The Indian legal system is mostly based on the English common law and statutory law, while most of the state and territorial law is based on English common law. India's commitment to law is created in the Constitution which constituted India into a sovereign democratic republic, containing a federal system with parliamentary form of government in the Union and the states, an independent judiciary, guaranteed fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy containing objectives which though not enforceable in law are fundamental to the governance of the nation.
The main sources of law in India are the Constitution, statutes, customary law, and case law. Parliament, state legislatures and Union Territory legislatures enact the statutes. In addition to that, there is a vast body of laws known as subordinate legislation in the form of rules, regulations as well as by-laws made by central and state governments and local authorities like municipal corporations, municipalities, Gram Panchayats and other local bodies. This subordinate legislation is made under the authority conferred or delegated either by Parliament or state or union territory legislatures. The official publications of the basic laws of the India are set down in major parliamentary legislation, such as the India Code. Indian laws also adhere to the United Nations guidelines on human rights law and the environmental law.
Enactment and Applicability of Indian Laws
The Parliament is efficient of making laws on matters mentioned in the Union List. State legislatures are capable of making laws on matters enumerated in the State List. While both the Union and the states have power to legislate on matters enumerated in the Concurrent List, only Parliament has power to make laws on matters not included in the State List or the Concurrent List. In the event of a conflict, laws made by Parliament prevail over laws made by state legislatures, to the extent of the conflict. The state law is void unless it has received the assent of the President, and in such case, prevails in that state.
Laws made by Parliament may extend throughout India or in only one part of the country, whereas laws made by state legislatures only apply within the territory of the state concerned. Hence, variations are likely to exist from state to state in provisions of law relating to matters falling in the State and Concurrent Lists. According to the Indian Constitution, notwithstanding the adoption of a federal system and existence of Central Acts and State Acts in their respective spheres, a single integrated system of courts administers both union [federal] and state laws.
India has a federal parliamentary form of government. The federal union government, also known as the Central Government, is divided into three distinct but interrelated branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary.
The Indian Legislature
India's bicameral parliament consists of the Lok Sabha (House of the People, also called the lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States, also called the upper house).
Rajya Sabha: The Council of States consists of not more than 250 members, of whom the President of India nominates 12 and 238 are to be elected. The Vice-President is the ex-officio Chairman of Rajya Sabha. The elected members of the Rajya Sabha serve 6-year terms, with one-third up for election every 2 years.
Lok Sabha: The maximum size of the House envisaged by the Constitution is 552: up to 530 members representing the states, up to 20 members representing the Union Territories and not more than two members of the Anglo-Indian Community to be nominated by the President (if the President feels that that community is not adequately represented). Each Lok Sabha is formed for a five-year term, after which it is automatically dissolved, unless extended by a Proclamation of Emergency, which may extend the term in one-year increments. The Lok Sabha elects its own presiding officer, the Speaker.
The President of India is authorized to convene Parliament and must give his assent to all parliamentary bills before they become law. The President is empowered to summon Parliament to meet, to address either house or both houses together, and to require attendance of all of its members. The President also may send messages to either house with respect to a pending bill or any other matter. The President addresses the first session of Parliament each year.
The President of India is the Head of the State and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He is elected by an electoral college composed of members of both the Houses of Parliament and the legislatures of the nation's constituent states. The President holds office for five years and can be re-elected. The President does not normally exercise any constitutional powers on his own initiative. These are exercised by the advice of the Prime Minister of India and the Council of Ministers. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The President then appoints other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can remain in office only as long as he or she enjoys majority support in the Parliament.
The Vice President is elected jointly by the members of both the Houses of Parliament. The Vice President assumes the office of President in case of the death or resignation of the incumbent President.
The judiciary is independent of the executive. In the Indian Judiciary, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. According to the Constitution of India, the role of the Supreme Court of India is that of a centralized court, protector of the Constitution and the highest court of appeal. The High Court stands at the head of the state's judicial administration. Each state is divided into judicial districts, and a session's judge is the highest judicial power in a district. Below him, there are courts of civil jurisdiction, known in different states as munsifs, sub-judges, civil judges etc. Similarly, the criminal judiciary include chief judicial magistrate and judicial magistrates of first and second class. The High Courts are the principal courts of original jurisdiction in the state, and can try all offenses including those punishable with death.
The states have their own legislative assemblies and in certain cases a second chamber. All members of the legislative assemblies are elected by universal adult franchise. As in the central government, each state has a cabinet headed by a chief minister responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to parliament. Each state also has a presidential appointed governor who normally exercises the same powers in the states as the President does at the union government level. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs.
Overview of Indian Court Structure
A unique feature of the Indian Constitution is the judicial system. A single integrated system of courts administers both union and state laws.
1. The Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of the land as established by Part V, Chapter IV of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of India is the ultimate interpreter and guardian of the constitution and the laws of the land. It is the highest court of appeal; it takes up appeals against judgments of the provincial High Courts. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all courts in India. The Supreme Court of India comprises the Chief Justice of India and not more than 30 other judges appointed by the President.
The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. It has original and exclusive jurisdiction to resolve disputes between the central government and one or more states and union territories as well as between different states and union territories. It has appellate jurisdiction over all civil and criminal proceedings involving substantial issues concerning the interpretation of the constitution. The Supreme Court has special advisory jurisdiction to issue advisory rulings on issues referred to it by the President. The Supreme Court has wide discretionary powers to hear special appeals on any matter from any court except those of the armed services. It also functions as a court of record and supervises every high court.
2. High Courts
A high court stands at the head of each state's judicial administration. There are 21 high courts for India's 28 independent states, six union territories, and one national capital territory. These courts have jurisdiction over a state, a union territory or sometimes a group of states and union territories. As part of the judicial system, the high courts are institutionally independent of state legislatures and executives. Each high court in India is a court of record exercising original and appellate jurisdiction within its respective state or territory. It also has the power to issue appropriate writs in cases involving constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. The high court supervises all courts within its jurisdiction, except for those dealing with the armed forces, and may transfer constitutional cases to itself from subordinate courts. The high courts have original jurisdiction on revenue matters. They try original criminal cases by a jury, but not civil cases. Under Article 141 of the Constitution of India all courts in India, which includes high courts, are bound by the judgments and orders of the Supreme Court of India. High courts are headed by a Chief Justice. Judges in a high court are appointed by the President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the governor of the state.
3. Lower Courts
Each high court has powers of superintendence over subordinate courts within its jurisdiction, namely the district and sessions courts and their lower courts. The district and session courts comprise the lowest level of courts and are trial courts of original jurisdiction, applying both federal and state laws. States are divided into districts (also known as Zillas) and within each district, a district judge and sessions judge is head of the judiciary. A district judge presides over civil cases, a sessions judge over criminal cases. The state Governor in consultation with the state's high court appoints these judges.
Civil cases at the sub-district level are filed in Munsif courts, also known as sub-district courts. Lesser criminal cases are entrusted to the courts of subordinate magistrates functioning under the supervisory authority of a district magistrate. All magistrates are under the supervision of the high court. Village level disputes are mostly resolved by Panchayats or Lok adalats (also known as People's courts).