Subordinate Courts under Indian Constitution

Author: Ramandeep Kaur

The Indian judicial system in its own way is very diverse and detailed. This is largely due to the persistence of diversity in India. The Judiciary is an indispensable wing that aids in dexterous functioning of Indian Democracy. This research discusses about the structure and hierarchy of Indian Subordinate Courts. Further it mentions provisions concerning subordinate judiciary that is included in state judiciary. These provisions help in upholding the core value of Constitution i.e., the independence of these courts. This work also discusses the case laws and concludes by depicting some defects and some reformatory measures.


The three tiers (Legislature, Executive and Judiciary) have their own domain and boundaries within which they function to run a huge country. These three organs have independent recognition in the ‘Mother Law’ that is the constitution in such a way that they keep checks and maintain balances between each other. Apart from administering justice and safeguarding rights and liberties of the people, the Indian judiciary has to uphold the supreme law of the land i.e., the constitution. Our framers had put extreme efforts in drafting the constitution, it has all the answers that are needed to run a great country like India.

The entire arrangement of Indian Judiciary is in such a way that there is a three-tier system though together it is unified in nature. The Apex court in India is the Supreme Court at the national level. Then the highest court of law at the state level is the High Court. At lower level, there are subordinate courts which are divided into the lower judiciary and higher Judiciary (that is higher Judiciary within lower courts not the high courts.)


The Subordinate Courts function at lower level and working is under the supervision of the High Court of the state.  The higher judiciary within lower courts district has District and Sessions court. The civil side consists of the District Court which is the highest civil court at district level. The appeals from this court are filed in the High Courts. Below it, there are subordinate judge Courts, Principal Junior Civil Judge Court and Munsiff courts. In districts, Family Courts are also established for redressal of family disputes.

On the criminal side, there is a Sessions court. Under it, there is Judicial Magistrate Court (first class) and Judicial Magistrate Court (second class). These deal with criminal cases like that of theft, murder, rape and the guilty is awarded punishment. There are Revenue courts also comprising of the Board of Revenue. Below it, there is Collector, Tehsildar and the Naib Tehsildar.

The District Judge is the highest judicial authority at district level, having original and appellate jurisdiction. If he is dealing with civil matters, then he or she is called District Judge. If he or she is dealing with criminal matters, then he or she is known as Session Judge. The Session Judge can give death penalty which has to be performed or approved by the High Court. The Chief Judicial Magistrate can give up to 7 years of punishment in criminal cases. At lowest level, the Judicial Magistrate Court can give punishment for up to 3 years.

Metropolitan courts are present in the cities which are declared as Metropolitan cities under CRPC these courts have two categories. The civil one consists of City Civil Courts and below them are Courts of Small Causes. The criminal one includes Chief Metropolitan Court and below it the Metropolitan Magistrates Court is included. Thus, a different structure of judiciary is defined in Metropolitan areas.


The Articles 233 to 237 contains provisions pertaining to subordinate judiciary in part IV of the Indian Constitution.

The Article 233 speaks about the appointment of district judges. The appointment, posting and promotion of district judges is done by the Governor of the state in consultation with the Apex court of the state (the high court). For e.g., District Judge is to be appointed in Lucknow. So, the Governor of UP cannot appoint the candidate without consulting the High Court of Allahabad.

There is a condition that the person to be appointed as District Judge should be practicing advocate or pleader for at least seven years and must be recommended by high court for appointment. Mostly, the Higher Judicial examinations are conducted by the High Court. Say, when a person clears Delhi Higher Judicial Service Examination along with the interview also, candidate can satisfy that he or she is practicing advocate for seven years. Then the High Court gives recommendation and the Governor appoints the candidate as a district judge. The Article 233A was added by 20th Amendment Act, 1966 which states that the appointment of District Judge done before 1966 will not be illegal, if they do not comply with the requirements of article 233.

It is not that the subordinate Court only consists of District Judges so how others are appointed is mentioned in the Article 234 in judicial service the person other than the district judges are appointed by the State Governor in making such appointments he can search the State Public Service Commission and the High Court that is having jurisdiction on that state.

The Article 235 enumerates the High Court supervisory jurisdiction over the subordinate judiciary. The power pertaining to the promotion, posting and granting leave to the officers of the state Judicial Service other than the District Judges is exercised by the High Court. However, such person or officer can appeal under any law concerning the conditions of service.

The Article 236 defines the expressions District Judge and Judicial Service.

Governor by public notification, can direct that only provisions mentioned in our rules made relating to class or classes of magistrate in the state to be applied as they apply to two person appointed to state judicial service with such exceptions and modifications as he may deem fit.[1]


In Chandra Mohan Vs State of UP[2], the Governor appointed a selection committee for selecting candidates for appointment of District Judge but not in consultation with Allahabad High Court as per the provision under Article 233. The Supreme Court struck down the rules which violated the article 233 This is because, the Governor does not know whether such Candidate should be appointed as District Judge or not. The High Court is expected to know better that the candidate is suitable to be appointed as the District Judge or not.

The Honourable Supreme Court has held that the transfer of District Judges was a matter of control exercisable under Article 235 and the State government has no power in such matter.[3]

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court directed the state to investigate the matter first by the high court and then it should take decision regarding the suitability of the candidate where the candidate was rejected on getting an adverse report.[4]

In Re, The Special Courts Bill 1978[5], the Apex Court held that the Special Courts were not subordinate to High Court. It is wrong to say that the Special Courts are District Courts. So, the High Court cannot supervise the Special Courts.


The existence of subordinate judiciary provides an easy access to common people for redressal of disputes. Judicial system can be successful and efficient only when it functions effectively. At the grass root level, there are some lacunas in the functioning of the subordinate courts like sluggishness in the recruitment process, piling up of cases, delays in justice delivery, less uniformity in frequency of hearing, less number of judges etc. These have adverse impacts like injustice and suffering to the innocent, pendency of cases leading to overcrowding of the prisons, economic burden. Such issues erode the public faith and confidence in judicial system. It seems that courts just exist for namesake and just do a business.

So, it is the high time to take some reformatory measures to remove the defects in the functioning of Subordinate Courts. The working days should be increased. Adequate and efficient judges are required especially for dealing with criminal cases. Some rules should be made to make the dispute redressal process time bound. This will ensure your quick delivery of justice. So as to attract the best ever efficient cadre in judicial service, All India Judicial Service should be created. More focus should be given on infrastructure and manpower needs. Courts should be set up in proximity especially in hilly areas. It is imperative that these courts function transparently to serve the purpose for which they exist. Their independence from executive should be ensured which is the Sine qua non in Indian Democracy. So, with these steps, the subordinate courts would be able to administer justice smoothly.


[2] AIR 1966 SC 1987(India).

[3] State of Assam Vs Ranga Muhammad, AIR 1967 SC 903(India).

[4] K Vijaya Lakshmi Vs Government of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 2013 SC 3589(India).

[5] AIR 1978 SC 478(India).