Powers and Jurisdiction of the High Court

The High Courts have the power to hear and decide cases which are brought directly to it.

This power is called Original Jurisdiction.

When a High Court hears an appeal against the decision of a lower court, it is called Appellate Jurisdiction.

A High Court is mostly a court of appeal.

Appeals in both civil and criminal cases are brought to it against the decisions of the lower courts.


Original Jurisdiction—

The original jurisdiction of the High Court is very limited.

Cases of alleged violation of fundamental rights can be started in High Courts, or in the Supreme Court.

Every High Court under Article 226 is empowered to issue writs, orders, directions including writs in the nature of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Quo-warranto and Certiorari or any of them to any person or authority within its territory for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights and for any other purpose.

The original jurisdiction of High Court extends to matters of admiralty, matrimonial, contempt of court and cases ordered to be transferred to High Court by lower court.

A High Court can hear election petition in its original jurisdiction, challenging the election of a Member of Parliament or State Legislative Assembly.

It can set aside the election of a member if it finds that he or she used corrupt means in his or her election.

The High Courts of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai have original jurisdiction on hearing straightway cases involving the Christians and Parsies.

The four high courts (i.e., Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Delhi High Courts) have original civil jurisdiction in cases of higher value.

Before 1973, the Calcutta, Bombay and Madras High Courts also had original criminal jurisdiction. This was fully abolished by the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.


Power to Issue Writs—

The Supreme Courts and High Courts can issue writs to ensure that rights of the people are not violated either by State or otherwise.

The Constitution has specifically given the power ‘to issue certain writs’ to the High Courts.

These Courts can issue writs (which are binding directions of the Court) to any person or authority, including government of the State concerned.

The writs are in the nature of Habeas, Corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari for the enforcement of rights of the people.

This power is exercised in the original jurisdiction of the High Court, and is not derogatory to similar power of the Supreme Court.

The writ jurisdiction of the high court (under Article 226) is not exclusive but concurrent with the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (under Article 32).

It means, when the fundamental rights of a citizen are violated, the aggrieved party has the option of moving either the high court or the Supreme Court directly.

However, the writ jurisdiction of the high court is wider than that of the Supreme Court. This is because, the Supreme Court can issue writs only for the enforcement of fundamental rights and not for any other purpose.


Appellate Jurisdiction—

All the lower courts function under the superintendence control and guidance of the High Court in the State.

High Courts hear appeals against the judgements of the subordinate courts.

In civil cases, appellate jurisdiction extends to all such cases which involve an amount exceeding Rs. 5 lakh.

Any party to a civil dispute, which is dissatisfied with the decision of the District Court, may appeal against the decision of the District Court in the High Court.

It also hears cases relating to patents and designs, succession, land acquisition, insolvency and guardianship.

The High Court hears and decides appeals against decisions of the session’s courts in criminal cases.

An accused who is found guilty by a session’s court, and awarded a sentence may file an appeal against the verdict of the session’s court.

Sometimes even State may appeal against a session’s court judgement for enhancement of punishment.

The High Court may accept the decision of the session’s court, or alter it and increase or reduce the sentence, or change the nature of sentence, or may acquit an accused.

However, if an accused is awarded death sentence by the session’s court, the sentence must be confirmed by the High Court before the person is hanged to death.

Even if the accused does not file an appeal against death sentence, the State refers it to the High Court for confirmation.

Transfer of Cases to the High Court—

If a 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, the High Court may withdraw such a case from the lower court.

After examining the case, the High Court may either dispose it off itself, or may return it to the lower court with instructions for disposal of the case.


Superintendence of Subordinate Courts—

A High Court has the right of superintendence and control over all the subordinate courts in all the matter of judicial and administrative nature.

In the exercise of its power of superintendence, the High Court may call for any information from the lower courts; may make and issue general rules and prescribe norms for regulating the practice and proceedings of these courts; and it may issue such directions, from time to time, as it may deem necessary.

It can also make rules and regulations relating to the appointment, demotion, promotion and leave of absence for the officers of the subordinate courts.


Court of Record—

A High Court is also a court of record, like the Supreme Court.

Lower courts in a State are bound to follow the decisions of the High Court which are cited as precedents.

A High Court has also the power to punish for its contempt or disrespect.

The expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.