Jurisdiction And Powers Of The Supreme Court Of India

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Index

  1. Introduction 
  2. Evolution And Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Of India
  3. Original Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 131
  4. Original Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court In Fundamental Rights Enforcement
  5. Advisory Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 143
  6. Appellate Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 132
  7. Appeals In Constitutional Matters To The Supreme Court
  8. The Supreme Court’s Review Jurisdiction under Article 137
  9. The Supreme Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction And Powers
  10. The Supreme Court’s Special Leave Petition And Extraordinary Jurisdiction
  11. Epistolary Jurisdiction: Access To Justice Through Letters
  12. Powers And Functions Of The Supreme Court Of India
  13. Unique Provisions Of Article 262: Parliament’s Authority Over Interstate Water Disputes
  14. Conclusion 

Introduction 

The Supreme Court of India is the highest constitutional court and the final court of appeal. To fulfil its vital role, it has been granted extensive jurisdiction. The Court hears appeals from lower court orders, interprets and upholds the Constitution, protects citizens’ fundamental rights, and resolves disputes between states.

Since its inception in 1950, when it inherited the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, the practices and procedures of the Supreme Court have evolved significantly. It is often regarded as the most powerful national court in the world.

Evolution And Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Of India

The origins of the Supreme Court of India can be traced back to the Government of India Act, 1935, which established the Federal Court. The Federal Court was responsible for adjudicating disputes between federal states and provinces and was also empowered to hear appeals from High Courts. Appeals to the Federal Court from High Court judgments required a certification that the matter involved substantial questions of law.

However, the Federal Court could only issue declaratory judgments, meaning it could declare the law but not enforce its decisions.

The jurisdiction and powers of the Supreme Court are similar to those of the Federal Court, but they have expanded in certain areas. For instance, the Government of India Act did not empower the Federal Court to entertain special leave petitions. Without a High Court certificate indicating substantial legal questions, appeals could not be made to the Federal Court.

Original Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 131

Original jurisdiction refers to a court’s authority to hear and decide on a case as the first instance court.

Article 131 of the Indian Constitution outlines the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. It states that the Court has the authority to exercise original jurisdiction.

Article 131 of the Indian Constitution grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in specific types of disputes:

  1. Disputes between the Union Government and one or more states.
  2. Disputes where the Union Government and one or more states are on one side, and one or more states are on the other.
  3. Disputes between two or more states.

These disputes must involve substantial legal questions. This provision ensures that only the Supreme Court can adjudicate such disputes, reflecting the framers’ intention to resolve these issues conclusively at the highest federal court.

However, Article 131 includes a provision allowing the exclusion of Supreme Court jurisdiction through treaties, agreements, or similar instruments. This provision aligns with Section 204 of the Government of India Act, 1935.

Furthermore, Article 131 scope is subject to other constitutional provisions. For example, disputes regarding inter-state river waters fall under Article 262, and the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction can also be influenced by presidential recommendations to the Finance Commission as per Article 280.

Additionally, Section 25 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, empowers the Supreme Court to transfer matters between High Courts or civil courts of different states.

Original Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court In Fundamental Rights Enforcement

The Supreme Court possesses original jurisdiction concerning the enforcement of individuals’ fundamental rights. Any person can approach the Court for redressal in cases of fundamental rights violations, with the Court empowered to issue appropriate writs.

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Article 32 guarantees a remedy for fundamental rights enforcement, making the right to invoke the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction for this purpose a fundamental right in itself under Part III.

In cases where a matter of public importance is pending before multiple High Courts or the Apex Court and one or more High Courts, the Supreme Court can withdraw and dispose of the matter itself.

Article 139A allows the Supreme Court to withdraw and decide matters involving substantial questions of law pending simultaneously before the Apex Court and High Courts or multiple High Courts.

It’s crucial to note that the Court’s original jurisdiction in fundamental rights enforcement is appellate and concurrent, not exhaustive. This ensures citizens have remedies beyond approaching the Supreme Court alone for fundamental rights violations.

