In any democracy, the separation of power is considered to be the most important ingredient to prevent the concentration of power. India is not an exception to it. Along with Legislature and Executive, the judiciary forms the 3rd most important organ of the separation of power to protect democracy. The term ‘Judiciary’ refers to designate those officers of government whose function is to apply the existing law to individual cases by keeping in view standards of ‘fairness’ and ‘reasonableness’ while applying the laws to individual cases. Lord Bryce says that there is “no better test of the excellence of a government than the efficiency of its judicial system”. The judiciary has been rightly called, “The shield of innocence and safe guardian of civil right”.
The laws are the basis for bringing order in society by means of the judiciary. The judicial process helps the process of the legitimacy of the State. The judiciary is the main pillar of democracy. Judiciary is the rule adjudication agency of a political system. Lord Bryce says, “If the law is dishonestly administered, the salt has lost its flavour. If it is weakly or fitfully enforced, the guarantee of order fails. If the lamp of justice goes out in the darkness, how great is that darkness”.
It is therefore very essential that great care should be taken in organizing the judiciary and making it free and fearless. The judiciary is the guardian of the rights of the citizens, protecting these rights from government or private encroachment. Every citizen looks to the judiciary to protect his rights and liberties of the people, settling disputes, interpreting the laws, and protecting the Constitution.
The Indian Judiciary is divided into 2 parts- Higher Judiciary and Lower Judiciary. Lower Judiciary consists of the Trial Courts and Session Courts or District Courts. Higher Judiciary consists of High Courts and Supreme or Apex Court.
High Courts and Supreme Court are given the status of Constitutional Courts by the Constitution of India. Those Courts are also known as the ‘Courts of Records.’ These Courts act as the Custodians of the Indian Constitution and these have the supreme power to protect the Fundamental Rights of the citizens guaranteed by Part III of the Indian Constitution.
By the legal meaning of the word ‘Jurisdiction’, we understand that the boundaries set by the Constitution or any statutes, within which the Courts can exercise its judicial power. The jurisdictions may be subject matter jurisdictions, territorial jurisdictions or pecuniary jurisdictions, etc.
Here we shall discuss the Jurisdiction of Supreme Court in India and the High Courts.
Jurisdiction of Supreme Court of India:
The Supreme Court of India is the highest Judicial Court within the territory of India. It is the highest appellate and Constitutional Court in India. More importantly, it works as the ‘Sentinel on the qui vive’ because; it has the absolute power to protect the ‘Supremacy of Fundamental Rights’ of the citizens guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution of India. It consists of the Chief Justice of India and a maximum of 33 judges, it has also the powers in the form of original, appellate, and advisory jurisdictions. Articles 124 to 147 of the Constitution lay down the composition and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Being the final court of appeal of the country, it takes up appeals against verdicts of the High Courts of various States of the Union and other courts and tribunals. It safeguards the Fundamental Rights of citizens and settles disputes between various government authorities as well as the State Governments vs. another State Government or Union Government vs. State Governments within the country.
Exercising ‘Advisory Jurisdiction’ of Supreme Court, it hears matters which may be specifically referred to it under the Constitution by the President of India. It may take cognizance of some matters of extraordinary importance on its own (or acting suo moto), without anyone drawing its attention to them. The judgment declared by the Supreme Court acts as a binding precedent on all courts within the territory of India and also by the Union and State Governments.
As per Article 142 of the Constitution of India, “It is the duty of the President to enforce the decrees of the Supreme Court”. The proceedings of the Supreme Court of India are conducted in English only. The Supreme Court Rules of 1966 are framed under Article 145 of the Constitution to regulate the procedure and practice of the Supreme Court. The same is further amended and presently governed by the Supreme Court Rules of 2013. It has the following jurisdictions-
1. Original jurisdiction:
Article 131 of the Constitution states Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears directly any disputes between (i) the Government of India and any one or more States, (ii) between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more States on the other, or (iii) between two or more States which involve some question of law or fact on which the existence of a legal right depends.
2. Appellate jurisdiction:
Article 132 states: Appellate jurisdiction of Supreme Court in appeals from High Courts in certain cases. Supreme Court hears the appeals against the judgments passed by any of the High Courts. Articles 133 and 134 state Appellate jurisdictions of Supreme Court in appeals from High Courts in regard to Civil and Criminal matters respectively.
3. Advisory jurisdiction:
Article 143 of the Constitution states the Advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. If the President of India seeks opinion on issues of public importance, the Supreme Court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit, report to the President its opinion thereupon.
4. Review judgments:
Article 137 states: Review of judgments or orders by the Supreme Court. — Subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament or any rules made under article 145, the made by it. Here the Supreme Court is empowered to review any judgment pronounced by it.
5. Enforcement of Supreme Court’s orders and decrees and acting as Court of records:
Article 141 of the Constitution states the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. The judgments of the Supreme Court are recorded and considered authoritative and serves as cases, laws, or proceedings.
As per Article 142 of the Constitution, it is the duty of the President to enforce all decrees and orders of the Supreme Court in the country.
6. Contempt of court:
Article 129 of the Constitution states the Supreme Court can start contempt proceedings against anyone who indulges in malicious propaganda against the judges or tries to influence the judges.
7. Guardian of Constitution:
The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution, particularly relating to the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to the citizens. Under Article 32, Supreme Court can issue any of the writs mentioned therein to enforce the Constitutional Remedies to the person whose Fundamental Right is infringed by any acts or omissions of the administrative or any other State authorities.
