Multiple Roles Indian Supreme Court Plays

The powers Supreme Court has

The Supreme Court of India (SC) has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. The Constitution of India, in Part 5, Chapter 6, from Article 124 to Article 147, deals with the power, function, appointment, retirement, jurisdiction, etc. of the SC.

The SC is the highest appeal court in India. It is the last resort for the citizens to seek justice if they are not satisfied with the judgment of the High court. Any citizen, as per Article 32 of the Constitution, can directly seek remedy through writs if their fundamental rights are violated.

The SC has the power of Judicial Review under Article 13 of the Constitution, by which it can strike down any legislation or executive order when such acts or orders are inconsistent with the Constitution of India.

Original jurisdiction

The SC, under Article 131 of the Constitution, has original jurisdiction to consider any dispute

  1. between the Government of India and one or more States, or
  2. between the Government of India and any State or States on one side, and one or more States on the other, or
  3. between two or more States.

The dispute should involve any question of law or of fact.

The Article 32 of the Constitution gives an extensive original jurisdiction to the SC in regard to enforcement of Fundamental Rights. The SC is empowered, under Article 139 of the Constitution, to issue directions, orders or writs such as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari to enforce fundamental rights of the citizens.

Transfer of cases

The SC has power to direct transfer of any civil or criminal case from one State High Court to another State High Court or from a Court subordinate to another State High Court.

The SC, when satisfied that cases involving the same or substantially the same questions of law are pending before it and in one or more High Courts or before two or more High Courts, and that such questions are substantial questions of general importance, it can withdraw a case or cases pending before the High Court or High Courts and dispose of all such cases by itself.

Arbitration by the SC

Under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the SC can initiate International Commercial Arbitration.

Appellate jurisdiction of the SC

The appellate jurisdiction of the SC can be invoked by a certificate granted by the High Court concerned under Article 132(1), 133(1) or 134 of the Constitution in respect of any judgement, decree or final order of a High Court in both civil and criminal cases, involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution.

Appeals in civil and criminal cases

Appeals also lie to the SC in civil matters if the High Court concerned certifies:

  1. that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance, and
  2. that, in the opinion of the High Court, the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.

In criminal cases, an appeal lies to the SC if the High Court

  1. has on appeal reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or
  2. has withdrawn for trial before itself any case from any Court subordinate to its authority and has in such trial convicted the accused and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or
  3. certified that the case is a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court. Parliament is authorised to confer on the Supreme Court any further powers to entertain and hear appeals from any judgement, final order or sentence in a criminal proceeding of a High Court.

Litigants can circumvent this requirement for a certification by requesting the Supreme Court for ‘special leave’ and file petitions as Special Leave Petition (SLP).

Special Appellate jurisdiction over all Courts & Tribunals

The SC has very wide appellate jurisdiction over all Courts and Tribunals in India in as much as it may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or Tribunal in the territory of India. Such cases are called Special Leave Petition (SLPs) and constitute around 80% of the Court’s docket.

Advisory jurisdiction of the SC

The SC has special advisory jurisdiction in matters which may specifically be referred to it by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution.

There are provisions for reference or appeal to SC under Article 317(1) of the Constitution, Section 257 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, Section 7(2) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, Section 130-A of the Customs Act, 1962, Section 35-H of the Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944 and Section 82C of the Gold (Control) Act, 1968.

Appeals as per some laws

Appeals also lie to the Supreme Court under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, Advocates Act, 1961, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Customs Act, 1962, Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944, Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1970, Trial of Offences Relating to Transactions in Securities Act, 1992, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Petition on Election of the President or Vice President

The Election Petitions under Part III of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 are also filed directly in the Supreme Court.

Punishment for contempt of court

Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution the SC has been vested with power to punish for contempt of Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

In case of contempt other than the contempt referred to in Rule 2, Part-I of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975, the Court may take action

  1. Suo motu, or
  2. on a petition made by Attorney General, or Solicitor General, or
  3. on a petition made by any person, and in the case of a criminal contempt with the consent in writing of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General.

Power to review its judgements

Under Order XL of the Supreme Court Rules the SC may review its judgment or order.

But no application for review is to be entertained in a civil proceeding except on the grounds mentioned in Order XLVII, Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, and in a criminal proceeding, except on the ground of an error apparent on the face of the record.

Public Interest Litigation

The SC can entertain the matters in which interest of the public at large is involved.

The SC can be moved by any individual or group of persons either by filing a Writ Petition at the Filing Counter of the Court or by addressing a letter to Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India highlighting the question of public importance for invoking this jurisdiction. Such a petition is called a ‘Public Interest Litigation’.

A Writ Petition filed on such issues at the Filing Counter is dealt with like any other Writ Petition.

In case of a letter addressed to the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India it would be dealt with in accordance with the guidelines in force for the purpose.

Judicial review of laws

As per article 137 of the Constitution, the SC has the power to review any laws passed by the legislature. This is a unique power to keep the government in check from arbitrary actions.