Indian Judiciary – Structure, Role of Judicial System in India, Judiciary UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Indian Judiciary: The judicial system of India is a court system that analyzes and applies the law in the Republic of India. India has a common law system that was first established by the British East India Company and has since been influenced by other colonial powers, Indian princely states, customs from the ancient and medieval periods, as well as other legal systems. The Indian judiciary will be one, united system, according to the constitution.

Officers oversee and supervise the judicial system in India. The Governor appoints judges for the lower courts based on the high court’s recommendation. On the advice of a collegium, the President of India appoints judges to the High Courts and Supreme Court. This article shall cover the entire attributes of the Indian Judiciary system, including its history, role, structure, and challenges faced by it.

What is Judiciary?

The Indian government is supported by three pillars: the legislature, the executive branch, and the judiciary. In India, the judiciary is independent. The judiciary’s operation cannot be hampered by the other branches of the government. The judiciary is part of the government responsible for interpreting the law, resolving conflicts, and providing justice to all citizens.

Judiciary UPSC Notes

The judiciary is seen as the protector of the Constitution and the watchdog of democracy. An unbiased and independent court is essential for democracy to work properly.

Independent Indian Judicial System

The Indian Judiciary is independent. This means that the legislative and executive branches of government do not meddle with the judiciary’s ability to carry out its duties. The other organs respect the judiciary’s decision and do not meddle with it. Judges can carry out their responsibilities sans fear or favor.

Additionally, the judiciary’s independence does not imply that it operates capriciously or without any oversight. It is answerable to the nation’s Constitution. The Constitution has a number of clauses that guarantee the preservation and protection of the judiciary’s independence.

History of Indian Judiciary

The home court in the history of the Indian judiciary was the lowest court, initiated by the family mediator and the judge, along with the highest pillar, i.e., the king. The primary responsibility of the monarch was to dispense justice with the assistance of ministers and advisers.

Due to the advancement of civilization, the tasks of rulers were tasked to the judges as they were supposed to have an understanding of the Vedas. Judges were administered based upon Dharma or a system of rules determining the duties that a person must satisfy in their life.

  • Traditions acted as a foundation of the ordinance.
  • The process continued until the Mughal era.
  • The Qazi office was liable for the disbursement of justice during the Mughal age.
  • A Qazi was appointed for every big town and regional capital.
  • The Qazis held the practice in the presence of the groups or parties and were anticipated to carefully draft their legal papers.
  • The highest court of pleas was in the hands of the king.
  • British substituted the method of justice.
  • The common law system in India was presented by the British and they also founded the Sadar Diwani Adalat, followed by the setting up of high courts.
  • In 1862, Calcutta had the first high court, followed by Bombay and Madras.
  • Thereafter, as per the Government of India Act, of 1935, the national court was established having a broader jurisdiction as compared to the high courts.
  • The current Indian judicial system greatly depends on the common law system.

Hierarchy of Courts in India

The nature of the Judicial system in India is based upon hierarchy. There are predominantly four layers of order:

  • The Supreme Court of India;
  • The high court of various states;
  • The subordinate courts;
  • Tribunals;
  • Nyay Panchayats;
  • Lok Adalat.

Indian Judiciary – Structure, Role of Judicial System in India, Judiciary UPSC Notes

Structure of Judiciary in India

A single, integrated judicial system operates in India. The Supreme Court (SC) is at the apex of the pyramid-shaped structure that makes up India’s judicial system. District and subordinate courts are below the SC, which is followed by the High Courts.

The upper courts directly supervise how the lower courts run their operations. The division and hierarchy of the Indian judiciary are briefly illustrated in the pictorial representation above.

Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court of India was founded on January 28, 1950, and is considered as nation’s biggest court.
  • As it is the final court of appeal, both initial cases and pleas against High Court judgments are allowed.
  • The Chief Justice of India along with 25 judges comprises the Supreme Court.
  • The Indian Constitution sets the Supreme Court’s authority in Articles 124 to 147.

High Courts

  • The highest judicial body at the state level is the High Court.
  • The jurisdiction of High Courts is summarized in Article 214.
  • In India, there are 25 High Courts.
  • High Courts only have criminal or civil jurisdiction if the State’s lower courts are unable to handle the case.
  • Even pleas from lesser courts may be attended by high courts.
  • On advice from the CJI, the Chief Justice of the High Court, and the Governor of the State, the President of India appoints judges to the High Court.

District Courts

  • The State Governments of India make District Courts for each district or a bunch of districts according to the number of cases and population density.
  • High Court decisions are binding on District Courts, which are directly under their direct control.
  • There are commonly two kinds of courts in every district, Civil Courts and Criminal Courts.
  • District Judges are responsible for District Courts.
  • Depending on the extent of the cases, extra district judges and assistant district judges may be selected.
  • The High Court attends requests against District Court verdicts.