Furthermore, Article 138 permits Parliament to confer original jurisdiction on the Supreme Court through legislation. For instance, the Court is empowered to initiate international commercial arbitration under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

The writ of habeas corpus is a legal remedy ordering the production of a detainee before the Court to determine the legality of their detention. The 44th Constitutional Amendment ensures that even during a state of emergency, Article 21 protecting the right to life and personal liberty cannot be suspended, allowing the effective issuance of habeas corpus writs. However, habeas corpus cannot be used to release someone imprisoned by a court after being found guilty of a crime, nor can it interfere with contempt proceedings initiated by Parliament or a court.

The writ of Quo Warranto issued by a court to a public officer, demands an explanation for their actions and the authority behind them. The officer must demonstrate the legitimacy of their office and the powers they exercise. Typically directed at executive officers in public offices, it’s important to highlight that a writ of quo warranto does not apply to private offices.

The Court issues a writ of Mandamus to compel a public official to fulfil their public duty. However, this writ is not applicable to private individuals, Chief Justices of High Courts, the President of India, or Governors of states.

This writ is issued by the Court to stop a subordinate court from overstepping its jurisdiction or acting against the law. It is utilised when a subordinate court attempts to hear a case beyond its lawful authority.

The Court can issue a writ of certiorari when a Subordinate Court decides a matter beyond its jurisdiction or in violation of natural justice principles, allowing it to overturn or nullify the incorrect decision.

Advisory Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 143

Article 143 grants advisory jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, allowing the President to seek the Court’s opinion on any question of law or fact deemed of public importance. This provision, similar to original jurisdiction, traces its origin to the Government of India Act, 1935, specifically Section 213(1) regarding the advisory jurisdiction of the Federal Court.

It’s crucial to note that the Court’s advisory jurisdiction is non-binding, the opinions rendered are not orders or decrees but rather guidance offered to the President or Government. To date, the President has referred 13 matters to the Supreme Court under Article 143.

Appellate Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court Under Article 132

Article 132 outlines the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction, allowing it to hear appeals from High Courts’ judgments, decrees, or final orders if the High Court certifies that a substantial question of law is involved.

Under Article 133, appeals can be made to the Supreme Court from High Court judgments, decrees, or final orders when the High Court determines that a substantial question of law is at stake and requires resolution by the Apex Court. The Constitution (Thirtieth) Amendment Act, 1972, removed the previous financial limit of Rs. 20,000 for civil matters appealable to the Supreme Court.

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Article 134 allows appeals from High Court judgments, sentences, or final orders in criminal proceedings to be brought before the Supreme Court, provided the High Court certifies the matter as fit for appeal. In criminal cases, appeals to the Supreme Court are contingent upon the High Court’s endorsement through a certificate. It’s important to note that the Supreme Court has discretion over whether to permit review petitions based on the High Court’s certificate. If the Supreme Court rejects the High Court’s certificate, the appellant may be allowed to file a special leave petition under Article 136.

Appeals In Constitutional Matters To The Supreme Court

Appeals from High Court decisions in constitutional matters can be brought before the Supreme Court if the High Court certifies that the case involves a substantial legal question related to Constitution interpretation. The Supreme Court also considers special leave petitions concerning constitutional matters in many instances.

It’s worth noting that when a single judge bench of a High Court issues an order, the aggrieved party has the discretion to choose between appealing to the Supreme Court or filing a revision application before a larger bench of the same High Court.

The Supreme Court’s Review Jurisdiction under Article 137

Article 137 of the Constitution grants the Supreme Court the authority to review its own judgments and orders. This review jurisdiction is further outlined in Part VIII, Order XL, of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966.

A review application must be filed within 30 days of the concerned judgment, accompanied by certification from an advocate on record.

The review process is discretionary and may be refused by the court. Typically, the court exercises this jurisdiction when errors leading to a miscarriage of justice are discovered post-judgment or when new material evidence is found that was previously unavailable despite diligent efforts. Trivial errors do not warrant review.

The Supreme Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction And Powers

The Supreme Court of India possesses inherent jurisdiction as per Article 71 of the Constitution, specifically for disputes concerning the election of the President or Vice President.

Additionally, under Article 129, the Court has authority to punish for contempt, whether initiated suo moto or upon recommendation by legal officers. Individuals also have the right to file contempt petitions.

