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Indian Legal System

Written By: Abhishek Gore & Pallavi Vuppu


The Indian Judiciary is the strongest column among the four – that includes legislative, executive and media – that plays the role in keeping ‘democracy’ relevant and alive in the phrase ‘world’s largest democracy’. It is that organ of the state which takes upon the difficult tasks of settling disputes and interpreting laws with the main motive of delivering justice to the citizens. The judiciary is the honour guard that defends democracy and acts as the knight guarding the sacred book - the ‘Constitution’. Like all government bodies, it is deemed to take upon its work with utmost responsibility.

The article will needle into the nitty-gritty of the concept and functioning structure of the Indian Legal System with the context of the various units involved in its functioning. Now, our quest for understanding the Indian Legal system begins with a brief historical background about the Judicial system in British India, setting a foundation to help understand the prevailing Judicial framework.

British Era:

The British East India Company brought the common law system to India, a body of law built on court precedents. King George I awarded the corporation a license in 1726 to create "Mayor's Courts" in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta (now Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata respectively). After winning the Battle of Plassey, the company's judicial responsibilities significantly increased, and by 1772, the company's courts had spread outside the three main towns.

The British Crown gained control over the company's territory in India after the First War of Independence in 1857. The next significant change in the Indian legal system was brought about by the empire. High Courts and Supreme courts were created to replace the existing courts.[1]

Post Independence:

Then when India got independence the English common law and court system established by the British was carried forward by the Indian leaders. The Indian Constitution establishes a unified, cohesive judicial system. India does not have distinct State courts, in contrast to various other federal nations throughout the globe. The composition of India's judicial system is hierarchical, with the Supreme Court at the top, High Courts below them and district and subordinate courts at the lowest degree. The smaller courts work directly under the control of the higher courts.

Criminal Law:

Next, the types of laws will be examined. Firstly, criminal law and then Civil law. Crimes against the rule of law or other wrongdoings against the public are covered under criminal law. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, both regulate criminal law. The Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 outlines an extensive procedure and the penalties of the crimes, while the Indian Penal Code of 1860 defines the crime, its nature, and its consequences. Assault, theft, rape, and murder are all considered criminal offences under the law.[2]

Civil Law:

Civil law is used to resolve conflicts between people or organizations. Through the filing of a civil lawsuit, civil courts hold parties accountable when their rights and responsibilities are violated. Instead of emphasizing punishment, civil law generally focuses on conflict settlement. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, governs the act of procedure and the execution of civil law. Tort law, family law, property law, and contract law are other subcategories of civil law. Defamation, breach of contract, and a disagreement between a landlord and a tenant are some instances of civil law.

Legal Education:

An important aspect of the legal system of any nation-state is legal education which aids in the development and proliferation of the legal system. A solid legal education is a must for a good legal career. During the British era, legal education in India first started to be taught. As early as 1855, law programmes were established in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. Both the number of law schools and the number of students studying law have grown dramatically since independence. A significant advancement in Indian legal education occurred with the founding of the NLU in Bangalore in 1986. India presently has several National Law Universities, including those in Delhi, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Patiala. These prestigious law schools generate top-notch legal professionals thanks to their cutting-edge facilities and outstanding instructors. The students are chosen for these law schools' 5-year integrated programme based on their performance on the All Indian Common Law Admission Test.

The Bar Council of India, a statutory organisation established under the Advocates Act of 1961, oversees legal education in India. In India, there are two kinds of graduate-level legal studies programmes: a 5-year integrated course leading to a graduate degree with honours and a law degree, and a 3-year course following the 10 + 2 after graduation. In India, legal education is significantly influenced by the Bar Council of India. The Bar Council's "to promote legal education and to set down standards of such education in cooperation with the Universities in India and the State Bar Councils" is one of its most significant responsibilities.

Public Interest Litigation:

According to this system, Indian courts have the authority to bring about and carry out an action to protect any substantial public or general interest that is being negatively impacted by or is likely to be, the actions of, any agency, public or private. According to it, any individual, group, or nonprofit organization—even a court—can bring to light any situation that calls for action to safeguard and serve the public interest.[3]

It offers a simple, quick, quicker, and less costly method of giving the public who has been wronged court remedy. The Indian Judicial System is an independent, unbiased, free, strong, and effective judicial system thanks to all of these characteristics.


In order to understand the functioning of the Indian legal system, one has to comprehend the corporate and litigation sides of the legal system. Irrespective of either of the wings, it must be understood that both processes thoroughly revolve under the jurisdiction of the courts in the country. It includes Subject matter judiciary, pecuniary jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction.

Territorial Jurisdiction:

Territorial jurisdiction is the situation in which the borders and boundaries of a region govern the civil courts' jurisdiction. In the case of such a jurisdiction, the geographical borders are clearly defined. The CPC discusses the Territorial jurisdiction of civil courts in Sections 16 to 20.

The suit must be filed where the subject matter is situated or located, as per Section 16 of the Civil Procedure Code. Consequently, suits for the recovery of immovable property with or without rent or profits, sale or redemption in the case of a mortgage of or charge against immovable property, foreclosing, or determining any other right to or interest in immovable property, for compensation for wrong to immovable property, for the recovery of the movable property actually under distraint or attachment shall be instituted in the Court.

Subject matter Jurisdiction:

It is explained in Sections 9 and 20 what constitutes topic matter. Specific jurisdiction is provided by some statutes. As a result, this category relates to the lawsuit's subject matter without mentioning its financial value or specific geographic jurisdiction.[4]

For instance, if it is a rent act, the Civil Judge, Junior Division at Taluka, and District Court are the specified rent jurisdictions under old section 28 and new section 33 of the rent act. Family courts have been formed on the occasion of matrimonial conflicts. However, in areas without a family court, the Senior Division Civil Judge hears cases involving marriage.

Similar to what was stated before, if the case involves a company law issue, it must be brought before the NCLT Tribunal; if it involves an environmental issue, it must be brought before the NGT Tribunal.

Pecuniary jurisdiction:

As the name implies, this jurisdiction takes into account the monetary value of the case or litigation. The lawsuit wouldn't be filed in that court unless it had the legal capacity to hear it given the financial stakes involved. The CPC's Section 15 discusses the monetary jurisdiction of civil courts. Every lawsuit must be filed in the court with the lowest competency level to hear it, according to the law. This aims to lighten the workload of a higher-level court.


The Indian legal system on the whole is quite efficient in its functioning. Justice is reached through a hierarchical network of courts that is spread throughout the country. Liberal provisions exist for taking appeals from lower courts to higher courts. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, enforces a high standard of justice and promotes a common approach to law in the country. Furthermore, the independence of the judiciary has been enshrined in the Constitution itself. Enough precautions have been taken to enable courts to discharge their sacred duty fearlessly and impartially. And the law is mostly codified and is found to be uniform all through the country. However, to say all this is not to say that the legal system is perfect.

Footnotes :

  1. Jain, M. P. (2006). Outlines of Indian legal & constitutional history. New Delhi: Wadhwa and Co. Nagpur.

  2. (What are the types of Law in the Indian Legal System? 2020)

  3. Srikrishna, B. N. (2008) "The Indian Legal System," International Journal of Legal Information: Vol. 36: Iss. 2, Article 8.

  4. Jain, M. P., Pal, S., Pal, R. (2010). M.P. Jain Indian Constitutional Law: With Constitutional Documents. India: LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa

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