India’s common law legal system closely mirrors that of the United Kingdom. Legislation is accompanied by the prolific use of case law, which has both interpretive and law-making uses.
The Constitution of India is the foundational piece of legislation in the country. The court system begins with Subordinate and District Courts on the lowest tier in the court hierarchy and ends with the Supreme Court of India, which sits at the top of the court hierarchy.
Read below to learn more about the legal system of India.
The Subordinate Courts are supervised by the High Court in their respective states or union territories and are divided into the civil courts and the criminal courts. The highest level of each Subordinate Court is the District Court. There are also Subordinate Courts that deal with specific matters, such as the Revenue Courts, the Commissioner’s Court and the Courts of Tahsildar and Nayab Tahsildar, which deal with land revenue issues.
Each state in India sets up District Courts in each of its districts or, in some cases, groups of districts, depending on what is most viable administratively speaking. The District Courts in each state are under the purview of the High Court in that state.
Each District Court is headed by a state-appointed District Judge, who may be accompanied by Additional District Judges and Assistant District Judges. The District Courts have both original and appellate jurisdiction and may be involved in civil and criminal hearings.
A District Court becomes known as a Sessions Court when it is hearing criminal matters pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code. The Sessions Court is presided over by a High Court Judge, who is chosen by the state to which the court belongs, and may be accompanied by Additional Sessions Judges and Assistant Sessions Judges. The Sessions Court has jurisdiction over criminal cases involving subject matter such as murders, theft, and dacoity or banditry.
There are 24 High Courts in India, each having jurisdiction at the state or union territory level. While High Courts have original jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters, it can be exercised only if the District Courts or Subordinate Courts are not competent to handle such matters, or if by law the High Courts are specifically granted jurisdiction over certain matters. This happens only in limited circumstances, and in practice, the bulk of the High Courts’ work involves appeals from the lower courts.
The High Courts also handle matters pursuant to Article 226 of the Constitution, which pertains to the issuance of certain writs including those relating to habeas corpus, prohibitions, mandamus, certiorari and quo warranto.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in India. It is presided over by the Chief Justice, who is accompanied by 25 state-appointed Judges. The Supreme Court mainly hears appeals from the High Courts of the states and union territories. It also has jurisdiction over the issuance of writs relating to certain matters such as human rights violations or petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution, which provides for constitutional remedies.