Lok Adalat/Village Courts

  • These village-level subordinate courts offer a method for alternative conflict resolution in villages.
  • They are also referred to as the ‘People’s Court’.
  • These Adalat comprise judicial officers that may be operational or retired, along with additional individuals as defined by the Central Government.
  • A judicial position was granted on the Lok Adalat by the Legal Services Authorities Act, of 1987.
  • The Lok Adalat has jurisdiction over pending lawsuits for which the Adalat is summoned before the tribunal.


  • The Constitution gives the executive branch the authority to establish specialized tribunals to handle particular situations, such as those involving taxes, real estate, consumers, etc.
  • They may be quasi-judicial or judicial.
  • Tribunal aid in lowering the burden of the customary courts.
  • Article 323A authorizes the Parliament to set up State and Central-level administrative tribunals.
  • Article 323B offers a subject cases list for which the Tribunals are appointed by the State Legislatures or the Union Parliament.

Appellate Jurisdiction

  • The power of a court to rehear or reconsider a case determined by a lower court is referred to as appellate jurisdiction.
  • The Supreme Court and the High Courts of India both have appellate authority.
  • They have the power to either reverse or sustain lower court rulings.
  • There are three different jurisdictions for the Supreme Court. They are advisory, appellate, and original.
  • The Constitution’s Articles 131, 133, 136, and 143 all refer to the Supreme Court’s authority.

Two Branches of Indian Judiciary

The legal system or the Indian judiciary has two branches, which are Criminal law and civil law. There is a prominent difference between Civil Law and Criminal Law based on their nature and the punishment they offer.

Civil law deals with wrong-doing connected to a person, that can be made right with a monetary payment, and Criminal law deals with severe crimes against society, wherein the guilty receives a harsher punishment.

  • Criminal Law: These regulate any citizen or corporation who commits a crime. A criminal case begins when the neighborhood police report a crime. The matter is ultimately decided by the court.
  • Civil law: These involve cases where a citizen’s fundamental rights have been violated.

Criminal Courts in Indian Judicial System

The governance of the different criminal courts is listed under CrPC or the Code of Criminal Procedure. As per Section 26 of the CrPC, any violation cited under the Indian Penal Code may be pushed by:

  • Courts of Session
  • High Courts
  • Any other Court as defined in the First Schedule of the CrPC.

Indian Judiciary – Civil Courts

The management of civil concerns is done by Civil courts. Civil law comprises nearly all trials except criminal ones (murder, robbery, firebombing, etc.). Most civil cases are classified in the Munsif’s court.

The order of the Civil Court in districts is as follows:

  • District Court: The highest civil court is the district court, which exercises both judicial and administrative operations.
  • Sub-judge Court: The Sub-judge and Additional Sub-judge courts may push the claim if the worth of the issue is more than Rs. 1 lakh.
  • Additional Sub-judge Court: It is made depending on the caseload.
  • Munsif Court: The Munsif court is apt to attempt the case if the worth of the subject matter is Rs. 1 lakh or below.

Jurisdiction of the Civil Courts

The Civil Courts mainly deal with four types of jurisdiction:

  • Territorial Jurisdiction: It studies the cases within reach of geographical limits and not beyond that territory.
  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction: It deals with trying cases of a specific type and cases related to a particular subject.
  • Appellate Jurisdiction: It is the responsibility of the court to review a case decided by a lower court or listen to the appeals. The High Court and Supreme Court comprises Appellate Jurisdiction.
  • Pecuniary Jurisdiction: It works with cases based on money matters.

Role of Judiciary in India

For any democracy to prosper, an autonomous and dynamic judiciary system is vital. According to the judiciary system in India, the rule of law makes sure that the citizen’s rights are not surpassed.

Judiciary also keeps a check on the executive and legislature of the Government. The functions of the Indian Judicial System are:

  1. Management and Delivery of Justice: Applying the law to individual instances or resolving disputes is the judiciary’s main duty. When a matter is presented before the courts, the evidence put out by the parties “determines the facts” involved. The law then decides which law is relevant to the situation and applies it. The court will administer punishment to the guilty party if they are proven to have broken the law during the process of the trial.
  2. Judge-Case Law’s Creation: The judges frequently struggle or are unable to choose the right legislation to apply in a given situation. According to their experience and common sense, judges make decisions regarding the proper law in these situations. As a result, judges have amassed a substantial body of “case law” or “judge-made law.” According to the “stare decisis” theory, judges are generally expected to follow their earlier rulings in cases that are identical to their own.
  3. Constitution’s Guardian: The SC, India’s highest court, serves as the Constitution’s watchdog. The court resolves any problems of jurisdiction between the federal government and the states, or between the administration and the legislature. The judiciary declares any statute or executive action that contravenes a constitutional requirement to be illegal or invalid. It is known as “judicial review.” The benefit of judicial review is that it protects people’s fundamental rights and maintains harmony between the union and the divisions in a federal state.
  4. Watchdog of Fundamental Rights: The judiciary makes sure that neither the State nor any other entity infringes on people’s rights. By issuing writs, the superior courts uphold fundamental rights.
  5. Supervision: In India, the higher courts also have the responsibility of overseeing the lower courts.
  6. Advisory Body: The SC in India also serves as a consultative body. On constitutional issues, it may offer professional advice. When the executive demands it and when there are no arguments, this is done.
  7. Administrative Body: The courts perform a number of administrative and non-judicial tasks. The courts have the authority to appoint receivers, handle decedents’ estates, and award certain licenses. They appoint guardians for little children and lunatics and register marriages.
  8. Federal Role: In a federal system like India’s, the court also plays a crucial role in settling conflicts between the federal government and the states. Additionally, it resolves conflicts between states.
  9. Judicial inquiries: Typically, commissions that look into instances of omissions or mistakes on the part of public employees are chaired by judges.

