The Indian government has been guided by three pillars/organs; Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. The Legislature is responsible for enacting/ making laws, and the Executive is responsible for the execution of those laws. And the third organ is Judiciary which is responsible for interpreting the laws, settling disputes, and administering justice to all citizens. The judiciary is considered the watchdog of democracy and is also regarded as the guardian of the Constitution. To guarantee that the rule of law would inure to, and for, everyone and the promises made by the Constitution would not remain merely on paper, the Constitution makers made provisions for independence of the judiciary. Further, it acts as a backbone of the government because whenever there is a dispute between the Centre and State, between State and the citizens, and among the states, Judiciary is the only organ that controls the dispute and passes judgment. The Judgment passed by the Judiciary is binding on all whether it may be citizens or government. Judiciary is the guardian of human rights, protector of the constitution, and promoter of peace and cordiality in India. It checks and balances the legislative or executive actions of the Government. Judiciary in India enjoys a very significant position since it has been made the guardian and custodian of the Constitution. Living in a country that has been ranked a country with the 2nd largest population in the world, makes it necessary to have a fair and impartial judiciary system.
Unlike the American Constitution, the Indian Constitution has established an integrated judicial system. There are various levels of judiciary in India that form a hierarchy. This Hierarchy consists of different types of courts, each with varying powers depending on the tier and jurisdiction bestowed upon them. They form a hierarchy of importance, in line with the order of courts in which they sit, with the Supreme Court of India at the top, followed by High Courts of respective states with District Judges sitting in District Courts and Magistrates of Second Class and Civil Judge (Junior Division) at the bottom.
The author of this article will endeavor to explain this hierarchy of Courts.
HIERARCHY OF COURTS
The Supreme Court of India was inaugurated on January 28, 1950. It succeeded the Federal Court of India, established under the Government of India Act of 1935. Notwithstanding, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is greater than that of its predecessor. This is because the Supreme Court has superseded the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal. Articles 124 to 147 in Part V of the Constitution administer with the organization, independence, jurisdiction, powers, procedures, and so on of the Supreme Court. The Parliament is also authorized to regulate them.
· ORGANISATION OF SUPREME COURT
Presently, the Supreme Court consists of thirty-one judges (one chief justice and thirty other judges). In February 2009, the center announced an accretion in the number of Supreme Court judges from twenty-six to thirty-one, including the Chief Justice of India. This supported the enactment of the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 2008. Originally, the strength of the Supreme Court was determined at eight (one chief justice and seven other judges). The Parliament has raised this number of other judges progressively to ten in 1956, to thirteen in 1960, to 17 in 1977, and 25 in 1986.
· APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES
The appointment of the judges of the Supreme Court is done by the president. The chief justice is appointed by the president following consultation with such judges of the Supreme Court and high courts as he considers essential. The other judges are appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice plus other judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts as he deems essential. The consultation with the chief justice is essential in the case of the appointment of a judge other than the Chief justice.
· QUALIFICATIONS OF JUDGES
A person to be designated as a judge of the Supreme Court should have the following qualifications:
1. He should be a citizen of India.
2. (a) He should have been a judge of a High Court (or high courts in succession) for five years, or (b) He should have been an advocate of a High Court (or High Courts in succession) for ten years, or (c) He should be a distinguished jurist in the opinion of the president.
From the above-mentioned points, it is apparent that the Constitution has not prescribed a minimum age for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.
· OATH OR AFFIRMATION
A person appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court, before joining upon his office, has to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation in front of the President, or some person appointed by him for the same. In this oath, a judge of the Supreme Court swears:
1. to have true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India;
2. to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India;
3. to duly and faithfully and to the best of his ability, knowledge, and judgment discharge the duties of the Office fearlessly, without favour, affection or ill-will; and
4. to uphold the Constitution and the laws.
· TENURE OF JUDGES
The Constitution has not set the tenure of a judge of the Supreme Court. However, it advances the following three stipulations in this regard:
1. He exists in office until he achieves the age of 65 years. Any question regarding his age is to be resolved by such authority and in such mode as provided by Parliament.
