Essay on the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High courts of India

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The Constitution does not attempt detailed definitions and classification of the different types of jurisdiction of the High Courts as it has done in the case of the Supreme Court.

This is mainly because most of the High Courts at the time of the framing of the Constitution had been functioning with well- defined jurisdictions whereas the Supreme Court was a newly-created institution necessitating a clear definition of its powers and functions.

Moreover, the High Courts were expected to maintain the same position necessitating a clear definition of its powers and functions. Moreover, the High Courts were expected to maintain the same position that they originally had as the highest courts in the States even after the inauguration of the Constitution.

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It was provided, therefore, that the High Courts would retain their existing jurisdiction subject to the provisions of the Constitution and any future law that was to be made by the appropriate legislature.

Further, in future, there would be no restriction as in the past to the exercise of original jurisdiction by the High Courts in matters concerning “revenue or its collection”. The High Courts have also been given full powers to make rules to regulate the business before them and such other incidental power as is required in relation to the administration of justice which falls within their jurisdiction.

Apart from the normal original and appellate jurisdiction, the Constitution also vests four additional powers in the High Courts. These are: (1) the power to issue writs or orders for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights or for any other specified purpose; (2) the power of superintendence over all courts in the State; (3) the power to transfer cases to itself from subordinate courts concerning the interpretation of the Constitution; and (4) the power to appoint officers and servants of the High Court.

Under Article 226, the High Courts have been made the protectors of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution within their respective territorial jurisdiction. We have already seen that under Article 32, the Supreme Court is the ultimate protector of these Fundamental Rights.

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But if the protection of Fundamental Rights was entirely entrusted to the Supreme Court alone, many an aggrieved citizen would have found it impossible to approach the Court for the enforcement of a right which has been violated.

By giving this power to the High Courts also, these rights have been made more real for the ordinary citizen. In the exercise of this power, the Court may issue the same type of writs, orders or directions which the Supreme Court is empowered to issue under Article 32.

Speaking on the scope of this power of the High Courts, the Supreme Court said: “The jurisdiction under Article 226 is exercised by the High Court in order to protect and safeguard the rights of.

It citizens and whenever the High Court finds that any person within its territories is guilty of doing an act which is not authorised by law or is violative of the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.

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It exercises that jurisdiction in order to vindicate his rights and redress his grievances and the only conditions of its exercise of that jurisdiction are: (1) the power is to be exercised throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction, that is to say, the writs issued by the Court do not run beyond the territories subject to its jurisdiction; (2) the person or authority to whom the High Court is empowered to issue such writs must be within those Territories which clearly implies that they must be amenable to its jurisdiction either by residence or location within territories.”

Under Article 227, every High Court has the power of superintendence over all courts and tribunals except those dealing with the Armed Forces functioning within its territorial jurisdiction.

In the exercise of this power the High Court is authorised (1) to call for return from such courts, (2) to make and issue general rules and prescribe forms for regulating the practice and proceedings of such courts, and (3) to prescribe forms in which books, entries and accounts shall be kept by the officers of any such courts.

Interpreting the scope of this power, the Supreme Court said that all types of tribunals including the Election Tribunals operating within a State are subject to the superintendence of the High Courts and further, that the “superintendence is both judicial and administrative”.

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While under Article 226 the High Court can only annul the decision of the tribunals, it can under Article 227 do that, and also issue further directions in the matter.

Article 228 vests in the High Courts the power to transfer constitutional cases from lower courts. According to this, if the Court is satisfied that a case pending in one of its subordinate courts involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution, the determination of which is necessary for the disposal of the case.

It shall then withdraw the case and may either dispose of the case itself or determine the constitutional question and then send the case back to the court wherefrom it was withdrawn. By vesting this power in the High Court, the framers of the Constitution have safeguarded against the possible multiplicity of constitutional interpretations at the level of subordinate courts.

As it is, in addition to the Supreme Court every High Court is authorised to interpret the Constitution which means that there are at least eighteen courts undertaking this interpretation work. Conflicts in interpretation are not unusual or unnatural under such conditions.

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The Supreme Court does not get an opportunity in every case to resolve such conflicts as there is no provision for automatic revision by the Court in every such case of conflict.

If every subordinate court also were invested with the power of interpreting the Constitution, it would have created an extremely confusing situation. That possibility has been completely eliminated by the provisions under Article 228.

If the High Courts are to function independently they should also have at their disposal adequate staff and the power of controlling the members of that staff. These are ensured under Article 229. According to this, the Chief Justice of the High Court is empowered to appoint officers and servants of the Court.

The Governor may in this respect require the Court to consult the Public Service Commission of the State. The Chief Justice is also authorised to regulate the conditions of service of the staff subject to any law made by the State Legislature in this respect.

The rules relating to the salaries, allowances, leave or pension require the approval of the Governor. The power of the Chief Justice to appoint any member of the staff of the High Court also includes his power to dismiss any such member from the service of the Court.

The Constitution also provides for charging all the administrative expenses of the High Court on the Consolidated Fund of the State.

We have already noted that, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the State Legislature is empowered to modify the jurisdiction of the High Court. Thus, for instance, the Legislature may enlarge or restrict the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction in civil matters by prescribing a pecuniary limit, as Ambedkar pointed out in the Constituent Assembly.

But Parliament also is empowered to enlarge or restrict the territorial jurisdiction of a particular High Court by extending or excluding such jurisdiction from any Union Territory. The Legislature of a Union Territory, if it has one, has no power to deal with the jurisdiction of the Court in any manner.

Parliament is also empowered to establish common High Courts for two or more States or for two or more States and a Union Territory. Although no such common High Court has so far been established, the provision is pregnant with possibilities for better organisation of the judicial system at the level of the High Courts as and when appropriate conditions present themselves in future.

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