Independence of the Judiciary
Many provisions are provided in our constitution to ensure the independence of the judiciary. The constitutional provisions are discussed below:
Security of Tenure:
The judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have been given the security of the tenure. Once appointed, they continue to remain in office till they reach the age of retirement which is 65 years in the case of judges of Supreme Court (Art. 124(2)) and 62 years in the case of judges of the High Courts (Art. 217(1)).
They cannot be removed from the office except by an order of the President and that too on the ground of proven misbehavior and incapacity. A resolution has also to be accepted to that effect by a majority of total membership of each House of Parliament and also by a majority of no less than two third of the members of the house present and voting. Procedure is so complicated that there has been no case of the removal of a Judge of Supreme Court or High Court under this provision.
Salaries and Allowances:
The salaries and allowances of the judges is also a factor which makes the judges independent as their salaries and allowances are fixed and are not subject to a vote of the legislature.
They are charged on the Consolidated Fund of India in case of Supreme Court judges and the Consolidated Fund of state in the case of High Court judges. Their emoluments cannot be altered to their disadvantage (Art. 125(2)) except in the event of grave financial emergency.
Powers and Jurisdiction of Supreme Court:
Parliament can only add to the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court but cannot curtail them. In the civil cases, Parliament may change the pecuniary limit for the appeals to the Supreme Court. Parliament may enhance the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
It may confer the supplementary powers on the Supreme Court to enable it work more effectively. It may confer power to issue directions, orders or writs for any purpose other than those mentioned in Art. 32. Powers of the Supreme Court cannot be taken away.
Making judiciary independent:
No discussion on conduct of Judge in State Legislature / Parliament: Art. 211 provides that there shall be no discussion in the legislature of the state with respect to the conduct of any judge of Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties.
A similar provision is made in Art. 121 which lays down that no discussion shall take place in Parliament with respect to the conduct of the judge of Supreme Court or High Court in the discharge of his duties except upon a motion for presenting an address to the President praying for the removal of the judge.
Power to punish for contempt:
Both the Supreme Court and the High Court have the power to punish any person for their contempt. Art. 129 provides that the Supreme Court shall have the power to punish for contempt of itself. Likewise, Art. 215 lays down that every High Court shall have the power to punish for contempt of itself.
Separation of the Judiciary from the Executive:
Article 50 contains one of the Directive Principles of State Policy and lays down that the state shall take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the state. The object behind the Directive Principle is to secure the independence of the judiciary from the executive. Art. 50 says that there shall be a separate judicial service free from executive control.
Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
| The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. Its exclusive original jurisdiction extends to any dispute between the Government of India and one or more States or between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more States on the other or between two or more States, if and insofar as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or of fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends.
In addition, Article 32 of the Constitution gives an extensive original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court in regard to enforcement of Fundamental Rights. It is empowered to issue directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari to enforce them.
The Supreme Court has been conferred with power to direct transfer of any civil or criminal case from one State High Court to another State High Court or from a Court subordinate to another State High Court.
The Supreme Court, if satisfied that cases involving the same or substantially the same questions of law are pending before it and one or more High Courts or before two or more High Courts and that such questions are substantial questions of general importance, may withdraw a case or cases pending before the High Court or High Courts and dispose of all such cases itself. Under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, International Commercial Arbitration can also be initiated in the Supreme Court.
The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can be invoked by a certificate granted by the High Court concerned under Article 132(1), 133(1) or 134 of the Constitution in respect of any judgement, decree or final order of a High Court in both civil and criminal cases, involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. Appeals also lie to the Supreme Court in civil matters if the High Court concerned certifies :
(a) that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance, and (b) that, in the opinion of the High Court,
the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.
In criminal cases, an appeal lies to the Supreme Court if the High Court:
(a) Has on appeal reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or
(b) Has withdrawn for trial before itself any case from any Court subordinate to its authority and has in such trial convicted the accused and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or
(c) Certified that the case is a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Parliament is authorised to confer on the Supreme Court any further powers to entertain and hear appeals from any judgement, final order or sentence in a criminal proceeding of a High Court.
The Supreme Court has also a very wide appellate jurisdiction over all Courts and Tribunals in India in as much as it may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or Tribunal in the territory of India.
The Supreme Court has special advisory jurisdiction in matters which may specifically be referred to it by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution.
There are provisions for reference or appeal to this Court under Article 317(1) of the Constitution, Section 257 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, Section 7(2) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, Section 130-A of the Customs Act, 1962, Section 35-H of the Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944 and Section 82C of the Gold (Control) Act, 1968. Appeals also lie to the Supreme Court under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, Advocates Act, 1961, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Customs Act, 1962, Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944, Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1970, Trial of Offences Relating to Transactions in Securities Act, 1992, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Election Petitions under Part III of the Presidential and Vice Presidential Elections Act, 1952 are also filed directly in the Supreme Court.
Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution the Supreme Court has been vested with power to punish for contempt of Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself. In case of contempt other than the contempt referred to in Rule 2, Part-I of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975, the Court may take action
(a) Suo motu, or
(b) on a petition made by Attorney General, or Solicitor General, or
(c) on a petition made by any person,
and in the case of a criminal contempt with the consent in writing of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General.