2. He can resign his office by writing to the president.
3. He can be expelled from his office by the President on the recommendation of the Parliament.
· REMOVAL OF JUDGES
A judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from his post by an order of the president. The President can declare the removal order only after an address by Parliament has been conferred to him in the same session for such removal. The address must be bolstered by a special majority of each House of Parliament (ie, a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting). The grounds of such deportation are two—proved misbehaviour or incapacity. further, The Judges Enquiry Act (1968) guides the procedure relating to the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court by the rule of impeachment:
1. A removal motion endorsed by 100 members (in the case of Lok Sabha) or 50 members (in the case of Rajya Sabha) is to be given to the Speaker/Chairman.
2. The Speaker/Chairman may allow the motion or decline to admit it.
3. If it is confirmed, then the Speaker/Chairman is to organize a three-member committee to investigate the charges.
4. The committee should consist of (a) the chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court, (b) the chief justice of a high court, and (c) a prominent jurist.
5. If the committee determines the judge to be guilty of misbehaviour or affliction from an incapacity, the House can take up the consideration of the motion.
6. After the motion is passed by each House of Parliament by a special majority, an address is manifested to the president for removal of the judge.
7. Finally, the president relinquishes an order removing the judge. It is fascinating to ken that no judge of the Supreme Court has been impeached so far. The first and the only case of impeachment is that of Justice V Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court (1991–1993). Though the inquiry Committee found him guilty for his misbehaviour, he could not be expelled as the impeachment motion was crushed in the Lok Sabha. The Congress Party refrained from voting.
SALARIES AND ALLOWANCES
The salaries, allowances, privileges, leave and pension of the judges of the Supreme Court are settled from time to time by the Parliament. They cannot deviate to their disadvantage after their appointment, except during a financial emergency. In 2009, the wages of the chief justice were raised from 33,000 to 1 lakh per month and that of a judge from 30,000 to 90,000 per month. They are also paid a sumptuary allowance and rendered with free accommodation and other facilities like medical, car, telephone, etc. The retired chief justice and judges are designated to 50 percent of their last drawn salary as their monthly pension.
· SEAT OF SUPREME COURT
The Constitution assures Delhi as the seat of the Supreme Court. However, it also authorizes the chief justice of India to elect other place or places as the seat of the Supreme Court. He can decide in this regard solely with the approval of the President. This provision is only voluntary and not compulsory. This means that no court can grant any direction either to the President or to the Chief Justice to elect any other place as a seat of the Supreme Court.
· PROCEDURE OF THE COURT
The Supreme Court can, with the consent of the president, make rules for directing generally the practice and procedure of the Court. The Constitutional cases or recommendations made by the President under Article 143 are decided by a Bench consisting of at least 5 judges. All other cases are usually determined by a bench consisting of not less than 3 judges. The judgments are addressed by the open court. All judgments are by majority vote but if differing, then judges can deliver dissenting judgments or opinions.
· INDEPENDENCE OF SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court has been allotted a very meaningful role in the Indian democratic political system. It is a federal court, the most distinguished court of appeal, the guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens, and guardian of the Constitution. Therefore, its independence becomes very crucial for the effective emanation of the duties assigned to it. It should be liberated from the encroachments, pressures, and interferences of the executive (council of ministers) and the Legislature (Parliament). It should be enabled to do justice without fear or favour. The Constitution has made the following provisions to safeguard and secure the independent and impartial functioning of the Supreme Court:
Mode of Appointment
The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President (which means the cabinet) in consultation with the members of the judiciary itself (ie, judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts). This provision abridges the absolute discretion of the executive as well as assures that the judicial appointments are not based on any political or practical deliberations.
2. Security of Tenure
The judges of the Supreme Court are equipped with the Security of Tenure. They can be expelled from office by the President only in the manner and on the grounds specified in the Constitution. This means that they do not hold their office throughout the pleasure of the President, though they are furnished by him. This is evident from the fact that no judge of the Supreme Court has been removed (or impeached) so far.
3. Fixed Service Conditions
The salaries, allowances, privileges, leave and pension of the judges of the Supreme Court are settled from time to time by the Parliament. They cannot be altered to their disadvantage after their appointment except during a financial emergency. Thus, the requirements of service of the judges of the Supreme Court remain the same during their term of office.
4. Expenses Charged on Consolidated Fund
The salaries, allowances, and pensions of the judges and the staff as well as all the administrative expenses o