The powers and functions of High Courts have not been described in detail in the constitution. Before the present constitution was adopted, the High Courts with well defined powers, were functioning in different states. Thus, the framers of the constitution did not feel the need of describing in detail the jurisdiction of High Courts. On the other hand, the Supreme Court, being a new creation, required a dear definition of its powers and jurisdiction. The powers and functions of High Courts-may be discussed under the following five heads:
- Original Jurisdiction:
In some matters cases can be directly filed in the High Courts. This is Called the original jurisdiction of the High Court.
(a) Fundamental Rights: Our constitution has given Fundamental Rights to citizens. In any democracy, fundamental or basic rights have a special place and it is the duty of the state to ensure that the citizens enjoy fundamental rights without any fear or danger. In our country, the judiciary has been given the power to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. Under Article 32, the Supreme Court exercises this power to enforce fundamental rights. Besides the Supreme Court, the High Courts also enjoy this power under Article 226. With this power vested in the High Courts, it has been relatively easier for the citizens to fight against any threat to their fundamental rights. In a vast country like India, it is not easy for an ordinary citizen to rush to the Supreme Court for the defence of his fundamental rights. Under Article 226, the High Court shall have the power issue any person or authority, directions, orders or writs in nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Quo Warranto and Certiorari or any of them for the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights and for any other purpose. The phrase, ‘for any other purpose’ was taken away by the 42nd Amendment Act. Further, this Amendment said that the High Court could not issue any order or injunction unless the matter was such that the loss or damage to the petitioner could not be compensated in money. The 42nd Amendment also deprived the High Court of the power to decide the constitutional validity of any Central Law. However, the High Court was restored these powers through the Forty Third and Forty Fourth Amendments. Now the High Court is empowered to entertain any petition for the redressal of any injury even if, by or under any law, remedy for such redressal has been provided for. Election cases are entertained by the High Court through this power. According to D. D. Basu, the High Court has larger jurisdiction than the Supreme Court in respect of issuing writs. The Supreme Court, under Article 32, can issue writs only where a fundamental right has been infringed upon. But a High Court, under Article 226, can issue them not only in such cases, but also where an ordinary legal right has been infringed upon, provided a writ is a proper remedy in such cases.
(b) Election Cases: Cases relating to elections can be directly filed in the High Court.
(c) Marriage and Divorce: Cases relating to marriage/divorce can be directly entertained by the High Court.
- Appellate Jurisdiction of High Court: The High Court has appellate jurisdiction over both civil and criminal cases. It can hear appeal on civil cases tried by the Courts of Munsifs and District Judges. In criminal cases, the jurisdiction extends to cases tried by the Sessions and Additional Sessions Judges. An appeal can be filed against the decision of a Session Judge if the accused has been sentenced for 7 years or more. Capital punishment given by a sessions judge cannot be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court. Civil cases refer to property, marriage, adoption etc. while criminal cases cover crimes like murder, bribery, injury etc. The Forty Second Amendment disallowed the High Court to hear appeals against Tribunals and the decisions of various Corporations established under the law of the state. But this restriction on the High Court’s appellate jurisdiction was removed by the Forty Third Amendment.
- Supervisory Jurisdiction: The High Court, under Article 227, has the power of superintendence over all the Courts and Tribunals except those which deal with Armed Forces located in the state. The High Court has the power to : (a) call for return from such courts; (b) make and issue general rules and prescribe forms for regulating the practice and proceeding of such courts and (c) prescribe forms in which books, entries and accounts are to be kept by the officers of such courts. The power of superintendence, vested in the High Court, is judicial as well as administrative in nature. The High Court is thus in charge of the administration of justice in the state. It is important to note that the Supreme Court has no similar power vis-a-vis the High Courts.
- Administrative Jurisdiction:
The officers and servants (employees) of the High Court are under its total control. They are appointed by the Chief Justice or any other Judge or officer of the High Court, as he may direct (Article 229). However, the High Court may be required by the Governor of the state to consult the Public Service Commission while appointing the officers and staff of the High Court. The Chief Justice has the power to suspend or dismiss any of the officers or servants of the High Court. He or any other Judge of the High Court authorized by him, shall determine the service conditions of its officers and staff subject to any act of the state legislature. The administrative expenses of the High Court are charged upon the Consolidated Fund of the State. These are non-votable.
- Power to Transfer cases from Subordinate Courts :
If the High Court is satisfied that a case pending in a Subordinate Court involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of the constitution, it may withdraw the case to itself and do either of the following two : (i) it will dispose of the case; or (ii) it will determine the question of law and return the case to the concerned court along with its judgement and direct tenant court to dispose of the case in conformity with this judgement. The exercise of this power by this High Court serves a good purpose. It prevents multiple and conflicting interpretations of tile constitutions by Subordinate Courts. The High Court has also the power to call for any records from any Subordinate Court to examine the orders passed by them. In exercising this power, the High Court seeks to ensure that the orders passed by the Subordinate Courts are legal and correct.
- A Court of Record:
The High Court is a Court of Record. Its decisions are binding for all Subordinate Courts. The decisions and proceedings of the High Court have evidentiary value and no Subordinate Court can challenge them.
- Miscellaneous Powers:
(a) The High Court has the power to send for the judgment of lower court. By exercising this power, the High Court can examine the legal validity of this judgment. (b) The High Court can punish any person or institution for contempt of court.
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