July 24, 2021

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The Supreme Court is the final pedestal of justice

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This article is written by Shivali Srivastava from National Law University, Odisha. This article throws light on the fact that the Supreme Court of India is the court of the highest order where justice can be sought. It elaborates on the exclusive jurisdictional functions that the Supreme Court can entertain and assure law and order in the country.

Table of Contents

In certain countries, the Supreme Court, sometimes called a court of last resort or apex court, is the highest judicial entity within the legal system of that jurisdiction, whose decisions are not subject to further examination by another judge. Between jurisdictions, the designations for such courts may vary. Last recourse courts usually operate mainly as appellate courts, hearing appeals from trial courts or appeal courts which are at an intermediate level. In fact, several countries have several “supreme courts,” each of which is the court of last resort for a given geographical region or on a specific field of law. Many higher court’s established case laws applied to their respective jurisdictions or enforce coded rules in civil law countries in order to preserve a consistent understanding. Most common-law nations have a prior decision theory in which previous court decisions represent a legal precedent to their jurisdiction for the same court or courts of lower status. The highest and final authority for all of the decisions is the Supreme Court.

Justice is the definition of ethics, morality, natural law, fairness, equality and equity. Justice is the pillar of civilization. It’s the correct ordering of items and individuals. It implies equality, in literal words. Equality amongst all people. John Rawls used a social contract argument in his book ‘A Theory of Justice’ to prove that justice, and distributive justice in particular, is a type of fairness: an equitable distribution of goods. Rawls asks us to picture ourselves behind a curtain of ignorance that excludes all knowledge of our identities, social statuses, moral values, wealth, skills and life plans and then asks what philosophy of justice we would want to rule our society when the curtain is lifted if we wanted to do the best for ourselves. 

The supremacy of law, which has a broader socio-legal connotation upholds the sanctity of the judicial system in providing justice to those knocking at its doors. ‘Satyameva Jayate’, this one sentence encapsulates the essence of the judicial system’s dreams and values in India. Judiciary is one institution that infuses confidence in the people with respect to the rule of law and the omnipotence of justice by the punishment of the culprit. Therefore someone who tries to obstruct the legal process and bypass the ends of justice is considered a suspect in the eyes of law. 

The judiciary was to be the arm of the democratic movement, defending the equality demanded by Indians. There is a separation of powers between the central and state governments. Therefore, in order to preserve the supremacy of the constitution, the Central and State Government disputes must be resolved by an independent and neutral authority. The Supreme Court is a kind of arbitrator.

It is the Constitution’s ultimate interpreter and guardian. Besides this, it is also the defender of the people’s human rights. It is the greatest tribunal that has to draw the line between individual rights and power over society. The Supreme Court must serve as “guardian of social reform.”

The Supreme Court entails three types of jurisdiction namely appellate, original and advisory-

Original jurisdiction

Its original jurisdiction is exclusive and is applicable to any kind of a tiff between the Government of India as well as one or more than one states or between the government as well as any state(s) on the one hand or between two or more than two states on another side, if and in so far till the fall out involves some issue (if that of law or of fact) on which the presence or degree of a legal right relies. The court enforces human rights, hears federal disputes and may move cases within its original jurisdiction. As a defender of fundamental rights, the court seeks to shield the people from legislative and executive excesses. As far as federal disputes are concerned, the court has the sole power to resolve conflicts between the government and a state or between two states.

Article 32 as per the Indian Constitution endows the SC with original authority in matters related to the protection of fundamental rights. Indian SC may issue writings, instructions, or orders that include writings of mandamus, quo warranto, certiorari, habeas corpus and prohibition, and in nature. It also has been given the authority to order a transfer from a state’s High Court to the High Court in some other state in a criminal or civil case. It may also shift the cases from a district court to a high court of the same state. If the SC is of the opinion that cases that involve the same legal issues are standing before it and in front of one or more than one High Courts, and these are important legal issues, it may remove the cases even before High Court or the Courts and discharge all those cases on its own. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 obligates the SC to conduct commercial international arbitration.

Appellate jurisdiction 

Appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is the authority of a supreme court to hear and decide lower court appeals. The higher court will review rulings and adjust the results of lower court decisions. The circuit courts have jurisdiction over the district courts within the federal judiciary and the supreme court has jurisdiction over the circuit courts.

