This article is written by Suryansh Singh, a 3rd-year law student from Indore Institute of law and Adhila Muhammed Arif, a student of Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This article mainly discusses the powers and functions of the Supreme Court.
Previously Federal Court constituted under the Government of India Act 1935, was considered to be the apex court of India which was structured during British rule. Then in 1950, the Supreme Court was established which took place of the federal court. The constitution is the supreme law of the land and it contains provisions that are enforced by law. Without the enforcement of the law, the provisions embedded under the constitution are meaningless. Therefore the judiciary has independence in order to interpret the provisions of the Indian constitution. Being the apex court of the country the Supreme Court works under the framework of the constitution by acting as the guardian of the constitution and custodian of the fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens of our country. It is the interpreter of the provisions and the controller of the entire judicial system of India.
Article 124 of the Indian constitution states that there shall be a Supreme Court in India. Any decision of the Supreme Court shall be binding upon all the subordinate courts. In India, there is an independent judiciary so the traditional concept of natural justice and good conscience should be maintained equal justice shall prevail. In India, there is a separate judicial system so that the clarity and uniformity in the shall be maintained.
To know more about the powers and functions of the Supreme Court, please refer to the video below:
There is a hierarchical system in the Indian judiciary. In India, the Supreme Court is the apex judicial authority followed by the high court and then the district court and at last, there comes Panchayat.
The composition of the Supreme Court is laid down in Clause 1 of Article 124. Article 124 (1) of the Indian Constitution states that the Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice of India and 33 other judges.
The procedure for the appointment of Supreme Court judges is laid down in Article 124(2). As per this provision, the appointment of a Supreme Court judge is made by the President on the recommendation of the Supreme Court and high court judges.
Terms of office and removal
- As per Article 124(2A), Parliament has the power to determine the age requirements for being a Supreme Court judge.
- As per Article 124(2), a Supreme Court judge can hold his office until he reaches the age of 65. However, a judge may step down from the office in the following ways:
- By resignation – The judge can submit a resignation letter to the President.
- By removal – A judge can also be removed from an office as per the procedure laid down in clause 4.
- By death.
Article 124(3) of the Indian Constitution states the following conditions for a person to become a judge of the Supreme Court
- He must be a citizen of India.
- If he is an eminent jurist.
- He must be a judge of a high court for at least five years.
- He has been an advocate of a high court for at least ten years or an advocate of two or more such courts.
Procedure of impeachment
A judge of the Supreme Court stands removed if:
- A motion is signed by the 50 members of Rajya Sabha and 100 members of the Lok Sabha.
- An inquiry committee consisting of a Supreme Court judge and chief justice of the high court and an eminent jurist is constituted for the investigation of the charges.
- If the inquiry committee proves the charges then it is addressed in both the house of parliament.
- If the motion is passed with two-third majority in both houses then the motion is addressed to the president.
- The judge has the right to in order to prove that he is not guilty.
- If the president is satisfied with motion addressed to him, he may issue an order to remove the judge.
The Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 provides for the procedure for the investigation.
Salary allowances and other benefits of a Supreme Court judge have been stated under Article 125 of the Indian constitution. The salaries and allowances of the judges are decided by the Parliament and it must not vary to its disadvantage.
The other privileges a judge has is of a residence free of cost with a pension after his retirement. A judge after his retirement can’t hold the office for profit motive under state as well as union government. He can’t act in court after his retirement or under any other authority as prescribed by law.
The Supreme Court of India is the apex judicial authority in India. Under Article 141 it has been stated that the decision of the Supreme Court is binding upon all the other courts. It tends to regulate the judicial system of the country in order to maintain public peace and protect it from any external transgression. Therefore it possesses a very wide range of powers and functions which are discussed below:
Courts of record
Under Article 129 of the Indian constitution, it has been stated very clearly that the Supreme Court of India is a court of record and has the power to punish contempt itself. A court of record means the proceedings, decisions, or acts of a court which are enrolled for the evidential matter and for interminable and testimonial purposes. They are unquestionable when presented before any other court.
