Supreme Court of India’s History, Origin & All you need to Know

Supreme Court of India

Part 1: The Birth of Judiciary 
The concept of Dharma or law in ancient India was inspired by the Vedas which contained rules of conduct and rites and compiled in Dharma Sutras, were practiced in a number of branches of the Vedic schools. Their principal contents address the duties of people at various stages of life, the rights and duties of the kings and juridical matters. These were basis of Hindu Law. The earliest document throwing light on the theory of jurisprudence, which forms
part of practical governance, is the Artha Sastra of Kautilya dating back to circa 300 B.C. The third chapter deals with Vyavahara i.e. transactions between two or more parties or Vivada or disputation.
During the first seven centuries of Christian era, there evolved a number of Dharma sastras which dealt extensively with Manu, Yajnavalkya, Narda and Parashara smiritis etc. In medieval India, the religious leaders endeavoured to transform Islam into a religion of law, but as custodian of justice, the rulers made the Sharia, a court subservient to their sovereign power. Theoretically the rulers had to be obedient to the Sharia and history speaks about certain cases where sovereigns unhesistengly submitted to the Qazi’s decision. The rulers sat in a Court known as Mazalim (complaints). According to Ibn Battuta, Muhammad bin Tughalaq, ruler of Tughalaq dynasty, heard complaints each Monday and Thursday. From 13th century onwards, an officer known as Amir-i- dad presided over the secular Court in sultan’s absence. He was also responsible for implementing Qazis’ decisions and for drawing their attention to the cases which constituted miscarriage of justice.
The Muftis were the expert on Sharia law and gave Fatwas (formal legal rulings) on disputes referred to them by members of the public or qazis. The Chief Judge of the sultanate was known as the qazi –i- mamalik also known as
the qazi- ul- quzat.
During Mughals period the secular judge was known as Mir- adl . He acted as a judge on the Emperor’s behalf. He was required to make impartial and personal inquiries. He was also responsible for implementing qazi’s decisions. Emperor Akbar also appointed two officers, called tui-begis, to supervise the adherence to the law and fixed a nominal amount as their fee. The same system was followed till British took over the power of India.

Part 2: Birth of Supreme Court of India

The promulgation of Regulating Act of 1773 by the King of England paved the way for establishment of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta. The Letters of Patent was issued on 26 March 1774 to establish the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta, as a Court of Record, with full power & authority to hear and determine all complaints for any crimes and also to entertain, hear and determine any suits or actions against any of His Majesty’s subjects in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Supreme Courts at Madras and Bombay was established by King George – III on 26 December 1800 and on 8 December 1823 respectively.

The India High Courts Act 1861 was enacted to create High Courts for various provinces and abolished Supreme Courts at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and also the Sadar Adalats in Presidency towns. These High Courts had  he distinction of being the highest Courts for all cases till the creation of Federal Court of India under the Government of India Act 1935. The Federal Court had jurisdiction to solve disputes between provinces and federal states
and hear appeal against Judgements from High Courts. After India attained independence in 1947, the Constitution of India came into being on 26 January 1950. The Supreme Court of India also came into existence and its first sitting was held on 28 January 1950.

The law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all Courts within the territory of India. It has power of judicial review – to strike down the legislative and executive action contrary to the provisions and the scheme of the
constitution, the distribution of power between Union and States or inimical to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

In formative years, the Apex Court met from 10 to 12 in the morning and then 2 to 4 in the afternoon for 28 days in a year. Today, it has enormous task and meeting for 190 days in a year.

Supreme Court of India came into existence on 26th January, 1950 and is located on Tilak Marg, New Delhi. The Supreme Court of India functioned from the Parliament House till it moved to the present building. It has a 27.6 metre high dome and a spacious colonnaded verandah. For a peek inside, you’ll have to obtain a visitor’s pass from the front office.

On the 28th of January, 1950, two days after India became a Sovereign Democratic Republic, the Supreme Court came into being. The inauguration took place in the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building which also housed India’s Parliament, consisting of the Council of States and the House of the People. It was here, in this Chamber of Princes, that the Federal Court of India had sat for 12 years between 1937 and 1950. This was to be the home of the Supreme Court for years that were to follow until the Supreme Court acquired its own present premises.

The inaugural proceedings were simple but impressive. They began at 9.45 a.m. when the Judges of the Federal Court – Chief Justice Harilal J.Kania and Justices Saiyid Fazl Ali, M. Patanjali Sastri, Mehr Chand Mahajan, Bijan Kumar Mukherjea and S.R.Das – took their seats. In attendance were the Chief Justices of the High Courts of Allahabad, Bombay, Madras, Orissa, Assam, Nagpur, Punjab, Saurashtra, Patiala and the East Punjab States Union, Mysore, Hyderabad, Madhya Bharat and Travancore-Cochin. Along with the Attorney General for India, M.C. Setalvad were present the Advocate Generals of Bombay, Madras, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, East Punjab, Orissa, Mysore, Hyderabad and Madhya Bharat. Present too, were Prime Minister, other Ministers, Ambassadors and diplomatic representatives of foreign States, a large number of Senior and other Advocates of the Court and other distinguished visitors.

Taking care to ensure that the Rules of the Supreme Court were published and the names of all the Advocates and agents of the Federal Court were brought on the rolls of the Supreme Court, the inaugural proceedings were over and put under part of the record of the Supreme Court.

