justice of
India with the approval of the President may so appoint as per article
130 of the Indian Constitution.
The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. The concept of appellate jurisdiction
is better known in the case of the apex court as it is the highest appellate
body but before a discussion on the appellate jurisdiction, it is imperative
that the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is understood. The
Supreme Court can be directly approached in case of a violation of a
fundamental right as the Supreme Court has been constituted as the guardian
of fundamental rights. This right to approach the Supreme Court directly
on infringement of a fundamental right falls within the ambit of article
32 of the Indian Constitution. This article also bestows on the Supreme
Court the power to issue writs in the nature of habeus corpus, mandamus,
prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari. Other areas
that fall within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court include
disputes concerning the elections of the President and the Vice-President
and inter-governmental disputes. These topics fall within the exclusive
domain of the Supreme Court and no other can adjudicate on the same.
Though the Supreme Court does have original jurisdiction, it is primarily a court of appeal and enjoys
extensive appellate jurisdiction. Ordinarily appeals on constitutional,
civil and criminal courts lie to the Supreme Court on substantial questions
of law, questions involving constitutional interpretation et al only
after they have passed the scrutiny of the High Court. Over and above
these provisions, the apex court has the power to grant special leave
to appeal from the judgement of any court concerning any matter in the
territory of India. The same is imbibed in article 136 of the Indian
The apex court also has advisory jurisdiction. It advises the President on matters where the assistance of the Supreme Court is required.
The apex court is a court of record.
The High Courts
Article 214 of the constitution explicitly states that there shall be a High Court for each state. However,
the Parliament has the power to establish a common high court for two
or more states. This provision explains the reason behind having only
21 high courts in a country with 29 states and 6 union territories.
A High Court consists of a chief justice. The number of judges appointed to a high court varies
from high court to high court and from time to time. As such, the number
of judges in a high court is flexible and can be settled from time to
time by the central executive depending on the amount of work before
a high court. The Chief Justice of a high court is appointed by the
President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and
the Governor of that particular state. In case of appointment of other
judges, the Chief Justice of the High Court is also consulted besides
the dignitaries mentioned above.
The High Courts also enjoy both original and appellate jurisdiction. Just like Supreme Court, the
High Courts can also be directly approached in case of a breach of fundamental
rights under article 226 of the Indian Constitution. The High Courts
can also issue writs for enforcing fundamental rights as well as for
any other purpose. With reference to article 226, this power of High
Courts is broader than even the Supreme Court. The High Courts of Bombay,
Calcutta and Madras also possess original civil jurisdiction in certain
The High courts also hear appeals from lower courts within their respective territories. Appeals can be
both civil and criminal in nature and are brought to the court with
respect to both pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction.
Similar to the Supreme Court, the High Courts are also courts of record.
There are various provisions in the Indian Constitution with regard to the lower judiciary. If the
Supreme Court and the High Courts are pillars of Indian Judiciary, it
is the lower courts that provide these pillars the base to stand on.
The Supreme Court and the High Courts deal with both civil and criminal
cases but courts have been divided into two when it comes to the lower
judiciary- one dealing with civil cases and the other dealing with criminal
The criminal branch of lower judiciary is headed by a sessions court. As per the code of criminal
procedure, a sessions court is to be established for every sessions
division (which is essentially a district or a group of districts) by
the state government. This is followed by Courts of judicial magistrates
of first class in non metropolitan areas (areas with a population of
less than one million) and courts of metropolitan magistrates in metropolitan
areas. Subordinate to them are courts of judicial magistrates of second
class. Sessions judge and assistant sessions judge are appointed to
sessions courts, the latter being subordinate to the former. Similarly,
in courts of judicial magistrates, additional judicial magistrates are
subordinate to the chief judicial magistrate. Every chief judicial magistrate
is subordinate to the session judge as per CrPC.
A magistrate of second class may not pass a sentence exceeding imprisonment of one year. Similarly,
a magistrate of first class may not pass a sentence of more than 3 years.
A session judge can pass an order of execution but the same has to be
necessarily confirmed by the concerned High Court.
The civil branch of lower judiciary is headed by a district court. As is clear by the name itself a district
court is to be established in each district according to the Civil procedure
Code. Other courts subordinate to the district courts are the sub-divisional
court and Munsiff’s court with the latter being subordinate to the
Appointment to the post of district judge is made by the governor of the state in consultation
with the High Court of competent jurisdiction in relation with the state.
Only a person who has been in the state judicial service or has been
an advocate or pleader for not less than seven years can be elevated
to this post.
Besides the traditional court system, a variety of special courts can be set up in the country. Right
to speedy trial has been acknowledged to be a fundamental right by the
apex court and as such fast track courts for the same are set up in
the country from time to time. Also, there are special courts that deal
with legislation on terrorism. While theses courts discharge specialised
functions, they also shoulder the burden the judiciary thus helping
in reducing the backlog of cases.
Apart from courts, there are various tribunals that form a part of the Indian judicial system. The
legislature has been empowered by the constitution to provide by law
for adjudication or trial by tribunals of any disputes and offences
for various matters such as taxation, land reforms, industrial and labour
disputes et al. As per the latest position taken by the Supreme Court,
direct appeals from the tribunals lie to respective High Courts and
then to the apex court.