As a court of record, the Supreme Court has two powers:
- Power to determine its jurisdiction, and
- Power to punish for contempt of court.
In the case of Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra (1967), in which a judicial order that prohibited the publication of certain evidence given by a witness in a suit was challenged, the Supreme Court stated that it has the jurisdiction and power to decide on any matter unless the Constitution has a provision regarding the same.
In the case of Om Prakash Jaiswal v. D.K. Mittal (2000), which was filed to challenge a judicial order passed by the Allahabad High Court in proceedings initiated under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the Supreme Court stated that a writ issued by it must be respected and obeyed, and the court has to protect itself from any that undermines its dignity.
Under Article 131 of the Indian constitution, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in the following cases
- If there is a dispute between the government of India and one or more states
- Between the government of India and any state or states on the one side and one or more states on the other side
- Between two or more states
Even the dispute arising in the election of the President and Vice President is dealt with by the Supreme Court. In these matters, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction to exercise its power without the intervention of any other judicial authority. As the Supreme court is the highest judicial authority it protects the fundamental rights of an individual from any kind of infringement. Article 32 it has given the right to an individual to approach the supreme if there is any violation of his fundamental rights. Under Article 32 a court can issue orders or writs( habeas corpus, certiorari, mandamus, prohibition, quo-warranto).
The following are the writs that the Supreme Court can issue under Article 32:
- Habeas corpus: The term habeas corpus literally means ‘to have the body of’. This writ can be issued against the government or any private party for illegally detaining a person for no justifiable reason. It is issued to produce the illegally detained person before the court.
- Mandamus: The writ of mandamus is issued to compel a person who holds a public office to discharge the duties he is legally bound to perform.
- Certiorari: The term literally means ‘to be certified.’ It is used by the Supreme Court to quash an order passed by the lower courts in cases where there is an excess of power or jurisdiction.
- Prohibition: This writ is similar to certiorari, but instead of quashing, it prevents a lower court from passing an order if the Supreme Court is of the opinion that it exceeds its jurisdiction.
- Quo warranto: The term quo warranto literally means ‘by what authority.’ The writ of quo warranto is issued against any party who claims to hold an office of public authority, to which he is actually not entitled to hold.
This jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is subjected to certain limitations. These limitations any kind of dispute arising from an agreement that was executed even before the constitution was commenced. In case of fundamental rights, it only covers the legal aspects whereas the rest of it is left untouched.
The Supreme Court is the apex judicial authority of appeals and enjoys constitutional, civil as well as criminal appeals.
Constitutional appeal: under Article 132 of the constitution it has been stated that appeal for any final judgement of the high court whether of civil or criminal nature for which the high court issues a certificate stating that it contains a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the provisions of the constitution lies in the Supreme Court. Even if the high court refuses to issue the certificate, the Supreme Court has the power to grant SLPin these matters.
Civil Appeals: Article 133 of the Indian Constitution provides that cases of civil nature shall lie in the Supreme Court if the high court is satisfied with the following conditions and certifies that
- The matter involves a substantial question of law
- If the high court thinks that this case needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Criminal Appeals: under Article 134(1) a criminal appeal shall lie in the Supreme Court under the following circumstances:
- If the high court in an appeal has reversed the judgment of the lower court and sentenced death penalty to the accused who has been acquitted.
- In the second situation when the high court itself has withdrawn a case from a lower court and then sentenced the accused person death penalty.
- If a case is certified by the high court that it is fit for appeal in the Supreme Court. Sometimes the Supreme Court is conferred with powers by the parliament in order to deal with certain cases decided by the high court.
Interpretation of Constitution: Article 132 states that, if there is a High Court judgment, decree, or order on any civil or criminal proceeding, that involves a substantial question regarding the interpretation of the Constitution, there shall be an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Federal court’s jurisdiction: Before the commencement of the Constitution, we had a Federal Court that was established under the Government of India Act, 1935. It had the jurisdiction to hear appeals on High Court decrees. The Supreme Court was established after the Commencement of the Constitution. Hence, under Article 135, the Supreme Court exercises the jurisdiction of the Federal Court.
