Subordinate Courts of India: Structure and Constitutional Provisions

Subordinate Courts of India

India, being the world’s biggest democracy requires a resilient judiciary for its proper functioning. And judiciary in India is indeed resilient (some may have a different perspective of the Indian judiciary, given the huge logjam of pending cases). The Indian judiciary has a systematic hierarchy of courts at the state level, which is extremely important to facilitate such a large population and the subsequent high number of disputes between the people, which needs to be solved to ensure justice to everyone. So, the state judiciary in India consists of a High Court and a hierarchy of subordinate courts. These subordinate courts are subordinate to the High Court of the state and function under the High Court, so, they are also called lower courts. They are present at the district and lower levels. So, in this article, we’d be elaborating about the subordinate courts of India, their structure, jurisdiction, constitutional provisions, and functions.

Subordinate Courts of India
Image by- District Courts – eCourts

Subordinate Courts of India

Structure of Subordinate Courts of India

The structure of subordinate courts is not uniform throughout the country. This is because the provisions regarding their structure, jurisdiction, and nomenclature are laid down by the states. Basically, there are three tiers of civil and criminal courts that are subordinate to the High Court, which is shown in the image below-

Subordinate Courts of India
Image by- SIR MK
The district judge: District and Sessions Court

So, as it can be seen in the image above, the highest judicial authority in a district is the district judge. The district judge possesses appellate jurisdiction in both criminal and civil matters. The district judge also functions as a sessions judge. This is because when he deals with criminal cases, he is called district judge, and when he deals with civil cases, he is called the sessions judge. The district judge is further empowered to exercise supervisory powers over all the subordinate courts in the district, hence, the district judge exercises both judicial and administrative powers.

Sessions judge has the power to impose any sentence including life imprisonment and death sentence. However, in the case of a death sentence, the order of the sessions judge has to be confirmed by the High Court. The appeal against his judgment lies to the High Court of the state.

Court of Subordinate Judge and Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate
Subordinate Courts of India
Image by- District Courts – eCourts

The court, subordinate to the District and Sessions Court, on the civil side, is called the Court of Subordinate Judge. And the court on the criminal side is called the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate.

The judge of the Court of Subordinate Judge exercises unlimited jurisdiction over the civil suits. On the other hand, the chief judicial magistrate has jurisdiction over the criminal cases which are punishable with imprisonment for a term up to seven years.

Court of Munsiff and Court of Judicial Magistrate

The Court of Munsiff is the lowest level of the civil court, and the Court of Judicial Magistrate is the lowest level of criminal court. Unlike the subordinate judge, the munsiff possess limited jurisdiction, basically on civil cases with a small pecuniary stake. Similarly, the judicial magistrate also has limited jurisdiction, only on the criminal cases which are punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three years.

Other types of subordinate courts of India

Metropolitan Courts

In certain metropolitan cities, a civil court, consisting of a civil judge is established for the civil cases and a court of metropolitan magistrate consisting of a magistrate for the criminal cases.

Small Causes Courts

Some states and Presidency towns have also established small causes courts. These courts decide the civil cases of small value in a summary manner. The High Court of the state has the power to revise their decision.

Panchayat Courts 

The Panchayat Courts are present in certain states that try petty civil and criminal cases. They are known as Gram Kutchery, Panchayat Adalat, Nyaya Panchayat, Adalati Panchayat, etc.

Subordinate Courts of India: Constitutional Provisions

Subordinate Courts of India
Image by- Counterview

The constitutional provision for subordinate courts of India is mentioned in Part VI of the Indian Constitution, from Articles 233 to 237. These articles mainly provide for their organization, regulation, and to ensure their independence from the executive. These provisions include-

Article 233: Appointment of District Judges 

The appointment, posting, and promotion of district judges are made by the governor of the state in consultation with the High Court of that state.

The person to be appointed as a district judge should-

  • not already be in the service of the Central or the state government
  • have been an advocate or a pleader for seven years
  • be recommended by the high court for appointment

Article 234: Recruitment of persons other than district judges to the judicial service

Appointment of persons other than district judges to the judicial services of the state shall be made by the governor of the state in consultation with the State Public Service Commission and the High Court of the state.

Article 235: Control over subordinate courts of India

The control over district courts and other subordinate courts including the posting, promotion, and leave of persons belonging to the judicial service of a state and holding any post inferior to the post of district judge is vested in the High Court.

Article 236: Interpretation

The expression ‘district judge’ includes judge of a city civil court, assistant district judge, additional district judge, joint 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.

The expression ‘judicial service’ means a service consisting exclusively of persons intended to fill the post of district judge and other civil judicial posts inferior to the post of a district judge.

Article 237: Application of the above-mentioned provisions of this chapter to certain class or classes of magistrates

The governor may direct that the above-mentioned provisions relating to persons in the state judicial service would apply to any class or classes of the magistrate in the state.

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