Independence Day History Series: How the British Set up India’s Judicial System
The Indian system of judicial administration follows the British pattern of court procedures and hierarchical set up even today. People want this to change and even the President of India indicated the same because 'a litigant has one life but litigation transcends generations.'
The judicial system of India began to take shape under British rule, particularly with regard to the basic concepts and procedures that evolved. Even now, the basic tenets of justice as enacted and interpreted in Indian law resembles those of other Anglo-Saxon countries. India’s apex court, which is called the Supreme Court, consists of a chief justice along with other justices, and they are appointed by the President of India.
Independence Day History Series: Supreme Court and High Court
The Supreme Court of India enjoys different types of jurisdiction, including appellate jurisdiction from other courts and tribunals across India. High Courts are established in all states and each High Court is in charge of the state’s judicial administration. The Chief Justice of a High Court is always appointed by the President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India as well as the Governor of the State.
Independence Day History Series: Establishment of Courts by the British
The British established high courts in the three presidency towns of that time, namely, Bombay, Chennai and Calcutta. In fact, the history of Bombay’s judicial system coincides with the same year 1661, when the British began to possess the region as a part of the dowry of the Portuguese Princess Catherine, when she married King Charles II of England. At the time, Bombay was a small, fishing village but no one would have guessed that its harbor would emerge as the most flourishing sea port in the East. King Charles II, who had been disappointed by this paltry dowry at the time, transferred this dowry to the East India Company in 1668 for an insignificant amount of rent.
The High Court of Bombay was inaugurated in 1862, with original and appellate jurisdiction derived from the apex court. With the establishment of the High Court, the most important laws that still withstand the test of time were enacted in British India, namely, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Code of Civil Procedure.
The High Courts were known as ‘courts of equity’ and had the power to supervise subordinate courts that were within its jurisdiction. In every state, there were judicial districts that were presided over by a district and sessions judge, also known as the principal civil court of original jurisdiction. The judge can try all offences, even those that were punishable by death. Below the district and sessions judge, there are courts of civil jurisdiction, which are usually called as munsif courts. Subordinate criminal courts comprised on a chief judicial magistrate and judicial magistrates of first and second class.
The British left us with the legacy of judicial administration and legislations that we have yet to change. However, today’s India needs a different kind of judicial administration. As pointed out by the President of India at the All India Seminar on Administration of Judicial Reforms in July 2010, “It is said that while a litigant has one life, litigation transcends generations. Towards curtailing waste of precious judicial time, we must re-engineer and simplify court procedures, which otherwise tend to make litigation unduly slow and protracted.”