Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

  • The Supreme Court of India is the highest judicial court and the final court of appeal under the Constitution of India, the highest constitutional court, with the power of judicial review.
  • India is a federal State and has a single and unified judicial system with a three-tier structure, i.e. Supreme Court, High Courts, and Subordinate Courts.

Brief History of the Supreme Court of India

  • The promulgation of Regulating Act of 1773 established the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta as a Court of Record, with full power & authority.
  • It was established to hear and determine all complaints for any crimes and also to entertain, hear, and determine any suits or actions in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.
  • The Supreme Courts at Madras and Bombay were established by King George – III in 1800 and 1823 respectively.
  • The India High Courts Act 1861 created High Courts for various provinces and abolished Supreme Courts at Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay and also the Sadar Adalats in Presidency towns.
  • These High Courts had the distinction of being the highest Courts for all cases till the creation of the Federal Court of India under the Government of India Act 1935.
  • The Federal Court had jurisdiction to solve disputes between provinces and federal states and hear appeals against Judgements from High Courts.
  • After India attained independence in 1947, the Constitution of India came into being on 26 January 1950. The Supreme Court of India also came into existence and its first sitting was held on 28 January 1950.
  • The law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all Courts within the territory of India.
  • It has the power of judicial review – to strike down the legislative and executive action contrary to the provisions and the scheme of the constitution, the distribution of power between Union and States, or inimical to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

What are the Constitutional Provisions?

  • The Indian constitution provides for a provision of the Supreme Court under Part V (The Union) and Chapter 6 (The Union Judiciary).
  • Articles 124 to 147 in Part V of the Constitution deal with the organization, independence, jurisdiction, powers, and procedures of the Supreme Court.
  • The Indian constitution under Article 124(1) states that there shall be a Supreme Court of India constituting of a Chief Justice of India (CJI) and, until Parliament by law prescribes a larger number, of not more than seven other Judges.
  • The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India can broadly be categorized into original jurisdiction, appellate jurisdiction, and advisory jurisdiction. However, there are other multiple powers of the Supreme Court.

Organizational Structure of the Supreme Court

  • At present, the Supreme Court consists of thirty-one judges (one chief justice and thirty other judges).
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Bill of 2019 has added four judges to strength. It increased the judicial strength from 31 to 34, including the CJI.
  • Originally, the strength of the Supreme Court was fixed at eight (one chief justice and seven other judges).
  • The Parliament is authorized to regulate them.

The Seat of the Supreme Court

  • The Constitution declares Delhi as the seat of the Supreme Court. It also authorizes the CJI to appoint other places or places as seats of the Supreme Court.
  • He can take decision in this regard only with the approval of the President. This provision is only optional and not compulsory. This means that no court can give any direction either to the President or to the Chief Justice to appoint any other place as the seat of the Supreme Court.

Appointment of Judges

  • The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President. The CJI is appointed by the President after consultation with such judges of the Supreme Court and high courts as he deems necessary.
  • The other judges are appointed by the President after consultation with the CJI and such other judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts as he deems necessary. Consultation with the chief justice is obligatory in the case of appointment of a judge other than the Chief justice.
  • Appointment of Chief Justice From 1950 to 1973: The practice has been to appoint the senior judge of the Supreme Court as the chief justice of India. This established convention was violated in 1973 when A N Ray was appointed as the Chief Justice of India by superseding three senior judges. Again in 1977, M U Beg was appointed as the chief justice of India by superseding the then senior-most judge.
  • This discretion of the government was curtailed by the Supreme Court in the Second Judges Case (1993), in which the Supreme Court ruled that the senior most judge of the Supreme Court should alone be appointed to the office of the Chief Justice of India.

 Collegium System

  • The collegium system was born through the “three judges case” and it has been in practice since 1998. It is used for appointments and transfers of judges in High courts and Supreme Courts.
  • There is no mention of the Collegium either in the original Constitution of India or in successive amendments

Who Heads the Collegium System?

  • The SC collegium is headed by the CJI (Chief Justice of India) and comprises four other senior most judges of the court.
  • A HC collegium is led by its Chief Justice and four other senior judges of that court.
  • Names recommended for appointment by an HC collegium reach the government only after approval by the CJI and the SC collegium.
  • Judges of the higher judiciary are appointed only through the collegium system and the government has a role only after names have been decided by the collegium.

Working of the Collegium System and The National Judicial Appointments Commission?

  • The collegium recommends the names of lawyers or judges to the Central Government. Similarly, the Central Government also sends some of its proposed names to the Collegium.
  • Collegium considers the names or suggestions made by the Central Government and resends the file to the government for final approval.
  • If the Collegium resends the same name again then the government has to give its assent to the names. But the time limit is not fixed to reply. This is the reason that the appointment of judges takes a long time.
  • Through the 99th Constitutional Amendment Act, of 2014 the National Judicial Commission Act (NJAC) was established to replace the collegium system for the appointment of judges.
  • However, the Supreme Court upheld the collegium system and struck down the NJAC as unconstitutional on the grounds that the involvement of the Political Executive in judicial appointment was against the “Principles of Basic Structure”. I.e. the “Independence of Judiciary”.

Qualifications Required for the Appointment of Judges?

