This article is written by Anushka Singhal, a student of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. In this article, she discusses the beginning of the court system in India and then tries to throw some light on the hierarchy of the judges at the district level, their functions, roles as well as the problems faced by them.
Chapter VI of the Indian constitution lays down the provisions for subordinate courts. This chapter contains Articles 233-237 of the Indian Constitution. Our country has a federal form of government with the separation of powers. There are three organs of the government: the legislative, executive and judiciary. The legislative exercises the law making power; the executives ensure that the implementation of the laws and the judiciary plays an important role in ensuring that the wrongdoers are punished in case there is a breach of law. The Indian judiciary exercises its power at three levels: the national level, state level and district level.
Beginning of the Court System in India
The Court system started in India with the British era. It was Lord Warren Hastings as well as Lord Cornwallis who started the ‘Adalat system’ in India. At that time there was no differentiation as it is in modern times, but it was the ‘Adalats’ of the British era only that laid the foundation of the judicial system in India. He laid down the plan of 1772 in which the following Adalats were there-
- Mofussil Diwani Adalats-They looked after the civil cases up to an amount of Rs. 500.
- Sadar Diwani Adalats-The appeals from the mofussil Diwani adalats went to the Sadar Diwani Adalats.
- Mofussil Nizamat Adalats-these adalats dealt with criminal cases. Qazis and muftis helped in dealing with criminal cases.
- Sadar Nizamat Adalat-It dealt with the appeals from the mofussil Nizamat adalats and sat at Calcutta.
Then we had the plan of 1774 wherein ‘amils’ replaced the collector and finally, with the plan of 1780, we saw more differentiation between civil and revenue matters. Also, the supreme court was established at Calcutta in 1774. Then Lord Cornwallis came up with three plans: the plans of 1784, 1790 and 1793. He tried to improve the whole system, and we can say that through these little steps, we reached where we are now and the judicial system was established.
Provisions under the Indian Constitution
Article 233 lays down the provisions for the appointment of district-level judges. According to this Article:
- The governor of the state, in consultation with the advice of the High court of the same state, would be vested with the powers of appointing a District Judge.
- A person can only be appointed as a District Judge if he has been an advocate for not less than seven years except in the cases when he is already in service of the central or state government.
A District Judge is a vast terminology and includes a judge of a City Civil Court, Additional District Judge, Joint District Judge, Assistant District Judge, Chief Judge of a Small Cause Court, Chief Presidency Magistrate, Additional Chief Presidency Magistrate, Sessions Judge, Additional Session Judge and Assistant Sessions Judge and this has been rightly explained by Article 236 of the Indian Constitution. The Indian constitution also lays down that the control over the district courts and other subordinate courts would be exercised by the High Court of that particular state in which the subordinate court is located. All the decisions regarding appointment, promotion, grants, leave etc. will be taken by the High court only. Also, vide the twentieth Amendment of 1966, the provisions for the validation of such appointments was laid down.
Hierarchy of the District Level Judges
District level courts are divided into two types based on the type of cases that they deal with. They are divided into civil and criminal courts. Under civil courts, we have the District Courts as the highest court, with the District Judge as the highest authority. Then we have the sub-courts with a senior civil judge acting as the presiding officer. The sub-courts are followed by the Principal Junior Civil Judge Court presided by a Principal Junior Civil Judge and the Munsif Court is the lowest level Court with the Munsif or the Junior Civil Judge acting as the Presiding Officer. For criminal jurisdiction, we have the Sessions Court with the sessions judge at the highest level. The Sessions Court is followed by the Judicial Magistrate (First Class) Court with the Chief Judicial Magistrate acting as the judge and at the lowest level we have the Judicial Magistrate (Second Class) Court.
We also have the metropolitan courts in the metro areas like Delhi wherein the hierarchy is a bit different from the district level. Here also, there is a division between civil and criminal jurisdiction. To deal with civil cases, we have the city civil courts and the courts of smaller causes. For the disposal of the criminal cases, we have the sessions court, the chief metropolitan courts and the metropolitan magistrate courts.
Classification based on jurisdiction
In accordance with Sections 15-20 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 the civil courts, based on jurisdiction, are categorised as follows:
- Pecuniary Jurisdiction- Section 15 of the CPC lays down that every case has to be filed in the lowest court that is competent to try the same.