Special leave to appeal jurisdiction: Article 136 of the Indian Constitution provides that the Supreme Court has special leave to appeal jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to grant special leave petition to the final judgment given by any lower courts except for the courts or tribunal which has been formed by the law relating to armed forces. However, if the judgment or order is given by a high court(single judge bench) then the no appeal for that matter will be entertained in the Supreme Court.
Under Article 138 of the Indian Constitution, the law expands the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in respect of subjects contained under the union list and shall also have jurisdiction over any other subject for which the consent of state has been obtained.
Under Article 143 it has been stated that the Supreme Court on many occasions have given advice to the government as well as the president, if the matter is related to the interest of the public or if there arises a substantial question of law. The Supreme Court after the profound inquiry reports to them.
- Being the supreme judicial authority of the country it protects the constitution and enlightens us with the provisions of the constitution through its grand vision which is considered to be final.
- The power to interpret the Indian Constitution is vested in the Supreme Court of India.
- It is the custodian of fundamental rights. Under Article 32 every citizen of India has the Locus Standi to move to court in order to seek legal remedy if there is any kind of infringement to fundamental rights.
- Under Article 129 Supreme Court is the court of record. Its judgment is unquestionable and are accepted by all the lower courts as precedents. Under Article 141 the decision of the high court is considered to be final and binding upon all the lower courts and regarded as law.
- If any law is passed by the parliament or the state legislature which does not comply with the provisions of the Indian constitution or is given jurisdiction that they even do not possess will be declared void by the Supreme Court through judicial review.
- The Supreme Court under Article 137 has the power to review its owns judgement; if new evidence are found, if a fact is related to the records of the came to the light and if there are enough reasons to suffice for a review Supreme Court itself states that nothing can restrain it from reviewing its own decisions if it is satisfied with its effects over the general public.
- The Supreme Court is conferred with the power to make rules for carrying out its practice and procedure.
- The Supreme Court has the power to appoint its officers and servants. For example, the Chief Justice of India or the other Supreme court judges is appointed by it to carry out its functions. Though the person has to be qualified for the job.
- Supreme Court under Article 129 has the power to punish a person if found guilty of contempt of court. Contempt of court basically means hampering the proceedings of the court neglecting its order, defying its authority which ultimately results in disrespect of the Court. The consequences arising out of it includes both civil or criminal penalties depending upon the gravity of the consequences.
- Appeals under The Peoples Representation Act 1951 can be filed in the Supreme Court.
- As per Article 140 of the Indian Constitution, the parliament may confer additional powers not mentioned in the Constitution, to the Supreme Court if it is essential for the effective functioning of the Supreme Court.
- Under Article 139A, the Supreme Court suggested it has the power to transfer cases under Article 139A. It can do so under the following circumstances, namely, when the Supreme Court and a High Court have cases that are on the same or similar questions of law, the Supreme Court may withdraw the cases pending before the High Court and if the Supreme Court finds it crucial to transfer cases for the purpose of upholding justice.
- The Supreme Court has the rule-making power under Article 145. The Supreme Court can make rules on the following matters with the president’s approval:
- Persons practicing before the court.
- Procedure for appeals.
- Proceedings for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
- Proceedings in the court regarding the transfer of cases.
- Regarding appeal on a High Court judgment where it has reversed an order of acquittal and declared a death sentence instead.
- Cost of proceedings
- Stay of proceedings
- Regarding providing a summary determination of any appeal that the Court considers frivolous
- Regarding enquiry for suspension of a Public Service Commission member.
- As per Article 127, if there is a situation where the quorum of the Supreme Court is not met for carrying out the sessions of the Court, the Chief Justice of India may appoint a High Court Judge as an ad hoc judge for a particular period of time, with the consultation of the Chief Justice of that High Court and with the consent of the President.
- As per Article 130 of the Indian Constitution, the seat of the Supreme Court lies in Delhi. However, it may also lie in another place that the Chief Justice of India, with the consent of the President, appoints.
