The constitutional task assigned to the judiciary is in no way less than that of the other two functionaries – legislature and executive.
Indeed, it is the role of the judiciary to carry out the constitutional message, and it is its responsibility to keep a vigilant watch over the functioning of democracy in accordance with the Constitution. Sir Alladi Krishna swami Ayyar remarked in the Constituent Assembly that, “The Supreme Court under the Constitution has wide powers, more than the highest court, in any other federation.
The criticism, if at all, can only be that the powers of the Supreme Court are not wide enough, but that they are too wide” (Constituent Assembly Debates, 1949). The various roles and functions of the Supreme Court are discussed below.
Original Jurisdiction (Article 131)
This refers to the cases that directly originate in the Supreme Court. It has original exclusive jurisdiction in any dispute between (a) the Government of India and one or more States; or (b) the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or (c) two or more States.
Appellate Jurisdiction (Articles 132 to 136)
This refers to the power of reviewing and revising the orders of lower courts and tribunals. This jurisdiction extends to both the civil and the criminal appeals from the High Courts under certification from these courts or, in its absence, permitted by the Supreme Court itself. Normally, these appeals are in cases involving substantial question of law of general importance or interpretation of the Constitution or death penalty awarded by a High Court.
Under Article 143, the Supreme Court has been vested with the power of advisory jurisdiction.
Whenever the President consults the Supreme Court, on any matter of public importance, it to gives opinion to the President the Supreme Court may also decline to give its opinion to the President. The advice is not binding on the President.
Supreme Court as a Court of Record
According to Article 129, the Supreme Court shall be a Court of record and shall have all powers of such a Court, including the power to punish for contempt of itself. As a Court of record it has the power to punish those who are adjudged as guilty of contempt of court.
Appeal by Special Leave
This power has been conferred upon the Supreme Court by Article 136. It may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgments, 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 is the guardian of the individual liberties and fundamental rights. It has the power to declare a law passed by any legislature null and void if it encroaches upon the fundamental rights guaranteed to the people by the Constitution. For the enforcement of fundamental rights, it can issue writs in the nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition and Qua-Warrantor.
Besides the above mentioned powers, the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review. It implies the power to review and determine validity of a law or an order. It refers to “the power of a court to inquire whether a law, executive order or other official action conflicts with the written Constitution, and if the court concludes that it does, to declare it unconstitutional and void”.
Singh (1994) opines that “judicial review in India is based on the assumption that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and all governmental organs, which owe their origin to the Constitution and derive their powers from its provisions, must function within the framework of the Constitution, and must not do anything which is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution”.
However, the Indian Constitution does not in so many words assign the power of judicial review to the court. There are several specific provisions in the Constitution, which guarantee judicial review of legislation such as Articles 13, 32, 131-136, 143, 226, 145, 246, 251, 254 and 372. Apart from these Articles, the power of judicial review is derived from the position of Supreme Court as the guardian of the Constitution.
The court can challenge the constitutional validity of a law on the following grounds: (i) the subject matter of the legislation is not within competence of the legislature which has passed it;
(ii) It is repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution; or
(iii) It infringes one of the fundamental rights.
The power of judicial review, in general, flows from the powers of the courts to interpret the Constitution. As such it has the final say in the interpretation of the Constitution and by such interpretation; the Supreme Court has extended its power of judicial review to almost all the provisions of the Constitution.