The Supreme Court is the highest court of India. It is at the apex of the Indian judicial
The Union legislature, which is known as Parliament, makes laws for the whole country in respect of the Union and the Concurrent Lists and the executive comprising the President, Council of Ministers and bureaucracy enforces them. Judiciary, the third organ of the government, has an equally
important role to play. It settles the disputes, interprets laws, protects fundamental rights
and acts as guardian of the Constitution.
Single Unified and Integrated Judicial System
The distinct feature of our judiciary is that it is a single unified integrated judicial system for
the whole country. A single judiciary represents a hierarchy of courts. The Supreme Court
stands at the top of this single integrated judicial system with High Courts at the State
level. Below the High Courts, there are several subordinate courts such as the District
Courts which deal with civil cases and the Session Courts which decide criminal cases.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority of India. It consists of the Chief Justice
and 25 other judges.
The Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President
of India. While appointing the Chief Justice, the President is constitutionally required to
consult such other judges of the Supreme Court as he deems proper, but outgoing Chief
Justice is always consulted.
Qualifications, Tenure and Removal of Judges
A person is qualified for appointment as a judge only he/she is a citizen of India and if he/
she fulfils one of the following conditions:
a) he/she has been for at least five years as Judge of High Court or two or more than
two such courts; or
b) he/she has been for at least ten years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more
than two such courts; or
c) he/she is, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist.
The Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court hold office till they attain
the age of 65 years.
A judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from office by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of the Parliament supported by a majority of total membership of the House and not less than two-third majority of the members of the House present and voting, passed in the
same session, has been presented to the President for such removal on the ground of
proved misbehaviour or capacity.
No person who has held office of a judge of the Supreme Court is allowed to plead as an
advocate in any court or before any authority within the territory of India.
The judges of the Supreme Court are paid such salaries as are determined by the Parliament
from time to time.
The Supreme Court is a Court of Record. It has two implications. All its decisions and
judgments are cited as precedents in all courts of the country. They have the force of law
and are binding on all lower Courts, and indeed the High Courts. As a Court of Record, the
Supreme Court can even send a person to jail who may have committed contempt of the
Jurisdiction of The Supreme Court
The scope of powers of Supreme Court to hear and decide cases is called its jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court has three types of jurisdictions namely original, appellate and advisory.
There are certain cases which fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
It means that all such cases begin or originate in the Supreme Court, only. It also means
that such cases cannot be initiated in any other court. The cases or disputes that come
under the original jurisdiction are given below:
(i) (a) Disputes between the Government of India on the one side and one or more
States on the other side.
(b) Disputes between the Government of India and one or more States on one side
and one or more States on the other side.
(c) Disputes between two or more States.
(ii) The Supreme Court has been invested with special powers in the enforcement of
Fundamental Rights. In this connection, it has the power to issue directions or writs.
(iii) Cases under Public Interests Litigation (PIL) can also be heard directly. (This is an
extra Constitutional practice; there is no mention of PIL in the Constitution).
The power of a superior/higher court to hear and decide appeals against the judgment of
a lower court is called appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is the highest
and the final Court of Appeal. If one of the parties to a dispute is not satisfied with the
decision of the High Court, one can go to the Supreme Court and file an appeal. The
appeals can be filled in Civil, Criminal and Constitutional cases.
(i) Appeals in Civil Cases
Disputes relating to property, marriage, money, contract and service etc are called civil
cases. If a civil case involves a substantial point of law of public importance needing
interpretation of the Constitution or law, an appeal against the High Court decision can
be made to Supreme Court. Earlier the financial limit of such civil cases was Rs. 20,000/
– but now according to the 30th Amendment of 1972, there is no minimum amount for
taking a civil appeal to the Supreme Court.
(ii) Appeals in Criminal Cases
An appeal may be brought to the Supreme Court against a High Court decision in a criminal case in a number of situations. Firstly, if a High Court sets aside an appeal or an
order of acquittal passed by a lower court and awards death sentence to the accused, he
may bring an appeal to the Supreme Court by right.
Secondly, appeal can also be made to the Supreme Court if the High Court withdraws a
case from a lower court to itself, declares the accused guilty and awards death sentence.
In this situation also appeals can be made as a matter of right and without certificate from
the High Court.
The appeal in cases other than these two categories may also be brought to the Supreme
Court provided the High Court grants a certificate that the case is fit for appeal to the
In case where the High Court refuses to certify a case to be fit for appeal to the Supreme
Court, one may seek special leave to appeal from the Supreme Court itself. The Supreme
Court may grant such a special leave in its discretion but only in rare cases.
(iii) Appeals in Constitutional Cases
A constitutional case is neither a civil dispute, nor concerning a crime. It is a case arising
out of different interpretations of Constitution, mainly regarding the fundamental rights. In
such Constitutional Cases an appeal can be taken to the Supreme Court only if a High
Court certifies that the matter in dispute involves a substantial question of law.
If the High Court denies a certificate of fitness to appeal to the Supreme Court, the
Supreme Court can use its discretion and grant special leave to appeal to itself in any case
it deems fit.
This power implies Court’s right to give advice, if sought. Under advisory jurisdiction, the
President of India may refer any question of law or public importance to Supreme Court
for its advice. But the Supreme Court is not bound to give advice. The Court refused to give its advice on the question whether a temple existed at the spot, where Babri Masjid was built at Ayodhya.
It is a process through which judiciary examines whether a law enacted by a legislature or
an action of the executive is in accordance with the Constitution or not. The power of the
judicial review was first acquired by the Supreme Court of the United States. Now it is
freely exercised by the Supreme Court of India and in many other countries. Our High
Courts also exercise this power.
Judicial Review does not mean that every law passed by the legislature is taken up by the
Supreme Court for review. It only means that the Court will review the law as and when
it gets an opportunity. This is possible in two ways. First, the Court can review the law if
its validity is challenged. Second, if a person or institution feels that his/her rights are
violated, or a certain benefit due to him under a law is being denied, the Court while
examining such a petition may come to the conclusion that the law, under which relief is
sought, is itself unconstitutional. Therefore, relief may not be granted.
In a democratic country like India the power of Judicial Review is an important guarantee
of the rights of the people. Besides, the Supreme Court has been interpreting various
provisions of the Constitution. Its rulings are treated as law of the land.
Public Interest Litigation (PIL)
Earlier, the judiciary, including Supreme Court, entertained litigation only from those parties
that were affected directly or indirectly by it. It heard and decided cases only under its original and appellate jurisdiction. But subsequently, the Court permitted cases on the ground
of public interest litigation. It means that even people, who are not directly involved in the
case, may bring to the notice of the Court matters of public interest. It is the privilege of
the Court to entertain the application for public interest litigation (PIL). The concept of
PIL was introduced by Justice P.N. Bhagwati.