- As per Article 142 of the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court can pass decrees or orders for any matter pending before it and also have the orders or decrees be enforced. The Court also has the power to pass orders to secure the attendance of a person or discovery or production of documents, and so on.
- Article 144 states that all civil and judicial authorities in the Indian territory must aid the Supreme Court.
- Article 146 provides that the appointments of the officers of the Supreme Court shall be made by the Chief Justice of India or even a judge or an officer under his direction. The administrative expenses of the Court, which include all the salaries and pensions of all such officers, shall be met from the Consolidated Fund of India.
It is very amusing that though our Indian constitution never mentioned about judicial review yet the apex judicial authority possess the power of judicial review. It has been stated under Article 32 and 226 that both the Supreme cCurt as well the high court is conferred with the power of judicial review of the following things-
- Judicial review of the legislative and administrative actions
- Judicial review of the quasi-judicial proceedings
India is a democratic type of country in which there is the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judiciary. They have their own independence and perform their functions accordingly. However, to assure that such independence does not turn out arbitrary, checks and balances between the organs must be maintained. The functioning of a democratic country explicitly lies over the independence of these organs. If the legislative and administrative actions turns out to be unconstitutional or it does not comply with the provisions of the constitution then the court has the power of judicial review in order to restrict such exercises. The ambit of the judicial review has now expanded to the concept of socio-economic justice. In order to keep a check on this power judicial restraint is necessary. Under Article 32 a person can approach the court if there is any infringement of his fundamental rights. Judicial review is the basic structure of the Indian constitution which can’t be curtailed by the amendment. The powers of judicial review enshrined under the Indian constitution are partial or limited in nature as it only deals with unconstitutional exercises performed through administrative and legislative action or whether it deals with the fundamental rights.
Quasi-Judicial function and Judicial Review
Quasi-judicial functions is neither a judicial function nor administrative function. The quasi-judicial act has the appropriate jurisdiction which is sanctioned by the law while determining the basic rights that an individual has in order to enjoy his fundamental freedom. If a tribunal or an authority has been constituted by the law and are conferred the powers of deciding a matter are subject to judicial review.
Administrative Action and Judicial Review
The ambit of judicial review is limited to three grounds in case of administrative action.
- In the case of unreasonability or irrationality
- Unlawfulness or illegality
- Proportionality and procedural impropriety
Judicial review of a decision matter process whenever it has been depraved through irrationality and ignorance of such essential factors that no reasonable authority conferred with the power could have made such a decision, follows the due procedure of law and through examination takes the relevance of the factors.
It can be concluded that the Supreme Court is the apex judicial authority of India. The Supreme Court has very wide jurisdiction and it enjoys enormous powers and functions that it performs for the general interest of the public. It is the protector of the fundamental rights of an individual and through its grand vision interprets the provisions of the constitution. It guarantees socio-economic justice to the citizens of India and makes laws which are unquestionable and binding upon all the other courts.
Who is the Chief Justice of India in 2022?
As of 2022, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana is the Chief Justice of India.
Is a Supreme Court Judge a government servant?
In the case of Union of India v. Pratibha Bonnerjea (1995), the Supreme Court decided that judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court cannot be viewed as government servants. The reasoning behind this is that to uphold the rule of law, the judiciary must remain independent from the State.
How can the number of judges constituting the Supreme Court be increased?
The number of judges can be changed by Parliament passing an amendment act. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2019 was the most recent amendment that changed the number of judges, apart from the Chief Justice of India, from 30 to 33.
What is the doctrine of stare decisis?
The phrase ‘stare decisis’ means ‘do not disturb the undisturbed.’ According to the doctrine of stare decisis, a judgment given by the Supreme Court must be applied by all the courts subordinate to it.
Is the Supreme Court bound by its own decisions?
In the case of Bengal Immunity Co. v. State of Bihar (1955), the Supreme Court held that nothing prevents the Supreme Court from reconsidering its earlier decisions. However, such departure must be with due care and should be restricted to instances where the previous decision is erroneous.
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