Hierarchy of Criminal Courts In India


Besides the High Courts and the Courts constituted under any law, other than this code, there shall be, in every state, the following classes of Criminal Courts, namely:





The words “and the courts constituted under any law, other than this Code” would include courts like the Children’s Courts under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, or the Courts called as “Nyaya Panchayats” or “Panchayati Adalats” constituted under the different State Panchayati Raj Acts, or the special courts established under the Criminal Law Amendment Acts.


The Supreme court is the highest and final court of appeal under the Constitution of India. It is the highest constitutional court. The Apex Court has the following extensive powers :- Under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, Supreme Court has Writ jurisdiction.(See.A.32); It is the court of Record. It has power to punish for contempt under Article129; The Apex Court has original Jurisdiction under Article131; It is the highest Court of Appeal in the entire country under purview of Articles 132,133,134 & 136; Law declared by the Supreme Court binds on all Courts in India( A.141 of the Constitution) ; It has advisory Jurisdiction under Article143 of the Indian Constitution.  Articles 124 to 147 of the Indian Constitution lay down the composition and jurisdiction of the Court. Mainly, it is an appellate court which takes up appeals against judgments of the High Courts of the states and territories. However, it also takes writ petitions in cases of serious human rights violations or any petition filed under Article 32 which is the right to constitutional remedies or if a case involves a serious issue that needs immediate resolution.


In our country, there are various High Courts at the State and Union territory level, which together with the Supreme Court of India at the national level, comprise the country’s judicial system. Each High Court has jurisdiction over a State, a Union territory or a Group of States and Union territories. In our Constitutional Scheme, the High Court is responsible for the entire administration of justice in the State.


It is the court of Record. It has power to punish for contempt under Article 215 of the Constitution; High Court has original Jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters; It has appellate jurisdiction in respect of criminal and civil cases decided by Subordinate courts in the State; It has revisional jurisdiction conferred under the Civil Procedure Code,1908 and Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; It has Writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution besides the administrative Jurisdiction over subordinate courts in the State.

Article 227 of the Constitution of India, makes it crystal clear. That apart, under criminal Procedure Code, the ultimate revisional jurisdiction, be it under Section 397 read with Section 401 or exercise of inherent power under Section 482, is vested in the High Court. Any judgment or order rendered by the High Court shall bind all the subordinate courts, tribunals and authorities within the territory of State and if only there is a direct judgment of the Supreme Court contra to the proposition laid down by High Court, there will be a scope of interpretation by the subordinate Court, tribunal or authority. But, the subordinate courts, tribunals or authorities within the State cannot ignore the decision of then High Court even if there is a decision of another High Court on that point.


In India, there are district courts under different State governments in India for each and every district or for one or more districts together taking into account the number of cases, population distribution in the district. District Judges:-

  1. District Judges;

  2. Additional District Judge

  3. Principal Judge, Additional Principal Judge and Judges of City Civil and Sessions Court, Mumbai.

  4. Chief Judge and Additional Chief Judges of Court of Small Causes.

Assistant Session Judge:- Senior Civil Judges:-

  1. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate;

  2. Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates;

  3. Judges of Court of Small Causes and Metropolitan Magistrates;

  4. Civil Judges, Senior Division.

These district courts administer justice at a district level. In the district level, the District Judge or Additional District judge exercises jurisdiction both on original side and appellate side in civil and criminal matters arising in the District. The territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction in civil matters is usually set in concerned State enactments on the subject of civil courts. On the criminal side, jurisdiction is exclusively derived from the criminal procedure code, 1973. As per this code, the maximum sentence a Sessions Judge may award to a convict is capital punishment. Article 236 (a) of the Indian Constitution says that the expression district judge includes 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 sessions judge and assistant sessions judge.


Judicial Magistrates are appointed and controlled by the High Court and discharge judicial functions. Under section 11 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the High Court may confer the powers of judicial magistrate of the First Class or of the Second Class on any member of the Judicial Service of the State, functioning as a Judge in a Civil Court. A judicial magistrate first class can sentence a person to jail for up to three years and impose a fine of up to Rs. 5,000. A judicial magistrate second class can sentence a person to jail for up to one year and impose a fine of up to Rs. 3,000.


Judicial Magistrates are appointed and controlled by the High Court and discharge judicial functions. According to Section 29(3) of the CrPC., a Judicial Magistrate of Second Class may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or of fine not exceeding Five thousand (in madhya pradesh 25 thousand) rupees, or of both. A Judicial Magistrate of Second Class cannot entertain a Prayer for Police Remand while hearing for police files. If the police remand prayer is received, the same must be kept reserved and the case record must immediately be sent to Judicial Magistrate 1st Class. A Judicial Magistrate can try such offences which is triable by either “Any Magistrate” or “Judicial Magistrate 2nd Class” as enshrined in the Schedule I & II of the Cr.PC. Generally, the post for Judicial Magistrate 2nd Class is to be held for 6 months by the newly inducted officers unless the concerned Hon’ble High Court of a State pleased to seem fit to reduce or increase the time period of 6 months. A production Warrant issued by a Judicial Magistrate 2nd Class must be countersigned by the Chief Judicial Magistrate as per Section 267 Cr.PC.


In India, the Executive Magistrates are appointed and controlled by the State Government and discharge executive functions, i.e., maintenance of law and order. Unless otherwise defined by the District Magistrate, the jurisdiction and powers of every Executive Magistrate extends throughout the district or the metropolitan area, as the case may be as given u/s 22 of Cr.P.C. The Executive Magistrates focus mainly on the police and administrative functions with little or no concern about the judicial aspect of the process. However, they play a very significant role in the maintenance of law and order within the framework of just and reasonable procedure trying to ensure that the personal liberties of the citizens are not infringed or blatantly disregarded. There have been provisions made allowing the functions of the Executive Magistrate to be discharged by the Judicial Magistrate in consultation with the legislative assembly of that state. Executive Magistrates sometimes act as courts when they take up functions that are judicial in nature while conducting an inquiry under S.116 of the CrPC in connection with maintaining peace and order under S.107 of the CrPC. But this role is subsumed when he takes up his duties that are purely administrative in nature and hence it can be said that the executive magistrate often plays a dual role in their functioning.

Sentencing power of the Courts:-

Supreme Court : – Any sentence authorized by law.

High Court: Any Sentence authorized by law u/s 28(1) CrPC

Session Judge, Additional Session Judge:- Any sentence authorized by law, Sentence of death, however, is subject to confirmation by High Court u/s 28(2) CrPC

Assistant Session Judge:- Imprisonment upto 10 years and/or fine. u/s. 28(3)

Chief Judicial Magistrate, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate:- Imprisonment upto 7 years and/or fine. u/s 29(1)(4) of Cr.P.C.

Judicial Magistrate First Class, Metropolitan Magistrate:- Imprisonment upto 3 years and/or fine upto Rs. 10,000/-. u/s. 29(2) of Cr.P.C.

Judicial Magistrate Second Class:- Imprisonment upto 1 year and/or fine upto Rs. 5,000/-. u/s 29(3) of Cr.P.C.

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