Under Order XL of the Supreme Court Rules the Supreme Court may review its judgment or order but no application for review is to be entertained in a civil proceeding except on the grounds mentioned in Order XLVII, Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure and in a criminal proceeding except on the ground of an error apparent on the face of the record.
Public Interest Litigation
Although the proceedings in the Supreme Court arise out of the judgments or orders made by the Subordinate Courts including the High Courts, but of late the Supreme Court has started entertaining matters in which interest of the public at large is involved and the Court can be moved by any individual or group of persons either by filing a Writ Petition at the Filing Counter of the Court or by addressing a letter to Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India highlighting the question of public importance for invoking this jurisdiction.
Such concept is popularly known as ‘Public Interest Litigation’ and several matters of public importance have become landmark cases. This concept is unique to the Supreme Court of India only and perhaps no other Court in the world has been exercising this extraordinary jurisdiction.
A Writ Petition filed at the Filing Counter is dealt with like any other Writ Petition and processed as such. In case of a letter addressed to the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India the same is dealt with in accordance with the guidelines framed for the purpose.
Provision of Legal Aid
If a person belongs to the poor section of the society having annual income of less than Rs. 18,000/- or belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, a victim of natural calamity, is a woman or a child or a mentally ill or otherwise disabled person or an industrial workman, or is in custody including custody in protective home, he/she is entitled to get free legal aid from the Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee.
The aid so granted by the Committee includes cost of preparation of the matter and all applications connected therewith, in addition to providing an Advocate for preparing and arguing the case. Any person desirous of availing legal service through the Committee has to make an application to the Secretary and hand over all necessary documents concerning his case to it. The Committee after ascertaining the eligibility of the person provides necessary legal aid to him/her.
Persons belonging to middle income group i.e. with income above Rs. 18,000/- but under Rs. 1,20,000/- per annum are eligible to get legal aid from the Supreme Court Middle Income Group Society, on nominal payments.
If a petition is received from the jail or in any other criminal matter if the accused is unrepresented then an Advocate is appointed as amicus curiae by the Court to defend and argue the case of the accused.
In civil matters also the Court can appoint an Advocate as amicus curiae if it thinks it necessary in case of an unrepresented party; the Court can also appoint amicus curiae in any matter of general public importance or in which the interest of the public at large is involved.
The High Court stands at the head of a State’s judicial administration. There are 24 High Courts in the country, three having jurisdiction over more than one State. Among the Union Territories Delhi alone has a High Court of its own.
Other six Union Territories come under the jurisdiction of different State High Courts. Each High Court comprises of a Chief Justice and such other Judges as the President may, from time to time, appoint.
The Chief Justice of a High Court is appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Governor of the State.
The procedure for appointing puisne Judges is the same except that the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned is also consulted. They hold office until the age of 62 years and are removable in the same manner as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
To be eligible for appointment as a Judge one must be a citizen of India and have held a judicial office in India for ten years or must have practised as an Adovcate of a High Court or two or more such Courts in succession for a similar period.
Each High Court has power to issue to any person within its jurisdiction directions, orders, or writs including writs which are in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari for enforcement of Fundamental Rights and for any other purpose.
Lok Adalats which are voluntary agencies are monitored by the State Legal Aid and Advice Boards. They have proved to be a successful alternative forum for resolving of disputes through the conciliatory method.
The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides statutory status to the legal aid movement and it also provides for setting up of Legal Services Authorities at the Central, State and District levels.
These authorities will have their own funds. Further, Lok Adalats which are at present informal agencies will acquire statutory status. Every award of Lok Adalats shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or order of a Tribunal and shall be final and binding on the parties to the dispute. It also provides that in respect of cases decided at a Lok Adalat, the court fee paid by the parties will be refunded.
In post-independence India, the inclusion of explicit provisions for‘ judicial review’ were necessary in order to give effect to the individual and group rights guaranteed in the text of the Constitution.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who chaired the drafting committee of our Constituent Assembly, had described the provision related to the same as the ‘heart of the Constitution’.
Article 13(2) of the Constitution of India prescribes that the Union or the States shall not make any law that takes away or abridges any of the fundamental rights, and any law made in contravention of the aforementioned mandate shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void.
While judicial review over administrative action has evolved on the lines of common law doctrines such as ‘proportionality’, ‘legitimate expectation’, ‘reasonableness’ and principles of natural justice, the Supreme Court of India and the various High Courts were given the power to rule on the constitutionality of legislative as well as administrative actions to protect and enforce the fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution.
The higher courts are also approached to rule on questions of legislative competence, mostly in the context of Centre-State relations since Article 246 of the Constitution read with the 7th schedule, contemplates a clear demarcation as well as a zone of intersection between the law-making powers of the Union Parliament and the various State Legislatures.
Hence the scope of judicial review before Indian courts has evolved in three dimensions – firstly, to ensure fairness in administrative action, secondly to protect the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of citizens and thirdly to rule on questions of legislative competence between the centre and the states.
The power of the Supreme Court of India to enforce these fundamental rights is derived from Article 32 of the Constitution. It gives citizens the right to directly approach the Supreme Court for seeking remedies against the violation of these fundamental rights.