Supreme Court of India

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Supreme Court of India
भारत का उच्चतम न्यायालय
Emblem of the Supreme Court of India.svg
Established 28 January 1950
Country India
Location Tilak Marg, New Delhi, India, 110 021
Coordinates 28°37′20″N 77°14′23″E / 28.622237°N 77.239584°E / 28.622237; 77.239584Coordinates: 28°37′20″N 77°14′23″E / 28.622237°N 77.239584°E / 28.622237; 77.239584
Composition method Collegium System (Qualifications imposed)[clarification needed]
Authorized by Constitution of India
Judge term length 65 years of age
Number of positions 31 (30 + 1)
यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः॥ Whence law (dharma), thence victory.
Chief Justice of India
Currently P. Sathasivam
Since 19 July 2013
Lead position ends 26 April 2014
Jurist term ends 26 April 2014

The Supreme Court of India (Hindi: भारत का सर्वोच्च न्यायालय) is the highest judicial forum and final court of appeal of India as established by Part V, Chapter IV of the Constitution of India. According to the Constitution, the role of the Supreme Court is guardian of Constitution & that of a federal court.

The Supreme Court of India consists of Chief Justice of India and 30 other Judges. Articles 124 to 147 of the Constitution of India lay down the composition and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, appellate jurisdiction and advisory jurisdiction.

As the highest Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court acts as the highest appellate court which takes up appeals primarily against the verdicts of the High Courts and other courts and Tribunals of India. The Supreme Court has extensive original jurisdiction in regard to enforcement of fundamental rights. It also acts as the court to hear disputes between various governments in the country. As an advisory court, Supreme Court hears matters which may specifically be referred to it by the President of India under the Constitution of India. Supreme Court also has the power to take cognisance of matters on its own.

The Supreme court has the power of constitutional review. The Supreme Court of India held its inaugural sitting on 28 January 1950. Prior to that, Supreme Court used to function from the building of Parliament of India.


The Supreme Court of India came into being on 28 January 1950.[1] It replaced both the Federal Court of India and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which were at the apex of the Indian court system.[1]

Its initial seat was the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building where the previous Federal Court of India sat from 1937 to 1950. In 1958, the Supreme Court moved to its present premises.[1] The original Constitution of 1950 envisaged a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 puisne Judges — leaving it to Parliament to increase this number.[2]

Constitution of the court[edit]

Supreme Court of India - Central wing


The registry of the Supreme Court is headed by the secretary-general who is assisted in his work by seven registrars, and twenty-one additional registrars etc. Article 146 of the Constitution deals with the appointments of officers and servants of the Supreme Court registry.[3]

Supreme Court advocates[edit]

There are three categories of advocates who are entitled to practise law before the Supreme Court of India:

Senior advocates[edit]

These are advocates who are designated as senior advocates by the Supreme Court of India or by any High Court. The Court can designate any advocate, with his consent, as senior advocate if in its opinion by virtue of his ability, standing at the bar or special knowledge or experience in law the said advocate is deserving of such distinction. A senior advocate is not entitled to appear without an advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court or without a junior in any other court or tribunal in India. He is also not entitled to accept instructions to draw pleadings or affidavits, advise on evidence or do any drafting work of an analogous kind in any court or tribunal in India or undertake conveyancing work of any kind whatsoever but this prohibition shall not extend to settling any such matter as aforesaid in consultation with a junior.[3]


Only these advocates are entitled to file any matter or document before the Supreme Court. They can also file an appearance or act for a party in the Supreme Court.[3]

Other advocates[edit]

These are advocates whose names are entered on the roll of any State Bar Council maintained under the Advocates Act, 1961.

The Supreme Court building and its architecture[edit]

Supreme Court of India

The main block of the Supreme Court building was built on a square plot of 22 acres and the building was designed by chief architect Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar who was the first Indian to head the Central Public Works Department and designed the Supreme Court building in an Indo-British architectural style. The Court moved into the present building in 1958. The building is shaped to project the image of scales of justice with the central wing of the building corresponding to the centre beam of the scales. In 1979, two new wings — the east wing and the west wing — were added to the complex. In all there are 15[4] court rooms in the various wings of the building. The Chief Justice's Court, the largest of the courtrooms, is located in the centre of the central wing.


