FYI: All You Need To Know About The Indian Legal System

Posted on May 20, 2014

By Aparajita Khandelwal:

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who is studying to be a lawyer. We were discussing the mundane, politics and other things. In medias res, somehow we started talking about law and I ended up embarrassing myself, and that made me realize how ignorant we are about law and the Indian Judicial System .The last time I concerned myself with the Indian judicial system was in the 10th standard during Civics classes. Since then I’ve not had a chance to display my ignorance, until a few days back. So after that embarrassing episode I decided to do some research on it and now I feel like a pro! I decided to compile a refresher course for all those unaware dummies like me:

judgesThe Judiciary:
The Indian Judiciary System is a continuation of the British Legal System which was established by the British in the mid-19th century. The Constitution of India is the only supreme legal document of the country. The framework defining the procedure, structure, power and duty of the Indian Judicial system is laid down by the Constitution of India. It contains 448 articles in 25 parts, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 98 amendments .There is also an official version of it in Hindi. The Constitution of India is federal in nature. A Federal government is a type of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units such as the states or provinces (29 states and 7 union territories). The government of India is based on a 3-tiered system: at the apex we have the Union Government also known as the Central Government, then we have the State Government and finally the Panchayats and Municipalities.

The Courts:
The judiciary of India is spread over various levels-courts, each with varying power depending on the tier. They follow a strict hierarchy with the Supreme Court at the top as the guardian of the Constitution and the highest court of appeal. The High Courts, District Courts and Magistrates of Second Class and Civil Judge fall under the Supreme Court and are bound by the judgments and orders of the Supreme Court. There are 24 High Courts at the State level. The Calcutta High Court in Kolkata, the Allahabad High Court in Allahabad, the Madras High Court in Chennai and the Bombay High Court in Mumbai are four of the oldest High Courts in India. Now you may ask why we have only 24 High Courts for 29 states and 7 union territories. This is because two or more states/union territories can have one common high court. For example the Calcutta High Court has jurisdiction over West Bengal and Andaman. The District courts are set up by the State Government for every district or for one or more districts together. The Village Courts or the ‘Lok Adalat‘ (People’s court) is based on the system of compromise and when no compromise is achieved the matter goes to the court.

The Legal System:
The legal system in India is divided into two branches:

Criminal Law– The Criminal Law deals with acts like theft, homicide, abuse etc. A Criminal Law procedure starts with filing a FIR (First Information Report), followed by police investigation and trials in court. The India Penal Code (IPC) forms the backbone of criminal law in India. It has been amended several times since it came to force in the early British Raj in 1862.It is sub-divided into 23 chapters which contains 511 sections and covers a wide range of criminal offenses. The much talked about Section 377 which criminalizes gay sex falls under chapter XVI and is titled “Of Unnatural Offences”.

Civil Law-The Civil Law entails the cases where harm is caused to the rights of individuals like disputes related to land, goods, rent and divorce. The procedure of civil cases commences with filing a petition in the relevant court by the affected party only

Indian Laws Pertaining to Women and Children:
India has several women specific legislations like-The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956; the Commission of Sati Act, 1987; Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; the Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986; the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013; and the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 However, the Indian Constitution does not criminalize marital rape. According to the surveys by the United Nations Population Fund two-thirds of married Indian women claimed to have been forced into sex by their husbands. And in a survey by the International Center for Research on Women, one in five Indian men admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

In addition to these we have several child protection rights as well, like- Child Labour Act, 1986; Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; Children Act, 1960; Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005; Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles & Infant Foods Amendment Act, 2003; Juvenile Justice Amendment Act, 2006; Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956; and Reformatory Schools Act, 1897.

To conclude, where there’s a will, there is a way, and there is always a big fat lawsuit!

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