The Supreme Court’s appealing jurisdiction can be exercised by a certificate that is issued by the High Court that has appealed pursuant to Article 132(1), 133(1) as well as Article 134 of the Indian Constitution with regards to any High Court’s judgement, decision or final judgement as in the cases involving civil as well as criminal cases and involving grave and important legal issues as regards the translation of the Constitution. 

Appeals also rest with the Supreme Court in matters of civil cases where the High Court in question certifies that:

  1. The case concerns a grave legal issue of public significance; and 
  2. In the High Court’s judgement, the Supreme Court must rule on that issue. 

In criminal cases, an appeal is brought before the Supreme Court, if the concerned High Court:

  1. has overturned a decision of acquittal of the person who has been convicted on appeal and sentenced him/her to death or imprisonment for a lifetime or for a period not to be less than the tenure of 10 years; 
  2. have removed from any court subject to his jurisdiction for trial before him and sentenced the convicted to death or imprisonment for a lifetime or for a period not to be less than the tenure of 10 years in the said trial;
  3. found that case to be eligible for appeal before the Supreme Court. The Parliament is entitled to endow additional powers that vest with the Supreme Court to entertain and decide appeals from any decision, final order or conviction in a High Court criminal case.

The Supreme Court also has a very broad appeal jurisdiction across all courts and tribunals in India to the degree that it can, as per it’s discretionary power, grant special leave to appeal within Article 136 given in the Constitution from any judgement, declaration, decision, sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal in the entire territory of India in case related to any legal issue or matter.

Advisory jurisdiction

The Supreme Court shall have special advisory authority in matters which the President of India may expressly refer to it under Article 143 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction can be exercised by a certificate issued by the High Court concerned pursuant to Articles 132(1), 133(1) or 134 of the Constitution in respect of any High Court’s judgement, decision or final order in both civil and criminal cases involving serious questions of law as regards the interpretation of the Constitution.

Appeals also rest with the Supreme Court in civil cases if, in such conditions, the High Court concerned certifies that. The Supreme Court shall have special advisory authority in matters which the President of India may expressly refer to it under Article 143 of the Constitution. Law declared binding by the Supreme Court is binding on all tribunals. Article 141 of the Indian Constitution provides that every statute, decision, order or decree shall be binding on all lower tribunals in India. But it also ensures that its own judgments are not bound by the Supreme Court, and it may revoke its own judgement.

There have been numerous instances where there has been evidence of such a matter. In the case of Bengal Immunity Co. v Bihar State, the court held that there is nothing in the Indian Constitution that forbids the Supreme Court from departing from its previous judgement if it is persuaded of its mistake and its beneficial effect on the public interest. The SC has overturned two of its decisions in Golaknath v State of Punjab i.e. the case of Shankari Prasad, and the case of Sajjan Singh. And again in the case of the Fundamental Right, the SC reconsidered and overruled its decision in the case of Golaknath.

Article 142 of the Indian Constitution provides that, in the exercise of its jurisdiction, the SC may pass such decrees or orders as may be required in the matter pending before it for complete justice. The court’s decision is enforceable before Parliament makes provision for it to be in the manner specified by the president. Article 144 as per the Indian Constitution provides that, with the assistance of that Supreme Court, all civil and judicial authorities in the territory of India shall act. The power bestowed by Article 142 is intrinsic power and can be used to do maximum justice. And under Article 144, the power is rather broad and legal theories may be developed by the court to satisfy the ends of justice.

According to the provisions of almost any law made in that name by Parliament, the Supreme Court, as regards the entire territory of India, shall have any and all authority to change any order or law for the purpose of preserving the presence of any individual, the discovery or processing of any records, or the inspection or penalty of any contempt for itself. This has been enshrined as per Article 144(2) of the Indian Constitution.

The vision of justice as envisaged in our Constitution is such that all people are made equal to certain inalienable rights and, in order to protect these rights, governments deriving their powers from the consent of those governed are instituted; and if some sort of rule becomes destructive of those ends, citizens have the right to withdraw their consent, thus, bringing in a new government that would safeguard people’s rights. 

The Constitution assumes that the common good is consistent with ensuring human rights for the largest number of people. The Constitution’s provisions were worded economically yet dynamically extended by the Supreme Court and the High Courts throughout the country to meet the need that has arisen from time to time, making the provisions meaningful and important to the citizens of India. Ours is a noble Constitution which the people of consummate abilities and loyalty have reared up. It is a document founded on solid moral roots and rooted in timeless principles; our Constitution offers a gallant show of unprecedented virtues of agelessness with a great vision of justice.


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