  • A person to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court should have the following qualifications:
    • He should be a citizen of India.
    • He should have been a judge of a High Court (or high courts in succession) for five years; or
    • He should have been an advocate of a High Court (or High Courts in succession) for ten years;
    • He should be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the president.
  • The Constitution has not prescribed a minimum age for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

What are the Oaths or Affirmations?

A person appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court, before entering upon his office, has to make and subscribe to an oath or affirmation before the President, or some other person appointed by him for this purpose. In his oath, a judge of the Supreme Court swears:

  • to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India;
  • to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India;
  • to duly and faithfully and to the best of his ability, knowledge, and judgment to perform the duties of the Office without fear or favor, affection or ill-will; and
  • to uphold the Constitution and the laws.

What is the Tenure of Judges?

The Constitution has not fixed the tenure of a judge of the Supreme Court. However, it makes the following three provisions in this regard:

  • He holds office until he attains the age of 65 years. Any question regarding his age is to be determined by such authority and in such manner as provided by Parliament.
  • He can resign his office by writing to the President.
  • He can be removed from his office by the President on the recommendation of the Parliament.

How does the Removal of Judges take place?

  • A judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from his office by an order of the President. The President can issue the removal order only after an address by Parliament has been presented to him in the same session for such removal.
  • The address must be supported by a special majority of each House of Parliament (ie, a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting). The grounds of removal are two—proven misbehaviour or incapacity.
  • The Judges Enquiry Act (1968) regulates the procedure relating to the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court by the process of impeachment:
  • No judge of the Supreme Court has been impeached so far. Impeachment motions of Justice V Ramaswami (1991–1993) and Justice Dipak Misra (2017-18) were defeated in the Parliament.

How are Salaries and Allowances Determined?

  • The salaries, allowances, privileges, leave, and pension of the judges of the Supreme Court are determined from time to time by the Parliament. They cannot be varied to their disadvantage after their appointment except during a financial emergency.
  • In 2021, the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill seeks to amend the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, of 1954, and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, of 1958.

Why SC should be independent?

  • The Supreme Court is a Federal court, the highest court of appeal, the guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens, and the guardian of the Constitution.
  • Therefore, its independence becomes very essential for the effective discharge of the duties assigned to it. It should be free from the encroachments, pressures, and interferences of the executive (council of ministers) and the Legislature (Parliament). It should be allowed to do justice without fear or favor.
  • The Constitution has made the following provisions to safeguard and ensure the independent and impartial functioning of the Supreme Court:
    • Mode of appointment
    • Security of tenure
    • Fixed service conditions
    • Expenses charged on the consolidated fund
    • The conduct of judges cannot be discussed
    • Ban on practice after retirement
    • Power to punish for its contempt
    • Freedom to appoint its staff
    • Its jurisdiction cannot be curtailed
    • Separation from Executive

Jurisdiction and Powers of the Supreme Court

What is Original Jurisdiction?

  • As a Federal court, the Supreme Court decides disputes between different units of the Indian Federation. More elaborately, any dispute between:
    • the Centre and one or more states; or
    • the Centre and any state or states on one side and one or more states on the other; or
    • between two or more states.
  • In the above federal disputes, the Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction.
  • Further, this jurisdiction of the Supreme Court does not extend to the following:
    • A dispute arising out of any pre-Constitution treaty, agreement, covenant,
    • engagement, sanad, or other similar instruments.
    • A dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, etc., which specifically provides that the said jurisdiction does not extend to such a dispute.
    • Inter-state water disputes.
    • Matters referred to the Finance Commission.
    • Adjustment of certain expenses and pensions between the Centre and the states.
    • Ordinary dispute of a Commercial nature between the Centre and the states.
    • Recovery of damages by a state against the Centre.

What is Writ Jurisdiction?

  • The Supreme Court is empowered to issue writs, including habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo-warranto, and certiorari for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of an aggrieved citizen.
  • In this regard, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in the sense that an aggrieved citizen can go directly to the Supreme Court, not necessarily by way of appeal.
  • However, the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is not exclusive. The High Courts are also empowered to issue writs for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights.

What is Appellate Jurisdiction?

The Supreme Court is primarily a court of appeal and hears appeals against the judgments of the lower courts. It enjoys a wide appellate jurisdiction which can be classified under four heads:

  • Appeals in constitutional matters
  • Appeals in civil matters
  • Appeals in criminal matters
  • Appeals by special leave

What is Advisory Jurisdiction?

The Constitution under Article 143 authorizes the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court in the two categories of matters:

  • On any question of law or fact of public importance which has arisen or which is likely to arise.
  • On any dispute arising out of any pre-constitution treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanador other similar instruments.

Court of Record:

As a Court of Record, the Supreme Court has two powers:

  • The judgments, proceedings, and acts of the Supreme Court are recorded for perpetual memory and testimony. These records are admitted to be of evidentiary value and cannot be questioned when produced before any court.
  • They are recognized as legal precedents and legal references.
  • It has the power to punish contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term of up to six months or with a fine of up to 2,000 or with both.

Power of Judicial Review:

  • Judicial review is the power of the Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of legislative enactments and executive orders of both the Central and state governments.
  • On examination, if they are found to be violative of the Constitution (ultra-vires), they can be declared illegal, unconstitutional, and invalid (null and void) by the Supreme Court. Consequently, they cannot be enforced by the Government.

Related Links:

Collegium SystemMost Important Supreme Court Judgements
Supreme Court Verdict on Article 370International Court of Justice (ICJ)