Hierarchy of Criminal Courts in India

Hierarchy of criminal court



Legal system in India refers to a procedure or process for interpreting and enforcing the law. It elaborates the rights and responsibilities in a variety of ways. Therefore, it is the set of laws of a country and the ways in which they are interpreted and enforced. Criminal Justice is the system of practices and institutions of governments directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime, or sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties and rehabilitation efforts. It is the process of punishing and reforming of offender. Those accused of crime have some protections against abuse of investigatory and prosecution powers. Criminal justice systems are very different around the world depending on the country

Hierarchy of Criminal Courts:-

  1. Supreme Court: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.( See. 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.

  1. High Court:- 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.

High Court has the following powers:- 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. See. Nasreen Jahan Begum and another Vs. Syed Mohammed Alamder Ali Abedi and another – 1995 (2) ALT(CRI.)(A.P) 319.

  1. Court of Session:- 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:- (i) District Judges; (ii) Additional District Judge (iii) Principal Judge, Additional Principal Judge and Judges of City Civil and Sessions Court, Mumbai. (iv) Chief Judge and Additional Chief Judges of Court of Small Causes. Assistant Session Judge:- Senior Civil Judges:- (i) Chief Metropolitan Magistrate; (ii) Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates; (iii) Judges of Court of Small Causes and Metropolitan Magistrates; (iv) 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.

  1. Judicial Magistrate of First Class and in metropolitan area – Metropolitan Magistrate; Chief Judicial Magistrate:– 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.
  2. Judicail Magistrate of Second Class:- Judicial Magistrates are appointed and controlled by the High Court and discharge judicial functions.
  3. Executive Magistrate:- 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.

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.


The Supreme Court is the highest court of the country. It is established by the Constitution of India. It is the highest court of appeal. As per Indian Constitutional Scheme, the High Court is responsible for the entire administration of justice in the State. Article 236 (a) of the Indian Constitution says that the expression district judge includes ‘Assistant Sessions Judge’. The district courts administer justice at a district level. Under Article 236(b), the expression ‘judicial service’ is defined to mean a service consisting exclusively of persons intended to fill the post of District Judge and other civil judicial posts inferior to the post of District Judge. Judicial service thus postulates a hierarchy of courts with the District Judge as the head and other judicial officers under him discharging only judicial functions. Going by these tests laid down as to what constitutes judicial service under Article 236 of the Constitution, the Labour Court judges and the judges of the Industrial Court can be held to belong to judicial service. The hierarchy contemplated in the case of Labour Court judges is the hierarchy of Labour Court judges and Industrial Court judges with the Industrial Court judges holding the superior position of District Judges. The Labour courts have also been held as subject to the High Courts power of superintendence under Article 227.


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