From Justice Definitions Project

What is a Court?

A Court can be understood as a place where trials and other legal cases happen so as to decide if someone is guilty.[1]

Even though the Indian government is relatively federal in nature, the Constitution designed a unified judicial system for the entire nation.

Hierarchy of Courts in India

Structure and levels of courts in India [1]

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest constitutional court as well as the highest court of appeal. It has both original, appellate and advisory jurisdictions, as well as the power to review.

  • Original jurisdiction constitutes the power to adjudicate disputes between the union government and one or more states or between two or more states (Article 131) and enforce fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution by issuing directions or writs such as habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari (Article 32).
  • Appellate jurisdiction covers appeals from judgments, decrees or final orders (in criminal, civil, or other proceedings) passed by the High Courts when they certify that substantial questions of law are involved (Articles 132–134-A). It also has the discretion to grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence, or order in any matter passed by any court or tribunal (Article 136). Further, it hears criminal appeals where the death sentence has been awarded (Article 134).
  • In addition, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to provide opinions on any question of law or fact of public importance referred to it by the President of India (Article 143), as well as the power to review its judgments or orders (Article 137).

Notably, the law declared by the Supreme Court through its judgments is binding on all courts in India (Article 141).

High Courts

The High Courts are the highest courts of law in the state or union territory in which they are situated or have jurisdiction. Their judgments have legal effect within the territories of the states and/or union territories over which they have jurisdiction.

The High Courts hear civil and criminal appeals from subordinate courts under their control. The High Courts of Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras however have original jurisdiction in civil cases of certain monetary value. Every High Court has original jurisdiction in revenue matters (Article 225) as well as those relating to admiralty, matrimony, probate, contempt of court and election petitions.

Significantly, other than the Supreme Court, High Courts are the only courts entrusted with writ jurisdiction for enforcing fundamental rights as well as for other purposes under the Constitution (Article 226). This jurisdiction of the High Courts is wider than that of the Supreme Court.

High Courts have the supervisory authority over the district and sessions courts, other subordinate courts, and tribunals within the territory of each state (Article 227).

District and Sessions courts

The district and sessions courts are the highest judicial authorities in a district. The judges presiding over this court are called district judges when they decide civil cases and sessions judges when they hear criminal cases.

The subordinate courts that decide civil cases are the senior and junior (munsif) divisions. They are under the direct administrative control of the jurisdictional district court. Their procedures are governed by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.[2]

The subordinate courts that try criminal cases are the courts of the chief judicial magistrate, first class judicial magistrate and second class judicial magistrate. The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Samhita, 2023[3] governs the process of criminal trials. The jurisdiction of each court depends upon the severity of the crime and the appropriate punishment imposed by the Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita, 2023.[4]


Outside the three-tier court system, there are several institutions which are established by legislations for resolving disputes. Such judicial bodies, generally termed tribunals, provide a dispute resolution forum other than courts for handling disputes concerning the area specified by the statutes under which they are established.


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