- The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. A person can appeal to the Supreme Court against the decisions of the High Court. However, High Court must certify that the case is fit for appeal, that is to say that it involves a serious matter of interpretation of law or Constitution. In addition, in criminal cases, if the lower court has sentenced a person to death then an appeal can be made to the High Court or Supreme Court. Of course, the Supreme Court holds the powers to decide whether to admit appeals even when appeal is not allowed by the High Court. Appellate jurisdiction means that the Supreme Court will reconsider the case and the legal issues involved in it. If the Court thinks that the law or the Constitution has a different meaning from what the lower courts understood, then the Supreme Court will change the ruling and along with that also give new interpretation of the provision involved.
- Article 137…… the Supreme Court shall have power to reviewany judgment pronounced or order made by it. Article 144 …….. All authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.
- The High Court’s too, have appellate jurisdiction over the decisions given by courts below them.
- In addition to original and appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court of India possesses advisory jurisdiction also. This means that the President of India can refer any matter that is of public importance or that which involves interpretation of Constitution to Supreme Court for advice. However, the Supreme Court is not bound to give advice on such matters and the President is not bound to accept such an advice.
- What then is the utility of the advisory powers of the Supreme Court? The utility is two - fold. In the first place, it allows the government to seek legal opinion on a matter of importance before taking action on it. This may prevent unnecessary litigations later. Secondly, in the light of the advice of the Supreme Court, the government can make suitable changes in its action or legislations.
- Read the articles quoted above. These articles help us to understand the unified nature of our judiciary and the powers of the Supreme Court. Decisions made by the Supreme Court are binding on all other courts within the territory of India. Orders passed by it are enforceable throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Supreme Court itself is not bound by its decision and can at any time review it. Besides, if there is a case of con tempt of the Supreme Court, then the Supreme Court itself decides such a case.
- The judiciary is entrusted with the task of protecting rights of individuals. The Constitution provides two ways in which the Supreme Court can remedy the violation of rights.
(i) First it can restore fundamental rights by issuing writs of Habeas Corpus; mandamus etc. (article 32). The High Courts also have the power to issue such writs (articles 226).
(ii) Secondly, the Supreme Court can declare the concerned law as unconstitutional and therefore nonoperational (article 13).
- Together these two provisions of the Constitution establish the Supreme Court as the protector of fundamental rights of the citizen on the one hand and interpreter of Constitution on the other. The second of the two ways mentioned above involves judicial review.
- Perhaps the most important power of the Supreme Court is the power of judicial review. Judicial Review means the power of the Supreme Court (or High Courts) to examine the constitutionality of any law if the Court arrives at the conclusion that the law is in consistent with the provisions of the Constitution, such a law is declared as unconstitutional and inapplicable. The term judicial review is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. However, the fact that India has a written constitution and the Supreme Court can strike down a law that goes against fundamental rights, implicitly gives the Supreme Court the power of judicial review.
- Besides, as we saw in the section on jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, in the case of federal relations too, the Supreme Court can use the review powers if a law is inconsistent with the distribution of powers laid down by the Constitution. Suppose, the central government makes a law which according to some States, concerns a subject from the State list. Then the States can go to the Supreme Court and if the court agrees with them, it would declare that the law is unconstitutional. In this sense, the review power of the Supreme Court includes power to review legislations on the ground that they violate fundamental rights or on the ground that they violate the federal distribution of powers. The review power extends to the laws passed by State legislations also. Together, the writ powers and the review power of the Court make judiciary very powerful. In particular, the review power means that the judiciary can interpret the Constitution and the laws passed by the legislature. Many people think that this feature enables the judiciary to protect the Constitution effectively and also to protect the rights of citizens. The practice of entertaining PILS has further added to the powers of the judiciary in protecting rights of citizens.
- Right against exploitation? This right prohibits forced labour, trade in human flesh and prohibits employment of children in hazardous jobs. But the question is: how could those, whose rights were violated, approach the court? PIL and judicial activism made it possible for courts to consider these violations. Thus, the court considered a whole set of cases: the blinding of the jail inmates by the police, in human working conditions in stone quarries, sexual exploitation of children, and soon. This trend has made rights really meaningful for the poor and disadvantaged sections.
- Apart from taking a very active stand on the matter of rights, the court has been active in seeking to prevent subversion of the Constitution through political practice. Thus, areas that were considered beyond the scope of judicial review such as powers of the President and Governor were brought under the purview of the courts.
