A survey of World Constitutions would show that the Supreme Court of India has wider jurisdiction than any other superior court in any part of the world. The jurisdiction of the Court can be divided into three categories, original, appellate and advisory.
The Supreme Court has original exclusive jurisdiction in any dispute (a) between the Government of India and one or more States; or (b) between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or (c) between two or more States. It is also provided that the dispute should involve a question, whether of law or fact, on which depends the existence or the extent of a legal right which the Court is called upon to determine.
The appellate jurisdiction of the Court can be divided into four main parts, constitutional, civil, criminal and special.
Article 132(1) provides, that “an appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court from any judgement, decree or final order of a High Court in the territory of India, whether in a civil, criminal or other proceeding, if the High Court certifies that the case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution”.
Even if the High Court refuses to give such a certificate, the Supreme Court can grant special leave to appeal if the Court is satisfied that the case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution.
When once such a certificate is given or such leave is granted, any party to the case may raise before the Supreme Court any matter which in its opinion has been wrongly decided by the High Court in that particular case.
Thus, in every matter which involves an interpretation of the Constitution, whether it arises under civil, criminal or any other proceeding, the Supreme Court has been made the final authority to expound the meaning and intent of the Constitution. This is what makes the Court the ultimate interpreter and guardian of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction in civil cases is of a restricted character. According to this, a party to a civil suit is permitted to appeal to the Supreme Court if the High Court certifies that the value of the subject matter of the dispute is not less than Rs. 200,000 or that the case is fit for appeal to the Supreme Court.
Further, when once the Court is seized of the appeal, it is open to any party to challenge a decision of the High Court in that case as invalid so far as it dealt with the interpretation of the Constitution. The appellate jurisdiction of the Court in civil cases can be enlarged if Parliament passes a law to that effect.
There are three circumstances under which criminal appeals to the Supreme Court will be permitted: that is, if a High Court
(1) Has on appeal reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and sentenced him to death; or
(2) Has withdrawn for trial before itself any case from any court subordinate to its authority and has in such trial convicted the accused person and sentenced him to death; or
(3) Certifies that the case is a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court.
Parliament is empowered, in this connection also to enlarge the Court’s jurisdiction. These provisions, according to Ambedkar, “ought to be made, having regard to the enlightened conscience of the modern world and of the Indian People.”
One might wonder why the Constitution makes separate sets of provisions dealing with questions of constitutional law and those which do not arise such questions. The reason why this separation is made between the two sets of appeals is to be made clear.
Under Article 132, whenever an appeal comes before the Supreme Court and if it involves questions of constitutional law, the minimum number of the judges who would sit to hear such a case shall be five, while in other cases of appeal; the matter is left to the Supreme Court to determine the number of judges.
According to the practice established by the Court, in constitutional matters, often five or more than five judges sit to hear the case. But in civil and criminal appeals the Bench will consist of three or even two judges only. As it is, with twenty-six judges on the Court, there could be one Constitutional Bench and seven Benches for civil or criminal appeal cases at the same time.
Parliament is empowered to enlarge the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court with respect to any matter included in the Union List of legislative powers. The Government of India and the Government of any State may enter into an agreement under which any matter may be placed under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court provided Parliament passes a law for the purpose.
Further, Parliament may by law confer on the Supreme Court power to issue directions, orders or writs for purposes even other than the enforcement of Fundamental Rights already provided for under Article 32 of the Constitution. Parliament may also confer upon the Supreme Court such supplemental powers not inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Constitution as to enable the Court to exercise its jurisdiction more effectively.