Size of the court[edit]

As originally enacted, the Constitution of India provided for a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and seven lower-ranking judges — leaving it to Indian Parliament to increase this number. In the early years, a full bench of the Supreme Court sat together to hear the cases presented before them. As the work of the Court increased and cases began to accumulate, Parliament increased the number of judges from the original eight in 1950 to eleven in 1956, fourteen in 1960, eighteen in 1978, twenty-six in 1986 and thirty-one in 2008. As the number of the judges has increased, they have sat in smaller benches of two or three (referred to as a division bench) — coming together in larger benches of five or more (referred to as a constitutional bench) only when required to settle fundamental questions of law. Any bench may refer the case under consideration up to a larger bench if the need to do so arises.[5]


  • The person must be a citizen of India[6]
  • Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession for at least five years,[6] or
  • An advocate of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession for at least ten years,[6] or
  • The person must be, in the opinion of the president, a distinguished jurist.[6]
Supreme Court (description)

A person is qualified for appointment as a judge only he/she is a citizen of India and if he/she fulfils one of the following conditions:

  1. he/she has been for at least five years a judge of as High Court or two or more than two such courts;
  2. he/she has been for at least ten years an advocate of a High Court or of two or more than two such courts;
  3. he/she is, in the opinion of the president, a distinguished jurist.

Appointments and the Collegium[edit]

Judges of Supreme Court used to be appointed by the President of India, who acted on the advice of the Union Cabinet.

Subsequent to the rulings in the Three Judges Cases (1982, 1993, 1998), the president has to appoint judges who have been chosen by the Supreme Court's collegium — a closed group comprising the Chief Justice of India and the four senior most associate judges of the court.[7]

The Union Cabinet and Parliament have almost no role to play in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court or to any of India's twenty-four High Courts.[8]

The position of Chief Justice of India is attained on the basis of seniority amongst the judges serving on the court.[5]


Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 65. A judge of Supreme Court can be removed by the procedure prescribed in article 124(4) of the Constitution of India on ground of proved misconduct or incapacity or judge resigning from his office addressed to the president of India. The procedure prescribed for removal of Supreme Court judge should not be called an impeachment procedure because this procedure is provided only for the removal of the president of India under article 61 of Constitution of India on ground of violation of the Constitution.[5]


Article 125 of the Indian Constitution leaves it to the Indian Parliament to determine the salary, other allowances, leave of absence, pension, etc. of the Supreme Court judges. However, the Parliament cannot alter any of these privileges and rights to the judge's disadvantage after his appointment.[9] A judge gets INR90,000 and the Chief Justice gets a sum of INR100,000.[10]

Court demographics[edit]

I am proud to be an Indian. India is the only country where a member of the minority Parsi community with a population of 1,67,000, like myself, can aspire to attain the post of the Chief Justice of India. These things do not happen in our neighbouring countries.

Chief Justice of India, SH Kapadia[11][12]

In 2000 Justice K. G. Balakrishnan became the first judge from the dalit community. In 2007 he also became the first dalit Chief Justice of India. In 2010, Justice SH Kapadia coming from a Parsi minority community became the Chief Justice of India.[11][13] The current Chief Justice, P Sathasivam, was sworn in on 1 July 2013 and will hold the office till 2014.


The Constitution of India under Article 145 empowers the Supreme Court to frame its own rules for regulating the practice and procedure of the Court as and when required (with the approval of the President). Accordingly, "Supreme Court Rules, 1950" were framed. They were replaced by the present rules called as "Supreme Court Rules, 1966".

Reporting and citation[edit]

Supreme Court Reports is the official journal of Reportable Supreme Court Decisions. It is published under the authority of the Supreme Court of India by the Controller of Publications, Government of India, Delhi.[14] In addition, there are many other reputed private journals that report Supreme Court decisions. Some of these other important journals are: SCC (Supreme Court Cases), AIR (All India Reporter), SCALE, etc.

Judicial independence[edit]

The Constitution seeks to ensure the independence of Supreme Court Judges in various ways. In Three Judges Cases, the court held that a Supreme Court judge can be appointed by the President only on the recommendations of the collegium system as mentioned earlier. A Judge of the Supreme Court cannot be removed from office except by an order of the President passed after an address in each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of members present and voting, and presented to the President in the same Session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. The salary and allowances of a judge of the Supreme Court cannot be reduced after appointment. A person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court is debarred from practising in any court of law or before any other authority in India.