Challenges Faced by Indian Judiciary

The Indian judiciary system, which is premised on the system of common law, is a sophisticated blueprint of law and morality; however, it has retained its “lordships culture” and experienced jurisprudence, which has resulted in inefficiency in the system and greater threats of failure under its own weight.

This observation is not only made by judges but also by their counterparts across the bench, the public prosecutors.

  • Judges are elevated as a special class of people in Indian public life, not because there is a widespread lack of faith in the institution of justice as a whole. Recent revelations, such as inconsistencies in appointments and the need for inspection, reflect.
  • The Public Prosecutor is a crucial member of the criminal justice system who prosecutes cases on behalf of the government and, in essence, represents the community. However, there have been criticisms of the way the prosecutorial system has operated, with claims of political neutrality, political subordination of interests, abuse of power, inefficiency, etc. being made.
  • The Indian judiciary has been referred to by Justice Sridevan as an “old boys club.” Only about 10% of judges are female, which is a concerning representation rate. And although empathy is gender-neutral, it is crucial to have a gender-balanced representation because the nation’s top court must consider the perspectives of both sexes when making decisions.
  • One of the most serious problems with the Indian legal system is the backlog of cases. If the vacancies are fulfilled, the backlog will be reduced and the court system will operate more efficiently.
  • Despite being a well-known issue, nepotism is rarely addressed in India out of concern for “the Independence of the Judiciary.” This problem mostly arises as a result of the “shady” appointment process that affects the judiciary.
  • According to Article 44 [17] of the Indian Constitution, “the state shall endeavor to offer to its citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It is frequently questioned if India should not create a uniform civil code in light of Article 44 of the Indian Constitution.

Despite this, the existence of these problems cannot be used as a benchmark to assess the responsiveness of the Indian judiciary because steps are being taken to address each major problem and inevitably the Executive and the Legislature as well (independence of the judiciary).

Judiciary UPSC

Indian Judiciary topic is important for the IAS Exam and is covered under the Indian Polity syllabus (UPSC GS -II). To get well familiarized with the subject, students must check out the relevant facts about the Indian judiciary, the role of the judiciary, its layout, organization, and functioning. Indian Polity Notes for UPSC exam should be studied thoroughly for both the Prelims and Mains round.

Before you begin understanding various topics under Polity, do have a look at the complete UPSC Polity Syllabus to have a brief idea about the syllabus, the weightage of questions, and the best strategy to adopt. You can also read about the Polity Books for UPSC that will help you during your UPSC preparation for this particular section.

Indian Judicial System Sample Questions

Question: Which disputes are exclusively excluded from the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court? (1) Disputes between two or more states, (2) Disputes between the Government of India and one or more states, (3) Disputes between residents of two or more states, (4) Disputes between the Government of India and one or more states on one side and one or more states on the other.
Answer: Disputes between residents of two or more states

Question: With reference to the Indian judiciary, consider the statements: (1) A High Court in India has the power to review its own judgement as the Supreme Court does, (2) Any retired judge of the Supreme Court of India can be called back to sit and act as a Supreme Court judge by the Chief Justice of India with the prior permission of the President of India. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 2 only, (b) 1 only, (c) Both 1 and 2, (d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: (1 Only) Any retired judge of the Supreme Court of India can be called back to sit and act as a Supreme Court judge by the Chief Justice of India with the prior permission of the President of India

Question: The power of judicial review means: (a) The power of the judiciary to define and interpret laws, (b) The power of the courts to legislate when there is no statutory provision, (c) The power of the courts to define and interpret constitution, (d) The power of the courts to declare null and void any legislative or executive act, which is against the provisions of the Constitution
Answer: The power of the courts to declare null and void any legislative or executive act, which is against the provisions of the Constitution

Mains Question: What do you understand by “judicial review” in Indian context? Enumerate the key provisions in the constitution with respect to judicial review in India.

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