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Indian Polity #6



  • The Supreme Court of India is decreed by Part V, Chapter IV of the Constitution
  • It was established on 28 Jan 1950
  • According to the Constitution, the role of the Supreme Court is that of a federal court, guardian of the Constitution and the highest court of appeal
  • The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction
About the Supreme Court building

  • The first home of the Supreme Court was the Chamber of Princes of the Parliament building, which had been the seat of the Federal Court of India
  • The Court moved to the present premises in 1958
  • The present premises was designed by Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar

Judges of the Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court consists of 31 judges – one Chief Justice and 30 other Justices
  • The Constitution originally provided for 7 judges in the Court. However, due to increased workloads, this number has been gradually increased, reaching 31 in 2008
  • Judges in the Supreme Court sit together in Benches to hear cases
  • A small Bench, with two to three Justices, is called a Division Bench
  • A large Bench, with five or more Justices, is called a Constitutional Bench
  • A Division Bench may refer a case up to a Constitutional Bench if desired
  • The first woman judge of the Supreme Court was Justice Fatima Beevi in 1987. However, there has been no female Chief Justice
Terms of service

  • Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President
  • Judges of the Supreme Court retire at the age of 65
  • Must be a citizen of India
  • Must have been one of the following
    • A judge of a High Court for at least 5 years
    • An advocate of a High Court for at least 10 years
    • A distinguished jurist, in the opinion of the President
Ad hoc Judges

  • Ad hoc Judges are non-Supreme Court judges who sit in the Supreme Court when there is insufficient quorum to perform the judicial duties
  • Ad hoc Judges are appointed by the Chief Justice after obtaining consent from the President
  • Serving and retired judges of the Supreme Court (and High Courts) can sit and act as ad hoc Judges of the Supreme Court
  • Only such persons can be appointed as ad hoc Judges who are qualified to be appointed as a regular Judge of the Supreme Court
The office of the Chief Justice

  • The senior most judge of the Supreme Court is appointed as the Chief Justice
  • The Chief Justice remains in office for 5 years or until retirement, whichever is earlier
  • The Chief Justice is responsible for allocation of work to other judges
  • Other judges may refer cases to him if a bench of higher strength is required
  • The Chief Justice administers the oath of office to the President
  • In the absence of the President and the Vice-President, the Chief Justice sits as the Acting President of India
  • The Chief Justice is the ex-officio Chancellor to most autonomous law schools in India
Noteworthy Chief Justices

  • The current Chief Justice (K G Balakrishnan) is the 37th Chief Justice of India. He is from Kerala
  • The first Chief Justice of India was H J Kania (1950 – 1951). Before appointment to the Supreme Court, he served as the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of India (1947 – 1950). He was from Bombay
  • The shortest tenure was for K N Singh (Nov 1991 – Dec 1991, UP)
  • The longest tenure was for Y V Chandrachud (1978 – 1985, Bombay)

  • The salaries and allowances of Judges are charged to the Consolidated Fund of India and are not subject to a vote of Parliament
  • The salaries and other service conditions of Judges cannot be changed to their disadvantage during their tenure
  • Judges can be removed only by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament passed with a two-third majority
  • Judges can be removed only on grounds of proven misbehaviour or incapacity
  • Judges are barred from practicing in any court after retirement
  • The decisions and actions of Judges cannot be criticized. Disrespect to Court authority can invite Contempt of Court proceedings
  • The conduct of Judges cannot be discussed in Parliament or state legislatures
  • The appointment of Judges does not depend on the discretion of the President. Judges are appointed by the President in consultation with other Judges of the Supreme Court, while the Chief Justice is appointed based on seniority
  • The Court enjoys complete freedom with respect to appointment of officers of the Court