Power to review its own judgements[edit]

Under Order XL of the Supreme Court Rules, the Supreme Court may review its judgment or order but no application for review is to be entertained in a civil proceeding except on the grounds mentioned in Order XLVII, Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

Powers to punish for contempt[edit]

Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution the Supreme Court has been vested with power to punish anyone for contempt of any court in India including itself. The Supreme Court performed an unprecedented action when it directed a sitting Minister of the state of Maharashtra, Swaroop Singh Naik,[15] to be jailed for 1-month on a charge of contempt of court on 12 May 2006. This was the first time that a serving Minister was ever jailed.[16][17]

Landmark judgments: judiciary – legislature confrontations[edit]

Land reform (early confrontation)[edit]

After some of the courts overturned state laws redistributing land from zamindar (landlord) estates on the grounds that the laws violated the zamindars' fundamental rights, the parliament of India passed the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 followed by the Fourth Amendment in 1955 to protect its authority to implement land redistribution. The Supreme Court countered these amendments in 1967 when it ruled in Golaknath v. State of Punjab[18] that the parliament did not have the power to abrogate fundamental rights, including the provisions on private property.[19]

Emergency and Government of India[edit]

The independence of judiciary was severely curtailed[20] during the Indian Emergency (1975-1977) of Indira Gandhi. The constitutional rights of imprisoned persons were restricted under Preventive detention laws passed by the parliament. In the case of Shiva Kant Shukla Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla, popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case, a bench of five seniormost judges of Supreme court ruled in favour of state's right for unrestricted powers of detention during emergency. Justices A.N. Ray, P. N. Bhagwati, Y. V. Chandrachud, and M.H. Beg, stated in the majority decision:[21]

(under the declaration of emergency) no person has any locus to move any writ petition under Art. 226 before a High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the legality of an order of detention.

The only dissenting opinion was from Justice H. R. Khanna, who stated:

detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty... A dissent is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting Judge believes the court to have been betrayed.[21]

It is believed that before delivering his dissenting opinion, Justice Khanna had mentioned to his sister: I have prepared my judgment, which is going to cost me the Chief Justice-ship of India."[22] In January 1977, Justice Khanna was superseded despite being the most senior judge at the time and thereby Government broke the convention of appointing only the senior most judge to the position of Chief Justice of India. Justice Khanna remains a legendary figure among the legal fraternity in India for this decision.

The New York Times, wrote of this opinion: "The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society; and the Indian Supreme Court's decision appears close to utter surrender."

During the emergency period, the government also passed the 39th amendment, which sought to limit judicial review for the election of the Prime Minister; only a body constituted by Parliament could review this election.[23] Subsequently, the parliament, with most opposition members in jail during the emergency, passed the 42nd Amendment which prevented any court from reviewing any amendment to the constitution with the exception of procedural issues concerning ratification. A few years after the emergency, however, the Supreme court rejected the absoluteness of the 42nd amendment and reaffirmed its power of judicial review in the Minerva Mills case (1980).

Post-1980: an assertive Supreme Court[edit]

After Indira Gandhi lost elections in 1977, the new government of Morarji Desai, and especially law minister Shanti Bhushan (who had earlier argued for the detenues in the Habeas Corpus case), introduced a number of amendments making it more difficult to declare and sustain an emergency, and reinstated much of the power to the Supreme Court. It is said that the Basic Structure doctrine, created in Kesavananda, was strengthened in Indira Gandhi's case and set in stone in Minerva Mills.

The Supreme Court's creative and expansive interpretations of Article 21 (Life and Personal Liberty), primarily after the Emergency period, have given rise to a new jurisprudence of public interest litigation that has vigorously promoted many important economic and social rights (constitutionally protected but not enforceable) including, but not restricted to, the rights to free education, livelihood, a clean environment, food and many others. Civil and political rights (traditionally protected in the Fundamental Rights chapter of the Indian Constitution) have also been expanded and more fiercely protected. These new interpretations have opened the avenue for litigation on a number of important issues. It is interesting to note that the pioneer of the expanded interpretation of Article 21, Chief Justice P N Bhagwati, was also one of the judges who heard the ADM Jabalpur case, and held that the Right to Life could not be claimed during Emergency.

