The Supreme Court is the highest judicial forum in India established under Article 124 of the Constitution. Supreme Court has the following types of jurisdictions
(1) Original Jurisdiction – Supreme Court enjoys original jurisdiction in disputes between the Centre and one or more of the states and dispute between the states. (Article 131)
(2) Appellate Jurisdiction – It hears appeals in civil and criminal cases from the High Courts. (Article 133, 134 and 136)
(3) Advisory Jurisdiction – The President of India can refer any question of law or fact which is of substantial public importance to the Supreme Court for its opinion. However, the Supreme Court is free to decline to express its opinion on the matter. (Article 143)
(4) Writ Jurisdiction – Article 32 allows Supreme Court to issue writs for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
- Initially, the maximum strength of judges in the Supreme Court was seven. At present, the maximum strength of judges in the Supreme Court is 31 (30 judges + 1 Chief Justice of India).
- The retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court is 65 years.
- The Constitution provides that the Supreme Court would be a ‘Court of Record’ i.e. there is a record of all proceedings in these courts and these courts have the power to punish for contempt of itself. (Article 129)
- Article 214 of the Constitution provides that there will be a High Court for each state. However, Article 231 allows the Parliament to establish a common High Court for two or more States.
- As of January 2016, there are 24 High Courts in India. Bombay, Madras and Calcutta High Courts were formed under Charters of the British Government in the Presidency towns. The Calcutta High Court, established in 1862 is the oldest High Court of India.
- The High Courts in the state of Tripura, Manipur and Meghalaya are the newest High Courts which were constituted in 2013.
- Guwahati High Court has the jurisdiction over the maximum number of states (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura)
- Bombay High Court’s jurisdiction extends to territories of Maharashtra, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Goa, Daman and Diu. Similarly, Calcutta High Court has jurisdiction over West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- The retirement age for judges of the High Court is 62 years.
- There is no maximum, sanctioned strength of the High Court under the Constitution and the number varies from state to state.
- The Constitution establishes High Courts as ‘Courts of Record’ i.e. there is a record of all proceedings in these courts and these courts have the power to punish for contempt of itself.
- The High Courts have appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases from their subordinate courts. In certain states, High Court also enjoys original jurisdiction if a high amount is involved in the suit. Article 226 provides that High Court can issue writs for ‘enforcement of fundamental rights or for any other purpose.’ The writ jurisdiction of the High Court (Article 226) is broader than the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (Article 32) because High Court can issue writs not just for violation of fundamental rights but also for ‘any other purpose.’
Types of Writs
Supreme Court and High Courts can issue 5 kinds of writs
- Habeas Corpus – (literal meaning: ‘to have a body’) The Court issues this writ when a person has been detailed or imprisoned unlawfully. This writ can also be issued to private persons.
- Mandamus – (meaning: to command) This writ can be issued against a public authority or officer directing them to do or not to do something, in the nature of public duty.
- Prohibition – This writ is issued to a lower court or quasi-judicial body to prevent the lower court from exceeding its jurisdiction.
- Certiorari – It is issued to a judicial or quasi-judicial body to quash the order of the lower court if the court has exceeded its jurisdiction. It differs from Prohibition to the extent that Certiorari is issued after an order has been issued, in order to quash the order. Prohibition is more pre-emptive in nature.
- Quo-Warranto – It can be issued to a person holding a public office if he is not qualified to hold that office.
Notable Judges of Supreme Court & High Court
- First Chief Justice of India – Justice Hiralal Kania
- 46th Chief Justice – Ranjan Gogoi (present)
- First female to become the judge of the Supreme Court in India – Justice Fathima Beevi
- First Female Chief Justice of a High Court in India – Justice Leela Seth of Himachal Pradesh High Court
- As of January 1, 2016, there is only one female judge in the Supreme Court – Justice R. Bhanumathi. Till date, six females have served as judges of Supreme Court of India. These are Justice R Bhanumathi, Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, Justice Ruma Pal, Justice Ranjana Desai, Justice Sujatha Manohar and Justice Fathima Beevi
- Justice Kuldip Singh who served as a judge in the Supreme Court is popularly known as the ‘Green Judge.’
- Chief Justice of India acts as the President in the absence of both the President and the Vice- President. Till date, Justice Hidayatullah is the only Chief Justice of India who has acted as the President. He had acted as the President following the death of President Zakir Hussain, and resignation of Vice-President V.V. Giri in 1969.
Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts
- In order to be eligible to become a Judge at the Supreme Court, a person has to be an Indian citizen. Additionally, he/she has to be a distinguished jurist or should have worked as a High Court judge for 5 years or should have been an Advocate of a High Court for more than 10 years. (Article 124)
- The Constitution states that President appoints the Chief Justice of India. The other judges are appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (Article 124). However, in 1993, a judgment of the Supreme Court devised a new system for appointment of judges wherein a collegium comprising of the Chief Justice of India and the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court recommend appointments and transfers of judges. This system was popularly known as the ‘collegium system’ of appointment of judges. In 2014, The Parliament passed the 99th Constitutional Amendment to establish the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) as a constitutional body to appoint judges to the higher judiciary. It was supposed to replace the existing collegium system of appointing judges. However, in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the 99th Constitutional Amendment on the ground that it runs counter to the principle of independence of judiciary and violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
Removal of Judges
A judge of the Supreme Court or High Court can be removed only on the grounds of (i) Proven misbehavior or (ii) Incapacity to act as a judge (Article 124). A judge can be removed only by an order of the President, after an address by each House of Parliament, supported by a majority of the total members of the House and by a majority of not less than 2/3rds of the members present and voting.
Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached, though motions of impeachment were proposed in three instances.
A motion to remove Justice V Ramaswami was initiated in the Lok Sabha in 1993 but it failed to get the requisite majority in the House.
A motion was initiated to remove Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court in 2011. The motion was passed in the Rajya Sabha with the requisite majority. However, Justice Sen resigned as Judge of the Calcutta High Court before his impeachment proceedings could begin in the Lok Sabha.
In 2010, when impeachment proceedings were going to be initiated against Justice Dinakaran, Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, he resigned before the Inquiry Committee could finish its investigation and submit its report.