  1. Original Jurisdiction
    1. Original Jurisdiction means that certain types of cases can originate with the Supreme Court only
    2. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in
      1. Disputes between the Centre and one or more states
      2. Disputes between the Centre and any state(s) on one side and one or more states on the other side
      3. Disputes between two or more states
      4. Disputes regarding the enforcement of Fundamental Rights
  2. Appellate Jurisdiction
    1. Appellate Jurisdiction means that appeals against judgements of lower courts can be referred to it
    2. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the country
    3. Three types of cases fall with appellate jurisdiction:
      1. Constitutional cases: an appeal against a High Court judgement can be made to the Supreme Court if the High Court determines that the case involves questions on the interpretation of the Constitution
      2. Civil cases: an appeal can be made in civil cases if the High Court certifies
        1. that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance, and
        2. that the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court
      3. Criminal cases: an appeal can be made in criminal cases if the High Court
        1. has reversed an acquittal and sentenced a person to death, or
        2. has taken up a case from a subordinate court and sentenced an accused to death
        3. interestingly, if the High Court reverses a conviction and orders acquittal, no appeal to the Supreme Court can be made
  3. Advisory Jurisdiction
    1. Advisory Jurisdiction refers to the process where the President seeks the Court’s advice on legal matters
    2. If the President asks for advice from the Supreme Court, the Court is duty-bound to give it. However, it not binding on the President to accept the advice

  1. Court of Record
    1. The Supreme Court is a court of record
    2. What this means is that its records are admitted to be of evidentiary value and cannot be questioned in any court
    3. As a court of record, it also enjoys the power to punish for contempt of court
  2. Judicial Review
    1. Judicial Review means that the Court can ensure that laws passed by the legislature and orders issued by the executive do not contravene the Constitution
    2. If these laws or orders go against the Constitution, the Court can declare them unconstitutional and hence invalid
    3. The Court also protects the Fundamental Rights of citizens through various types of writs
  3. Other powers
    1. The Supreme Court appoints its officers and servants in consultation with the UPSC and determines their conditions of service, in consultation with the President
    2. It can make rules regarding the practice and procedure of the court with the approval of the President
    3. It can appoint arbitrators to decide cases relating to costs incurred by state governments in carrying out directions of the Union government
    4. It adjudicates disputes relating to the election of the President and Vice-President
    5. It can recommend the removal of the Chairman and members of the UPSC to the President



  • There are 21 High Courts in India
  • The Calcutta High Court, established in 1862, is the oldest High Court in India. The Bombay and Madras High Courts were also established in the same year
  • The newest High Courts are the Chattisgarh (Bilaspur), Uttaranchal (Nainital) and Jharkhand (Ranchi) High Courts, all established in the year 2000
  • The Bombay, Madras and Calcutta High Courts are the three Chartered High Courts in India
  • The Madras Law Journal, published from the Madras High Court, was the first journal in India dedicated to reporting judgements of a Court (1891)
Jurisdiction of High Courts

  • Each High Court has jurisdiction over a particular state(s) and/or Union Territory(ies)
  • High Courts have original and appellate jurisdiction. High Courts also have jurisdiction over writs
  • States are divided into judicial districts, presided over by a District Judge or a Sessions Judge, who is the highest judicial authority below the High Court
  • The presiding judge is called District Judge when he presides over a civil case, and called a Sessions Judge when presiding over a criminal case
  • The High Court is a court of record
  • Cases relating to admiralty, marriage and contempt of court are referred directly to the High Court
Judges and Benches

  • The Judges of a High Court are appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Governor of the state
  • The number of Judges in a High Court is decided based on the number of cases instituted and disposed
  • High Courts that handle a large number of cases from a particular region, may establish a permanent Bench there. Benches are present in states that come under the jurisdiction of Courts outside its territory
  • Circuit Benches are temporary courts that hold proceedings for a few months every year
Important High Courts and their Jurisdictions

High Court Location Bench Jurisdiction
Allahabad High Court Allahabad Lucknow Uttar Pradesh
Bombay High Court Bombay Nagpur, Panaji, Aurangabad Maharashtra, Goa, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli
Calcutta High Court Calcutta Port Blair (Circuit Bench) West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar
Delhi High Court New Delhi
NCT Delhi
Guwahati High Court Guwahati Kohina, Aizwal, Imphal
Circuit Benches at Agartala and Shillong
Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram
Jammu & Kashmir High Court Srinagar (summer)
Jammu (winter)

Jammu & Kashmir
Karnataka High Court Bangalore Circuit Benches at Hubli-Dharwad and Gulbarga

Kerala High Court Cochin
Kerala, Lakshadweep
Madhya Pradesh High Court Jabalpur Gwalior, Indore Madhya Pradesh
Madras High Court Madras Madurai Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry
Punjab and Haryana High Court Chandigarh
Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh
Rajasthan High Court Jodhpur Jaipur Rajasthan
Sikkim High Court Gangtok


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