In the case of Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat (1991), the Supreme Court affirmed its power to punish contempt, extending to subordinate courts. It also clarified its supervisory jurisdiction over all courts and tribunals in India, including the ability to grant appeals from their orders.

The Supreme Court’s Special Leave Petition And Extraordinary Jurisdiction

The Constitution does not outline specific conditions for filing a special leave petition, granting the Supreme Court discretion to entertain appeals under Article 136.

The Supreme Court utilizes its extraordinary jurisdiction in rare cases involving procedural irregularities or violations of natural justice leading to severe miscarriages of justice. It’s crucial to understand that filing a special leave petition is at the discretion of the Court and not a guaranteed right. Additionally, such petitions can challenge both final and interlocutory orders from any court or tribunal.

The Supreme Court’s extraordinary jurisdiction encompasses the ability to hear Public Interest Litigation (PIL). PIL allows any socially conscious individual to file a petition to protect public interest.

The core objective of public interest litigation is to ensure justice for marginalized and disadvantaged segments of society. A PIL can be initiated in the Supreme Court by an individual or a collective representing the broader societal interests.

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Epistolary Jurisdiction: Access To Justice Through Letters

Epistolary jurisdiction, a vital component of public interest litigation (PIL), involves the process of writing a letter to a judge seeking justice. This approach allows the court to treat the letter as a writ petition, bypassing formal procedural requirements and ensuring access to justice for marginalized communities.

Letters received from the public are presented to judges appointed by the Chief Justice of India. Epistolary jurisdiction relaxes strict norms like locus standi, leading to a rise in the number of letter petitions received by the Supreme Court. Awareness and understanding of public interest litigation and epistolary jurisdiction have also increased significantly in recent years.

Powers And Functions Of The Supreme Court Of India

The Supreme Court of India holds the authority to interpret the Constitution, with its interpretations being final. Article 141 of the Constitution gives binding force to the laws declared by the Court, and its judgments carry precedential value for similar legal questions. Even ex-parte decisions of the Court are binding on subordinate courts, emphasizing the comprehensive nature of its rulings.

The Court establishes its own rules and procedures, and judges are appointed based on recommendations from the Court’s collegium. Additionally, the Supreme Court wields the power of judicial review, enabling it to scrutinize legislative laws for constitutional compliance. Article 137 further grants the Court the ability to review its own judgments and orders, ensuring legal integrity.

As the guardian of fundamental rights, the Supreme Court safeguards citizens’ rights and can issue writs for their enforcement. Moreover, the Court has the authority to punish individuals who defy its orders or engage in contemptuous behavior towards the judiciary. The power to punish for contempt is delineated under Article 129, reinforcing the Court’s role in upholding the rule of law.

Unique Provisions Of Article 262: Parliament’s Authority Over Interstate Water Disputes

Article 262 of the Indian Constitution holds a distinctive role by granting Parliament the exclusive power to exclude the jurisdiction of all courts, including the Supreme Court, regarding disputes concerning the control, distribution, or utilization of water from inter-state rivers or valleys. Parliament is authorized to determine the procedure for resolving such disputes and can pass laws to exclude the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over them.

In line with this constitutional provision, Parliament enacted the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956, which prevents the Supreme Court from adjudicating interstate river disputes directly. Instead, these disputes are to be resolved by tribunals established by the Central Government, and their decisions are deemed final and binding on the concerned parties. However, parties retain the right to appeal tribunal decisions by filing special leave petitions in the Supreme Court, leading to a nuanced situation where Article 262 grants jurisdiction while concurrently limiting it.

Conclusion 

The Supreme Court, positioned at the apex of India’s judicial hierarchy, holds extensive jurisdiction pivotal for upholding the nation’s rule of law and overseeing governmental actions. Initially inheriting jurisdiction from the Federal Court and Privy Council, Parliament retains the power to augment the Court’s jurisdiction but cannot diminish its inherent authority.

Over the years, the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction has expanded notably, particularly with the advent of public interest litigation (PIL). This widened jurisdiction ensures accessibility to justice for all, including marginalized communities. PIL has facilitated the Court’s involvement in crucial matters such as human rights, environmental protection, and social justice, showcasing its role as a guardian of fundamental rights. The Court’s epistolary jurisdiction further bolsters its capacity to safeguard these rights effectively.

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