Recent important cases[edit]

Among the important pronouncements of the Supreme Court post 2000 is the Coelho case [I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (Judgment of 11the January 2007)]. A unanimous Bench of 9 judges reaffirmed the basic structure doctrine. It held that a constitutional amendment which entails violation of any fundamental rights which the Court regards as forming part of the basic structure of the Constitution, then the same can be struck down depending upon its impact and consequences. The judgment clearly imposes further limitations on the constituent power of Parliament with respect to the principles underlying certain fundamental rights. The judgment in Coelho has in effect restored the decision in Golak Nath regarding non-amendability of the Constitution on account of infraction of fundamental rights, contrary to the judgment in Kesavananda Bharati case.

Another important decision was of the five-judge Bench in Ashoka Kumara Thakur v. Union of India; where the constitutional validity of Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act, 2006 was upheld, subject to the "creamy layer" criteria. Importantly, the Court refused to follow the 'strict scrutiny' standards of review followed by the United States Supreme Court. At the same time, the Court has applied the strict scrutiny standards in Anuj Garg v. Hotel Association of India (2007) ([1])

2G spectrum scam[edit]

The Supreme Court declared allotment of spectrum as "unconstitutional and arbitrary" and quashed all the 122 licenses issued in 2008 during tenure of A. Raja (then minister for communications & IT), the main official accused in the 2G scam case.[24]

Black money[edit]

The government refused to disclose details of about 18 Indians holding accounts in LGT Bank, Liechtenstein, evoking a sharp response from a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar. The court ordered Special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.[25][26] Lack of enthusiasm made the court create a special investigative team (SIT).[27]

Minority reservations[edit]

The SC refused to stay the Andhra High Court judgement quashing 4.5% sub-quota for minorities under OBC reservation quota of 27%.[28]

Online/Postal Ballot For Indians Citizens Living in Abroad (NRIs)[edit]

Three judge bench presided by Honorable Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued notice to the Centre and the Election Commission of India (EC) on the PIL filed by a group of NRIs for online/postal ballot for the Indian citizens living in abroad.[29][30]

Recognition of transgender as 'third gender' in law[edit]

In April 2014, Justice KS Radhakrishnan declared transgender to be the 'third gender' in Indian law, in a case brought by the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) against Union of India and others.[31][32][33] The ruling said:[34]

Seldom, our society realises or cares to realise the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are sidelined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society's unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.

Justice Radhakrishnan said that transgender people should be treated consistently with other minorities under the law, enabling them to access jobs, healthcare and education.[35] He framed the issue as one of human rights, saying that, "These TGs, even though insignificant in numbers, are still human beings and therefore they have every right to enjoy their human rights", concluding by declaring that:[34]

(1) Hijras, eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as "third gender" for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.

(2) Transgender persons' right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.


Corruption and misconduct of judges[edit]

2008 saw the Supreme Court embroiled in several controversies, from serious allegations of corruption at the highest level of the judiciary,[36] expensive private holidays at the tax payers expense,[37] refusal to divulge details of judges' assets to the public,[38] secrecy in the appointments of judges',[39] to refusal to make information public under the Right to Information Act.[40] The Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan invited a lot of criticism for his comments on his post not being that of a public servant, but that of a constitutional authority.[41] He later went back on this stand.[42] The judiciary has come in for serious criticisms from former Presidents of India Pratibha Patil and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam for failure in handling its duties.[43] Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has stated that corruption is one of the major challenges facing the judiciary, and suggested that there is an urgent need to eradicate this menace.[44]

The Cabinet Secretary of the Indian government introduced the Judges Inquiry (Amendment) Bill 2008 in Parliament for setting up of a panel called the National Judicial Council, headed by the Chief Justice of India, that will probe into allegations of corruption and misconduct by High Court and Supreme Court judges.[45][46]

Pendency of cases[edit]

