This year, India has completed 74 years of independence from the Crown Rule of British. On 14th August, 1947 the Indian Independence Act, 1947, was given royal assent by the British Parliament which made provisions for creating two independent dominions namely, India and Pakistan. Consequently, India gained independence on 15th August 1947. Indian Independence Act, 1947, marked the establishment of sovereignty of India which now would be governed under a democratic framework.
The post-independence era also saw major changes in the country’s judicial and executive structure. The form and structure of government as of now is a result of its evolution which has been shaped by various enactments. The organisation of judiciary at present differs from that in the pre-independence era where most of its control was in the hands of the British.
Pre-independence Judiciary of India
The Britishers started modifying the judiciary in India according to their conveniences with a view to facilitate their rule over India. Warren Hastings who was the first Governor General of India (1732-1818) established the civil administration system. Concurrently, he also helped set up the Civil Court and Criminal Court in each district in 1772.
In 1774, Sir William Jones who was one of the first judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Bengal, took to learning Sanskrit and oversaw the authoritative translation of Manusmriti.
Lord Cornwallis brought various reforms in the legal and civil administration. To increase efficiency in the working of judicial system, he also took the initiative to establish provincial circuit criminal courts in places such as Kolkata, Patna, etc. A higher form of criminal court called Sadar Nizamat was set up in Kolkata. In addition to this, Mun–sifs which were the local courts that looked over civil matters were also set up.
Subsequently, around 1829, India saw the abolishment of circuit courts and the codification of the law system and its procedures. Later in the year 1861, we witnessed the landmark formation of the Indian Penal Code, the draft of which was prepared by Thomas Babington Macaulay who chaired the First Law Commission in 1834. Thereafter, the Criminal Procedure Code was passed by British Parliament in the year 1861.
Taking a step ahead, the Government of India Act, 1935 established the Federal Court of India in New Delhi on the 1st of October, 1937. It supervised all the three types of jurisdiction; original, appellate and advisory. Later, the British Rule saw its end under the Indian Independence Act, 1947. In the historic feat, India bore the title of an independent dominion on what we now celebrate as our Independence Day.
Post-independence Judiciary of India
When India achieved its independence, the Abolition of Privy Council Jurisdiction Act was passed in 1949 which abolished the jurisdiction of the Privy Council (formerly England’s highest court of appeal), to entertain new appeals and even the authority to dispose of the pending appeals. The pending appeals were then transferred to the Federal Court of India.
Finally, the Constitution of India, drafted by B.R Ambedkar which came into effect from January 1950 laid down the foundation and the structure of Indian Government as well as the lines on which the sovereign nation would be governed. The flag of leadership was held by two great lawyers, Jawahar Lal Nehru the ‘first Prime Minister of India’ and Mahatma Gandhi who popularly came to be known as the ‘Father of the Nation’. The Independence of India was marked by a new judicial, executive and the administrative structure for the country.
The Courts of India in the Independent India were organised under a three–tier system as hereunder;
- Supreme Court of India – The highest Court in the country, the Supreme Court of India was established under the Constitution. It started its operation on 28th January 1950 and inherited the jurisdiction of the Privy Council and then vested with that of Federal Court when it was abolished. The Court has an original, appellate jurisdiction for the matters adjudicated by High Courts along with other Tribunals, revisional and advisory jurisdiction.
- The High Courts – The High Courts of the States are sub-ordinate to the Supreme Court and preside over the lower courts in the appellate, civil and criminal jurisdiction. Some of the High Courts were already established during the British Act, 1861 and the rest were formed or continued under special acts or the Constitution.
- Lower Courts of India – The District Courts and other sub-ordinate courts fall under the third tier of the Indian judiciary. The District Courts exercise judicial power on a district level. The Nyaya Panchayat extend judicial service to the villagers of India.
The pre-independence judiciary of India was under direct control of the British rule and the post-independence era, marked an organised and an independent judiciary. The role of judiciary has been significantly increased by the Constitution of India which is the longest written Constitution of the world. The Independent judiciary has proved to be a driving factor for an efficient delivery of justice in India by upholding the principles of a democratic system.