Judiciary – Jurisdiction of Supreme Court and High Courts
Supreme Court—the Guardian of the Constitution:
The Supreme Court under our Constitution is such arbitration. It is the final interpreter and guardian of the Constitution. In addition, to the above function of maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is also the guardian of the Fundamental rights of the people.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court:
A Court of Record: Article 129 makes the Supreme Court a ‘Court of Record’ and confers all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for its contempt. A Court of Record is a court whose records are admitted to be of evidentiary value and they are not to be questioned when they are produced before the court.
Once a court is made a Court of Record, its power to punish for contempt necessarily follows from that position. The power to punish for contempt of court has been expressly conferred on the Supreme Court by our Constitution. This extraordinary power must be sparingly exercised only where the public interest demands.
Original Jurisdiction—Article 131:
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in any dispute:-
- Between the Government of India and one or more States;
- Between the Government of India and any State or States on one side one or more other States on the other;
- Between two or more States.
The Supreme Court in its original jurisdiction cannot entertain any suits brought by private individuals against the Government of India. The dispute relating to the original jurisdiction of the Court must involve a question of law or fact on which the existence of legal right depends. This means that the Court has no jurisdiction in matters of political nature.
The term ‘legal right’ means a right recognized by law and capable of being enforced by the power of a State but not necessarily in a court of law.
The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, however, does not extend to the following matters:
- Article 131 of the Constitution says, that, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or other similar instrument which was executed before the commencement of the Constitution and continues to be in operation or which provides that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall not extend to such a dispute.
- Under Article 264 Parliament may by law exclude the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in disputes with respect to the use, distribution or control of the water of any inter-State river or river-valley.
- Matters referred to the Finance Commission (Article 280
- The adjustment of certain expenses between the Union and the State (Article 290).
Appellate Jurisdiction—Article 132:
The Supreme Court is the highest Court of Appeal in the country. The writ and decrees of the Court run throughout the country. It can be truly said that the jurisdiction and powers of the Supreme Court in their nature and extent are wider than those exercised by the High Courts of any country in the Commonwealth or by the Supreme Court of the U.S.A.
The Appellate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can be divided into four main categories:-
- Constitutional matters,
- Civil matters,
- Criminal matters,
- Special leave to appeal.
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Power of the Supreme Court to withdraw and transfer cases –article 139-A:
Article 139-A (1) provides that if on an application made by the Attorney-General of India or by a party or on its own motion the Supreme Court is satisfied that cases involving the same or substantially the same question of law are pending before the supreme Court and one or more High Courts or before two or more High Courts and that such questions are substantially question of general importance, it may withdraw them and dispose them itself. It may after disposing of the said question of law return any case to the High Court with a copy of its judgment and then the High Court will dispose of the case in accordance with such judgment.
Clause (2) of Article 139-A empowers the Supreme Court to transfer cases, appeals or other proceedings from any High Court to another High Court it thinks it expedient to do so for the end of justice.
Advisory Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court—Article 143:
Article 143 provides that if at any time it appears to the President that—(a) a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise, and (b) the question is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer the question for the Advisory opinion of the Court and the Court may after such hearing as it thinks fit, report to the President its opinion thereon.
Under clause (2), if the President refers to the Supreme Court matters which are excluded from its jurisdiction under the provision to Article 131, the Court shall be bound to give its opinion there on.
Law declared by the Supreme Court to be binding on all courts—Article 141:
The judgment of the Supreme Court will be binding on all courts in India. The expression “all courts, within the territory of India” clearly means courts other than the Supreme Court. Thus the Supreme Court is not bound by its own decisions and may in proper case reverse its previous decisions.
Jurisdiction of the High Courts:
A Court of Record:-
Article 215 declares that every High Court shall be a Court of Record and shall have all powers of such a court including the power to punish to punish for its contempt. The scope and nature of the power of High Court under this Article is similar to the powers of the Supreme Court under Article 129.
Article 225 says that subject to the provisions of the Constitution and to the provision of any law of the appropriate Legislature (a) the jurisdiction of the High Court, (b) the law administered in the existing High Court, (c) the powers of the judges in relation to the administration of justice in the courts, (d) the power to make rule of the High Court shall be the same as immediately before the commencement of this Constitution. Thus the pre-Constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court is preserved by the Constitution.
Article 225 thus gives jurisdiction over revenue matters. In pre-Constitution period the decisions of the Privy Council were binding on all the High Courts under Section 212 of the Government of India Act. The effect of the present Article is the same and they are still binding on the High Courts unless it is reversed by the Supreme Court or by a law of the appropriate legislature.
This means that the jurisdiction and powers of the High Courts can be changed both by the Union Parliament and the State Legislatures.
Power of superintendence over all courts by the High Courts:
Under Article 227 every High Court has the power of the superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territory in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction. For this purpose, the High Court may call returns from them, make and issue general rules and prescribe forms for regulating the practice and proceedings of such courts and prescribe forms in which books, entries and accounts are to be kept by the officers of such courts, and settle table of fees to be given to the sheriff, clerks, attorneys, advocates and pleaders.
However this power has given for superintendence of High Court does not extend over any Court or Tribunal constituted by law relating to the Armed Forces.
Transfer of certain cases to High Courts:
Under 228 the High Court has power to withdraw a case from a subordinate Court, if it satisfied that a case pending in a subordinate Court involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. It may then either dispose of the case itself or may determine the said question of law and return the case to the subordinate Court with a copy of its judgment. The subordinate Court will then decide the case in conformity with the High Court’s judgment.
Writ Jurisdiction of the High Court (Article 226):
Article 226 provides that not withstanding anything in Article 32 every High Court shall have power, throughout the territorial limits in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction to issue to any person or authority including the appropriate cases, any government, within those territories, directions, orders of writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari or any of them –(a) for the enforcement of fundamental rights conferred by Part III, and (b) for ‘any other purpose’.
Thus the jurisdiction of a High Court is not limited to the protection of the fundamental rights but also other legal rights as is clear from the words “any other purpose”. Those words make the jurisdiction of the High Court more extensive than that of the Supreme Court which is confined to only for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
The words “for any other purpose”, refer to enforcement of a legal right or legal duty. They do not mean that a High Court can issue writs for any purpose it pleases.
Extension of jurisdiction of High Court:
Under article 230, Parliament can by law extend or exclude jurisdiction of a high Court over any Union Territory. The Legislature of a State cannot increase, restrict or abolish the jurisdiction.
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