According to Supreme Court newsletter, there are 58,519 cases pending in the Supreme Court, out of which 37,385 are pending for more than a year, at the end of 2011. Excluding connected cases, there are still 33,892 pending cases.[47] As per the latest pendency data made available by the Supreme Court, the total number of pending cases in the Supreme Court as on 1st April 2014 is 64,330, which includes 34,144 Admission matters (miscellaneous) and 30,186 Regular Hearing matters.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c History of the Supreme Court of India, Supreme Court of India
  2. ^ "Constitution of Supreme Court of India". Supreme Court of India. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Constitution of Supreme Court". Supreme Court of India. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "Constitution". Supreme Court of India. 28 January 1950. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c "Supreme Court of India — History". Supreme Court of India. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Section 124, Constitution of India". VakilNo1. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Lord Cooke of Thorndon (2000). B. N. Kirpal, ed. Supreme But Not Infallible (Sixth Impression 2010 ed.). New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press. pp. 97–106. ISBN 9780195672268. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Rajagopal, Krishnadas. "The Collegium Controversy". The Indian Express. 
  9. ^ [[s:Constitution of India/Part V#Article 125 {Salaries, etc., of Judges}]]
  10. ^ S: 1 hc-judges-high-courts-supreme-court-judges[dead link]
  11. ^ a b "Minorities can rise to top jobs only in India: Chief Justice of India". The Times of India. 16 August 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  12. ^ "Accountability law must not encroach on judicial independence, cautions CJI". The Indian Express. 16 August 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "Justice S H Kapadia sworn in as new Chief Justice of India". The Times of India. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "Supreme Court Reports". Supreme Court of India. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  15. ^ Maha minister gets jail for contempt
  16. ^ "Maharashtra Minister gets one-month jail term". News (Chennai, India). 11 May 2006. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  17. ^ "Maha minister gets jail for contempt". News. 11 May 2006. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  18. ^ "I. C. Golaknath & Ors. V. State of Punjab & Anrs.(With Connected Petitions)". Retrieved 18 September 2012. [dead link]
  19. ^ Supreme Court judgements[dead link]
  20. ^ V R Krishna Iyer (27 June 2000). "Emergency — Darkest hour in India's judicial history". The Indian Express. Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  21. ^ a b Jos. Peter D 'Souza (June 2001). "A.D.M. Jabalpur vs Shukla: When the Supreme Court struck down the Habeas Corpus". PUCL Bulletin. Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  22. ^ Anil B. Divan (15 March 2004). "Cry Freedom". The Indian Express. Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  23. ^ Ramachandra Guha. India after Gandhi: The history of the world's largest democracy. Macmillan/Picador, 2007. p. 500. 
  24. ^ 2G scam: SC scraps 122 licences granted under Raja's tenure, trial court to decide on Chidambaram's role - Times Of India. (2 February 2012). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  25. ^ "Don't let Hasan Ali leave country: SC". The Times of India. 11 February 2011. 
  26. ^ "Pranab Mukherjee refuses to spill names of LGT Bank account-holders". The Times of India. 26 January 2011. 
  27. ^ "Supreme Court: the balancing act". 8 December 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  28. ^ "Supreme Court upholds AP court order quashing minority sub-quota". The Hindu. 13 June 2012. 
  29. ^ NEW DELHI, 22 Feb 2013 DHNS (22 February 2013). "SC notice to Centre, EC on online voting for NRIs". Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "India recognises transgender people as third gender". The Guardian. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  32. ^ McCoy, Terrence (15 April 2014). "India now recognizes transgender citizens as ‘third gender’". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  33. ^ "Supreme Court recognizes transgenders as 'third gender'". Times of India. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  34. ^ a b National Legal Services Authority ... Petitioner Versus Union of India and others ... Respondents (Supreme Court of India 15 April 2014). Text
  35. ^ "India court recognises transgender people as third gender". BBC News. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  36. ^ Ex-chief justice under corruption panel scanner, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 9 June 2008
  37. ^ Are judges holidaying at public expense?, May 2008
  38. ^ Judges' asset declaration before CJI not for public eye: SC to CIC, The Indian Express, 6 November 2008
  39. ^ The case of judicial injustice, The Indian Express, 31 March 1999
  40. ^ RTI Act does not apply to my office: CJI, The Times of India, 20 April 2008
  41. ^ Is the CJI a public servant?, The Times of India, 22 April 2008
  42. ^ I am a public servant: CJI, The Times of India, 6 May 2008
  43. ^ Delayed justice leading to lynching mobs: Pratibha, The Times of India, 24 February 2008
  44. ^ Manmohan Singh calls for check on corruption in judiciary, Thaindian News, 19 April 2008
  45. ^ Pass Judges (Inquiry) Bill in next session, panel tells Govt., Zee News, India Edition, 30 September 2008
  46. ^ Bill for probe panel against errant judges cleared, iGovernment, 10 October 2008
  47. ^ "Supreme Court Quarterly Newsletter — Oct — Dec 2011". Supreme Court of India. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  48. ^ "Number of pending matters in Supreme Court as on 1st April 2014". Retrieved 18 April 2014. 

External links[edit]