The Supreme Court
The Constitution of India provides a Single Integrated System of courts for the Union and the States. A Single Integrated Judiciary System implies that the Supreme Court is the head of the Judiciary. It supervises and exercises control over the functioning of other courts. There is a single civil as well as criminal system that operates throughout the country. All cases coming from the Lower Courts can be taken to the Upper Court by way of appeal.
Composition of Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of India consists of a Chief Justice of India and not more than 30 other judges, until Parliament by law prescribes a larger number of judges. Originally the strength was fixed to 8. (one Chief Justice and seven other Judges).
Qualification of Judges
A person is eligible to be appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court if:
- He/She is a citizen of India
- He/She has been for at least five years a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such courts in succession, or has been for at least 10 years an advocate of a High Court or two or more such courts in succession.
He/She should be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the President.
Appointment of Judges
- The Chief Justice of India is appointed by the President of India, after consulting Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts, he deems fit.
- In case of appointing other Judges in the Supreme Court, the Chief Justices shall be consulted.
- The other judges are appointed by the President after consultation with Chief Justice and such other judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts as he deems necessary.
- Usually, the seniormost, Judge of the Supreme Court is appointed as the Chief Justice of India. If the Chief Justice is unable to perform the duties of the office, the President may appoint another Judge of the Supreme Court as acting Chief Justice of India.
- The Chief Justice may appoint a Judge of the High Court as an ad hoc (Temporary) Judge of the Supreme Court for a period as may be necessary.
Salaries and Emoluments
The salaries and other emoluments are charged on the Consolidated Fund of India. The salaries and allowances of a Judge shall not be changes to his/her disadvantage during the term of office except during a financial emergency.
Term of Office
- A Judge of the Supreme Court holds office until he attains the age of 65 years or by submitting his resignation letter to the President.
- A Judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from his office on the ground of proved misbehavior or incapacity by the President. The President can pass such an order, only after the passage of a resolution by the Parliament with a special majority, of not less than 2/3rd of the members of the House.
Independence of the Judiciary from the Control of Executive and Legislature
The independence of the Judiciary is ensured through the following:
- Every Judge of Supreme Court is appointed by the President after consulting the other Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court.
- The salaries and other emoluments of the Judges cannot be changes to their disadvantage during their term of office, except in case of financial emergency.
- The Judges have complete freedom to announce their decisions and discuss in the court chambers.
- The Supreme Court can punish for the contempt of court if a person/authority makes an attempt to lower its authority and dignity.
- The court is free to decide its own procedure of work. The Constitution declares Delhi as the seat of Supreme Court. But, it also authorizes the Chief Justice of India to appoint other place or places as seat of the Supreme Court.
Need for an Independent Judiciary
- India opted for a Federal System of administration. To protect the constitutional division of powers, an independent and supreme judiciary is an essential requirement. It is an essential requisite for ensuring human rights and protecting democracy.
- In a representative democracy, administration of justice assumes special significance in view of the rights of individuals, which needs protection against executive or legislative interference. This type of right makes judiciary free from the organs of the government.
Jurisdiction and Powers of the Supreme Court
Jurisdiction is the power that a court of law exercises to carry out judgements and enforce laws. The Supreme Court is the protector and final interpreter of the Constitution.
It refers to the power to hear and determine a dispute in the first instance. It happens in the cases, which cannot be moved in any court other than the Supreme Court. These include:
- Dispute between two States or between Government of India and one or more States.
- The Center and any State or States on one side and one or more states on the other side.
The Constitution has constituted the Supreme Court as the guarantor and defender of the fundamental rights of the citizen.
The Supreme Court and High Courts are empowered to issue writs for the enforcement of the fundamental rights, which are as follows:
- Habeas Corpus
- Writ of Prohibition
- Writ of Certiorari
The Appellate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extends to constitutional, civil and criminal cases. Any matter that involves important points of law and needs interpretation of the Constitution can be brought before the Supreme Court. Few types of cases can be appealed in the Supreme Court, which are as follows:
- Civil Cases : Appeals in civil matters lie to the Supreme Court, if the High Court certifies either that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance or that the question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.
- Criminal Cases : Two appeals in criminal cases lie to the Supreme Court:
These are as follows:
- Cases without the certificate of the High Court.
- Cases with the certificate of the High Court.
- Constitutional Cases: An appeal lies to the Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court, if the latter certifies that the case involves an interpretation of the Constitution. If the High Court refuses to give such a certificate, the Supreme Court may grant special leave of appeal.
- The President may ask for the advice of the Court in any matters relating to public importance or on any question of law. Such opinion of the court is not binding on the President and also the court is not bounded to render advice.
- Disputes related to the Pre-constitutional treaties and agreements are excluded from original jurisdiction by Article 131.
- Any person can file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, under some special grievance of women, children and other weaker sections by simply writing them on a postcard.
The Supreme Court us the sole interpreter of the Constitution. It has the power to review any laws by the Union or State Legislature. If any law passed by the legislature is against the spirit of the Constitution or contravenes any provision of the Constitution, the Supreme Court can declare such a law as null and void.
Need for Judicial Review
- The Constitution has provided for a balance of powers between the Centre and the States. The power of review is essential to prevent any encroachment to each other’s domains.
- The legislature may not possess the wisdom, experience and impartiality, which are needed to explain what the law means. This function can be best performed by the Supreme Court.
- Judicial review is required to uphold the principle of the supremacy of the Constitution and to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens.
Court of Record
- A ‘court of record’ is a court, whose judgements are recorded for evidence and testimony. The judgements are in nature of precedents i.e., the High Court and other courts are bound to give a similar decision in a similar case.
- According to the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the High Court are the ‘Courts of Record’ and shall have all the powers including the power to punish for contempt of court.
The Supreme Court under Article 137, can revise any judgement made by it with a view of removing any error or correct the same after any new evidence/question comes up. This is important as the Supreme Court is a court of record, its decisions being of evidentiary value.
Administrative and Supervisory Functions
The administrative and supervisory functions of Supreme Court are as follows:
- Appointment of officers and staff of the Supreme Court is made by the Chief Justice of India.
- The court makes rules regarding the conduct of advocates and other persons appearing before it.
- The recommendation of the Chief Justice of India to transfer Judges of the High Courts are binding on the Government, if it was made after consulting at least four seniormost Judges of the Supreme Court.