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Constitution of Criminal Courts and it’s Hierarchy | Overview
- Classes of Criminal Courts
- Power of Courts to try offences
- Power of the Court to pass sentences
- Sentences which High Courts and Sessions Judges may pass
- Sentences which Magistrates may pass
- Sentence of imprisonment in default of fine
- Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial
Administration of justice is the most important function of the state. For this purpose our constitution has set up a hierarchy of courts. The Supreme Court is the apex body, followed by 24 High Courts which have been created by the constitution of India, and their jurisdiction and powers are well defined in the constitution itself.
Article 124 of Indian constitution says that there shall be a Supreme Court of India its constitutional powers and jurisdictions have been defined from article 124-147. The Supreme Court is meant to be the highest court of appeal which takes up appeals against the verdict of High Courts. There are 24 High Courts in the country which regulates the working of the Sessions court. The Constitution, by Article 227, provides that every High Court shall so exercise superintendence over all courts and tribunals. It further provides that the High Court shall exercise its powers judiciously in order ensure proper working of judicial mechanism.
Classes of Criminal Courts
Apart from the Supreme Court and High Courts, the following criminal courts have been described under section 6 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973:-
- Court of Session
- Judicial Magistrate of first class and, in any metropolitan area Metropolitan Magistrates
- Judicial Magistrate of second class; and
- Executive Magistrates
Section 7(1) of Criminal Procedure Code 1973 states that “The State Government shall establish a Court of Session for every session’s division. The judge of the Sessions court is appointed by the High Court. In the hierarchy Sessions court is followed by Judicial Magistrate Class I and then judicial magistrate of Class II. In metropolitan areas, it is followed by Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and metropolitan magistrate. An Executive Magistrate is one of the classes of courts only while performing judicial functions.
Power of courts to try offences
Chapter III of CrPC deals with power of Courts. One of such power is to try offences. Offences are divided into two categories:
- those under the Indian Penal Code; and
- those under any other law.
According to Section 26, any offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 may be tried by the High Court or the Court of Session or any other Court by which such offence is shown in the First Schedule to be triable, whereas any offence under any other law shall be tried by the Court mentioned in that law and if not mentioned, it may be tried by the High Court or any other Court by which such offence is shown in the First Schedule to be triable. This Section is a general Section and is subject to the other provisions of the Code.
Power of the Court to pass sentences
Sentences which may be passed by the criminal have been mentioned under section 28 & 29 of the criminal procedure code.
Sentences which High Courts and Sessions Judges may pass
According to Section 28, a High Court may pass any sentence authorised by law. A Sessions Judge or Additional Sessions Judge may pass any sentence authorised by law, but any sentence of death passed by any such judge shall be subject to confirmation by the High Court.
An Assistant Sessions Judge may pass any sentence authorised by law except a sentence of death or of imprisonment for life or of imprisonment for a term exceeding ten years. Thus, Section 26 of the Code enumerates the types of Courts in which different offences can be tried and then under Section 28, it spells out the limits of sentences which such Courts are authorised to pass.
Sentences which Magistrates may pass
Section 29 lays down the quantum of sentence which different categories of Magistrates are empowered to impose. The powers of individual categories of Magistrates to pass the sentence are as under:
- The Court of a Chief Judicial Magistrate may pass any sentence authorised by law except a sentence of death or of imprisonment for life or of imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years.
- A Magistrate of the first class may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or of a fine not exceeding five thousand rupees, or of both.
- A Magistrate of the second class may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or of fine not exceeding one thousand rupees, or of both.
A Chief Metropolitan Magistrate shall have the powers of the Court of a Chief Judicial Magistrate and that of a Metropolitan Magistrate, and the powers of the Court of a Magistrate of the First class.
Sentence of imprisonment in default of fine
Where a fine is imposed on an accused and it is not paid, the law provides that he can be imprisoned for a term in addition to a substantive imprisonment awarded to him, if any. Section 30 defines the limits of Magistrate’s powers to award imprisonment in default of payment of fine.
It provides that the Court of a Magistrate may award such term of imprisonment in default of payment of fine as is authorised by law provided the that the term:
- is not in excess of the powers of the Magistrate under Section 29; and
- where imprisonment has been awarded as part of the substantive sentence, it should not exceed 1/4th of the term of imprisonment which the Magistrate is competent to inflict as punishment for the offence otherwise than as imprisonment in default of payment of the fine.
Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial
Section 31 relates to the quantum of punishment which the Court is authorised to impose where the accused is convicted of two or more offences at one trial.
(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences, the Court may, subject to the provisions of section 71 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), sentence him for such offences, to the several punishments prescribed therefor which such Court is competent to inflict; such punishments when consisting of imprisonment to commence the one after the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently.
(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be necessary for the Court by reason only of the aggregate punishment for the several offences being in excess of the punishment which it is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence, to send the offender for trial before a higher Court: Provided that-
- in no case shall such person be sentenced to imprisonment for a longer period than fourteen years;
- the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to inflict on a single offence.
(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the aggregate of the consecutive sentences passed against him under this section shall be deemed to be a single sentence.
By – L. Sanmiha (Saveetha School of Law, Chennai)
- Universal Bare Act, 2017
- R.V. Kelkar’s Criminal Procedure, EBC 2016