- Territorial Jurisdiction- Sections 16 to 20 deal with the territorial jurisdiction of the court. Further, Section 17 explicitly lays down provisions regarding the immovable property. Section 18 lays down the provisions for filing a case wherein the jurisdiction is uncertain. Similarly, Section 19 lays down the provisions for cases of wrongs to persons and movable property, and Section 20 says that all other suits need to be filed where the defendant resides or where the cause of action arose.
- Subject Matter Jurisdiction – Section 9 of the CPC lays down that, the courts shall have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature barring suits of which their cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred.
Jurisdiction of Criminal Court
Sections 177 to 189 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 lays down the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. Provisions regarding crimes happening at more than one place, crimes happening by letters, crimes relating to other offences, offences when on a voyage or journey etc. are provided by Sections 177-189 of the CrPC and thus the criminal courts exercise their power keeping in mind the jurisdiction.
Role and Functions of the Judges
Judges act as the backbone of our legal system and ensure that no one is deprived of justice. The district-level courts and judges act as the foundation of the Indian Judiciary and serve an important function. Following are some of the functions of the district level judges-
- They are the ones who originally hear the case first. Whenever there is a civil or criminal wrong, these are the courts that are first approached, unless a person is going under the writ jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court.
- They play an important role in the application and interpretation of laws. They apply the literal rule of interpretation initially but can also apply the purposive rule, the mischief rule or the golden rule as and when needed.
- They act as the safeguard of the constitution and ensure that people live up to the spirit of the constitution.
- They protect our rights. Whenever someone intervenes with the fundamental rights, the judges intervene there.
- They ensure that the decisions or orders given are properly enforced. On failure, a case of contempt of court can be filed.
- They also appoint the lower-level officers like clerks etc. and ensure that the institution works smoothly.
Challenges faced by district level judiciary
The district-level judges and judiciary face a plethora of issues. From vacancies to an overload of cases, from infrastructural shortcomings to less experienced judges, the problems are big in number. Here are some of the basic problems at the district level judiciary-
Judicial appointments and vacancies
There are numerous vacancies at the district courts. They remain the most ignored courts as everyone focuses on the High Courts and Supreme Court and forget about the grass-root level courts. There is an exam that is popularly known as PCS-J to admit civil judges (junior division). In Malik Mazhar Sultan, the SC held that a two-tier process of examination should take 153 days and a three-tier examination procedure should take around 273 days. But most of the time, the governments are unable to complete the process on time. Therefore, there is always a pendency of cases at this level.
The facilities at a district-level court are not adequate. They are far behind the higher level courts when it comes to infrastructure. Digitalization has not been implemented properly and even several advocates and other officials do not know how to use basic tools like word and excel. According to a Report, there is a dearth of courtrooms at the district level.
Inadequate support staff
There is an inadequacy of support staff like clerks, scribes and other officials. Due to this, the office work cannot be conducted adequately and there is a pendency of cases.
Lack of training and legal awareness
The lower level judges become so overwhelmed with the cases at hand that they do not acquire knowledge of the recent changes in the law. It is necessary to provide them with proper training and workshops. Even the latest proposals by the bar indicate the same that one needs to work for a considerable period in litigation and then move with the judiciary.
Lesser number of women judges
According to a study conducted by Vidhi: Centre for Law and Legal Policy, there are only 27.6 percent of women in the lower judiciary. The absence of female judges affects the administration of justice. Recently, our Chief Justice said that the time has come that a female Chief Justice should be appointed. His comment sparked a discussion regarding the need for female judges at almost every level of the judiciary. Due to the absence of female judges, there is a lack of gender sensitisation. The judiciary has given decisions like tying a rakhi or marrying the rapists. Only a female can understand the plight of another female. The appointment of female judges would ensure justice in rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse cases.
The lower level judges play an important role when it comes to the dissemination of justice. Amid discussions concerning the tribunals, High Courts and the Supreme Court, the District Courts get sidelined. We must not forget that they are the foundation of the legal system; one has to face prosecution here before appealing to a higher court. The judges in this court can be appointed by two methods: either directly or after practising for a certain period of time. Owing to the importance of these courts and judges, it is our responsibility to improve the local judiciary and by resolving all the shortcomings, the same can easily be achieved.
- MP Jain, Outlines of Indian Legal and Constitutional History, LexisNexis Publication
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