- There are many other instances in which the Supreme Court actively involved itself in the administration of justice by giving directions to executive agencies. Thus, it gave directions to CBI to initiate investigations against politicians and bureaucrats in the hawala case, the Narasimha Rao, case, illegal allotment of petrol pumps case etc. Many of these instances are the products of judicial activism.
- The Indian Constitution is based on a delicate principle of limited separation of powers and checks and balances. This means that each organ of the government has a clear area of functioning. Thus, the Parliament is supreme in making laws and amending the Constitution, the executive is supreme in implementing them while the judiciary is supreme in settling disputes and deciding whether the laws that have been made are in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Despite such clear cut division of power the conflict between the Parliament and judiciary, and executive and the judiciary has remained a recurrent theme in Indian politics.
- Immediately after the implementation of the Constitution began, a controversy arose over the Parliament’s power to restrict right to property. The Parliament wanted to put some restrictions on the right to hold properly so that land reforms could be implemented. The Court held that the Parliament cannot thus restrict fundamental rights. The Parliament then tried to amend the Constitution. But the Court said that even through an amendment, a fundamental right cannot be abridged. The following issues were at the centre of the controversy between the Parliament and the judiciary.
(i) What is the scope of right to private property?
(ii) What is the scope of the Parliament’s power to curtail, abridge or abrogate fundamental rights?
(iii) What is the scope of the Parliament’s power to amend the constitution?
(iv) Can the Parliament make laws that abridge fundamental rights while enforcing directive principles?
- During the period 1967 and 1973, this controversy became very serious. Apart from land reform laws, laws enforcing preventive detention, laws governing reservations in jobs, regulations acquiring private property for public purposes, and laws deciding the compensation for such acquisition of private property were some instances of the conflict between the legislature and the judiciary.
- In 1973, the Supreme Court gave a decision that has become very important in regulating the relations between the Parliament and the Judiciary since then.
- This case is famous as the Kesavananda Bharati case. In this case, the Court ruled that there is a basic structure of the Constitution and nobody- not even the Parliament (through amendment)- can violate the basic structure. The Court did two more things. First, it said that right to property (the disputed issue) was not part of basic structure and therefore could be suitably abridged. Secondly, the Court reserved to itself the right to decide whether various matters are part of the basic structure of the Constitution. This case is perhaps the best example of how judiciary uses its power to interpret the Constitution. This ruling has changed the nature of conflicts between the legislature and the judiciary. The right to property was taken away from the list of fundamental rights in 1979 and this also helped in changing the nature of the relationship between these two organs of government.
- Some issues still remain a bone of contention between the two- can the judiciary intervene in and regulate the functioning of the legislatures? In the parliamentary system, the legislature has the power to govern itself and regulate the behavior of its members. Thus, the legislature can punish a person who the legislature holds guilty of breaching privileges of the legislature. Can a person who is held guilty for breach of parliamentary privileges seek protection of the courts? Can a member of the legislature against whom the legislature has taken disciplinary action get protection from the court? These issues are unresolved and are matters of potential conflict between the two. Similarly, the Constitution provides that the conduct of judges cannot be discussed in the Parliament. There have been several instances where the Parliament and State legislature have cast aspersions on the functioning of the judiciary. Similarly, the judiciary too has criticized the legislatures and issued instructions to the legislatures about the conduct of legislative business. The legislature see this as violating the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
- These issues indicate how delicate the balance between any two organs of the government is and how important it is for each organ of the government in a democracy to respect the authority of others.
We have studied the role of the judiciary in our democratic structure. In spite of the tensions that arose from time to time between the judiciary and the executive and the legislature, the prestige of the judiciary has increased considerably. At the same time, there are many more expectations from the judiciary. Ordinary citizens also wonder how it is possible for many people to get easy acquittals and how witnesses change their testimonies to suit the wealthy and the mighty. These are some issues about which our judiciary is concerned too. The Judiciary in India is a very powerful institution. This power has generated much awe and many hopes from it. Judiciary in India is also known for its independence. Through various decisions, the judiciary has given new interpretations to the Constitution and protected the rights of citizens. As we saw in this chapter, democracy hinges on the delicate balance of power between the judiciary and the Parliament and both institutions have to function within the limitations set by the Constitution.