After its inauguration on January 28, 1950, the Supreme Court commenced its sittings in a part of the Parliament House. The Court moved into the present building in 1958. The building is shaped to project the image of scales of justice. The Central Wing of the building is the Centre Beam of the Scales. In 1979, two New Wings – the East Wing and the West Wing – were added to the complex. In all there are 15 Court Rooms in the various wings of the building. The Chief Justice’s Court is the largest of the Courts located in the Centre of the Central Wing.

The original Constitution of 1950 envisaged a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 puisne Judges – leaving it to Parliament to increase this number. In the early years, all the Judges of the Supreme Court sat together to hear the cases presented before them. As the work of the Court increased and arrears of cases began to cumulate, Parliament increased the number of Judges from 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978 and 26 in 1986. As the number of the Judges has increased, they sit in smaller Benches of two and three – coming together in larger Benches of 5 and more only when required to do so or to settle a difference of opinion or controversy.

The Supreme Court of India comprises the Chief Justice and 30 other Judges appointed by the President of India. Supreme Court Judges retire upon attaining the age of 65 years. In order to be appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court, a person must be a citizen of India and must have been, for atleast five years, a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession, or an Advocate of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession for at least 10 years or he must be, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist. Provisions exist for the appointment of a Judge of a High Court as an Ad-hoc Judge of the Supreme Court and for retired Judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts to sit and act as Judges of that Court.

The Constitution seeks to ensure the independence of Supreme Court Judges in various ways. A Judge of the Supreme Court cannot be removed from office except by an order of the President passed after an address in each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of members present and voting, and presented to the President in the same Session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. A person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court is debarred from practising in any court of law or before any other authority in India.

The proceedings of the Supreme Court are conducted in English only. Supreme Court Rules, 1966 are framed under Article 145 of the Constitution to regulate the practice and procedure of the Supreme Court.

Part 3: Appointment of the Judges

Every Judge of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President after consultation with the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts in states, the president may deem necessary for the purpose. President if thinks necessary,  can consult the Judges of the High Courts of States to appoint a supreme court Judge, as per article 124(2). However, in appointment of the other judges, president shall always seek consultation from the Chief Justice of India. Till 1993, the Judges of the Supreme Court were appointed by the President on recommendation of the CJI, but now a committee of 5 senior most judges recommends the names to the law ministry which after scrutinizing send the paper to the president. The president either approves the names or returns the names for reconsideration of the Supreme Court. If still the Supreme Court sends the same names president appoints the persons recommended.

Part 4: Qualifications of the Judges of the Supreme Court

To be appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court, a person must be a citizen of India and must have been the judge of a high court for a period of 5 years or an advocate of the High Court for at least 10 years or in view of the President a distinct Jurist of the country.  Thus, there is nothing which can prevent the direct appointment of the Judges of Supreme Court from the Bar, yet, so far the appointments have been made from the Judges of High Courts only.

Part 5: Tenure of the Judges

The CJI and other Judges of the Supreme Court of India hold the office until they attain the age of 65 years { Presently, Supreme Court judges retire at 65 and High Court judges at 62}. A Judge can relinquish the office by addressing the resignation to President of India. A retired Judge of the Supreme Court is prohibited from practicing law before any court or authority within the territory of India; however, there is NO constitutional prohibition that a retired judge gets appointed for some specialized work of the Government.

Part 6: Removal of Supreme Court Judges

A Judge of the Supreme Court (and also High Court) can be removed from his position by President only on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. The power for investigation and proof of such misbehaviour or incapacity is vested in the parliament. Each house, in order to remove the judge, will have to pass a resolution which is supported by 2/3rd of members present and voting and majority of the total membership of the house {absolute + special majority}

Part 7: Salary of the Supreme Court Judges

The Constitution of India gives the power of deciding remuneration to the Parliament of India. Accordingly, such provisions have been laid down in The Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1958. This remuneration was revised in 2006-2008, after the sixth central pay commission’s recommendation

The salary and pension of Supreme Court Judges is a Non-votable expenditure charged from the Consolidated Fund of India.  The Salary of the High Court Judges is charged from the Consolidated Fund of States while the pension of the High Court Judges is charged from the consolidated fund India.

Part 8: When CJI is absent

Any other Judge of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President as Acting Chief justice as per provisions of Article 126.

Part 9: Post Retirement Jobs

Retired judges of Supreme Court are barred from pleading or acting in any court within the territory of India. However, government generally uses the retired higher judiciary judges as heads of various commissions. There has been a demand from certain sections of the society that there should be a “cool off” period of two years for the retired judges before they are installed in other offices.

Part 10: Ad Hoc Judges

Ad hoc judges can be appointed in the Supreme Court by “Chief Justice of India” with the prior consent of the President, if there is no quorum of judges available to hold and continue the session of the court. Only the persons who are qualified as to be appointed as Judge of the Supreme Court can be appointed as ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court. (Article 127). Further, as per provisions of the Article 128, Chief Justice of India, with the previous consent of the President, request a retired Judge of the Supreme Court High Court, who is duly qualified for appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court, to sit and act as a Judge of the Supreme Court. The salary & allowance of such judge are decided by the president. The retired Judge who sits in such a session of the Supreme Court has all the jurisdiction, powers and privileges of the Judges BUT are NOT deemed to be a Judge.

Part 11: Supreme Court and High Courts as Court of Record

Both the Supreme Court and High Courts regarded as courts of record.  Supreme Court is a court of record as per provisions of Article 129 and has the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Part 12: Seat of Supreme Court

As per article 130, Seat of the Supreme Court is Delhi, but it can hold its meeting anywhere in India. The decision to hold a meeting anywhere in India is taken by the Chief Justice of India in consultation with President. There are no regional benches though the demand was made in past. The demand was turned down by the Supreme Court.



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