8. Public Interest Litigation:
Even though the victim or affected parties do not file cases, people, who are not involved in the case, may file litigation, if it is in the general public interest. It is the privilege of the Court to entertain or not to entertain the application for Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
9. Granting Special Leave Petition:
Under Article 136 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court in its discretion grant special leave to appeal from the judgment, decree, determination, sentence, or order in any cause or matter passed by any court or tribunal within the territory of India except the orders passed by any court or tribunal constituted under any law relating to the Armed Forces.
Jurisdiction of the High Courts in India:
India’s judicial system is made up of the Supreme Court of India at the apex of the hierarchy for the entire country and 25 High Courts at the top of the hierarchy in each State. These High Courts have jurisdiction over a State, a Union Territory, or a group of States and Union Territories. Below the High Courts, there is a hierarchy of Subordinate Courts such as the Civil Courts, Family Courts, Criminal Courts, and various other District & Session Courts.
High Courts are instituted under Part VI, Chapter V, and Article 214 of the Indian Constitution and those have been given the status of Constitutional Court. The High Court of a State is the Highest Court having jurisdiction within that State and all other Subordinate Courts of the State work under it.
Normally, there is one High Court in every State but in some cases; there can be only one High Court for two or more States as well, as per the constitution.
There is one Chandigarh High Court for Punjab, Haryana, and Union Territory of Chandigarh. Similarly, there is one Guwahati High Court that has jurisdiction over the Indian States Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
However, there is one Delhi High Court that has jurisdiction over the Union Territory of Delhi. Each High Court consists of one Chief justice and other puisne judges depending upon the respective sanctioned strengths. Calcutta High Court is the oldest High Court in India and it has jurisdiction over the West Bengal and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The High Courts in India have the following jurisdictions-
1. Original Jurisdiction:
Every High Court has Original jurisdiction in regard to the admiralty, will, divorce, matrimonial, company, contempt of court, and certain revenue cases. Every High Court is empowered to issue directions, orders, or writs for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights. The High Courts of Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai have original jurisdiction on hearing straightway cases involving the Christians and Parsees. They also exercise original civil jurisdiction when the amount involved is more than two thousand rupees.
2. Appellate Jurisdiction:
Every High Court hears appeals against the judgments of Subordinate Courts. In Criminal cases, if a Session Judge awards a death sentence, an appeal lies to the High Court. In Civil cases, appellate jurisdiction extends to all such cases which involve an amount exceeding Rs. 5,00,000/-. It also hears cases relating to patents and designs, succession, land acquisition, insolvency, guardianship, income tax, sales tax, etc.
3. Transfer of certain cases to the High Court:
If a High Court feels that a case pending in a Subordinate Court, involves a substantial question of law, it may withdraw the case and may either dispose of the case itself or determine the said question of law and return the case to the court from which it was withdrawn for the final decision.
4. Judicial review:
The States High Courts like the Supreme Court have the power of Judicial Review. A High Court has the power to strike down any law passed by the State legislature or any order passed by the Executive if it violates any provision of the Constitution or curtails any of the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.
5. Writ jurisdiction:
Article 226 of the Constitution of India states the Power of High Courts to issue certain writs-
- Habeas Corpus: It means ‘to present the body of’. A person who is detained to be produced before the Court within 24 hours of arrest.
- Mandamus: It means command. The Court directs the concerned authority to perform the duty as per the law.
- Prohibition: It is issued against judicial or quasi-judicial bodies. Prohibition is issued when the concerned authority exceeds its limit.
- Certiorari: It means ‘to certify’. The highest court issues an order to the lower court to decide the validity of an order issued by it. It checks the arbitrary actions of the lower court.
- Quo Warranto: It means ‘with what authority’. It protects the interests of the petitioner who has a claim for the office. It calls upon the holder of the public office to show to the court with what authority he is holding that office.
- As per Article 215 of the Constitution of India, the judgments of the High Courts are recorded and considered authoritative and serve as case law.
- Under Article 215 of the Constitution of India, a High Court can start contempt proceedings against anyone who indulges in malicious propaganda against judges or try to influence the judges or misguide the courts.
- Every High Court can admit Public Interest Litigation like the Supreme Court of India.
“Justice is considered to be one of the divine attributes and a judge is described as a blindfolded person who holds the scales of justice, which he administers, even-handed”.
In ancient times the function of the judge was vested in the priest. Though in the modern States religion has nothing to do with the machinery of government, except for Islamic countries, yet the sanctity attached to the office of a judge remains unchanged. It is said, “The functions of a judge are multifarious and arduous”.
However, it is very necessary that the judges should, accordingly, be men of keen intellect, high legal acumen, dignity, integrity, impartiality, and independence of judgment. They should act by applying their ‘equity and good conscience’ and upholding due process of law. If they lack in wisdom, probity, and freedom of decision, the basic purposes for which the ‘Judiciary’ is established cannot be secured.
Bacon once succinctly said, “There was no worse torture than the torture of laws”. The torture of law can only be removed when judges who apply and interpret the law, act independently, and impartially. Impartiality and independence often go together. By ‘Independence of the Judiciary’, we mean, “The judges should exercise unfettered discretion in the interpretation of laws and administration of justice and they should remain uninfluenced in the discharge of their duties”.
In absence of the safeguards provided by the Judiciary to protect the Liberty and Fundamental Rights of the citizens, the democracy of any country will inevitably not survive. Therefore, the maintenance of the impartiality and independence of the judiciary both in letter and spirit is the most basic condition of the ‘Rule of Law’ and, as such, that of the liberty of the citizens, and human progress.