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Structure and functioning of Criminal Courts in India

Updated: Jun 1


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About the Author:

Prof.(Dr.) Priya Sepaha

Director, Law Colloquy,

Author, Trainer, blogger, Youtuber


Structure and functioning of Criminal Courts


Administration of criminal justice is carried out through Magistrate Courts and Sessions Courts. The Indian Panel Code, 1860 (IPC), together with other penal laws constitutes India's substantive criminal law. The IPC draws inspiration from the English criminal law and has stood the test of time. However, it cannot be self-operative. As a sequel to the IPC, a Code of Criminal Procedure, 1861 was enacted. The 1861 Code was repealed after which a new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974 (CrPC) was enacted to carry out the process of the administration and enforcement of the substantive criminal law. The CrPC also controls and regulates the working of the machinery setup for the investigation and trial of the offences. In addition to the CrPC, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 was enacted to guide the process of investigation and trial.

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. Executive magistrate is one of the classes of courts only while performing judicial functions.


1. Supreme Court

According to Article 124 of the Indian constitution there shall be a Supreme Court of India. The constitutional powers and jurisdictions of the Supreme Court 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. Supreme Court at the apex of Indian Judiciary to uphold the constitution of India, to protect the rights and liberties of citizens and to uphold the values of rule of law. Hence it is known as the guardian of our Constitution.




2. High Court


The High Court stands at the head of the Judiciary in a State. It enjoys civil as well as criminal, ordinary as well as extraordinary and general as well as special jurisdiction. The institution of the High Court is fairly old as it dates back to 1862 when under the Indian High Court Act, 1861, High Courts were established at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. In course of time, other High Courts have also been established.


The High Court enjoys an Original Jurisdiction in respect of testamentary, matrimonial and guardianship matters. Original Jurisdiction is conferred on the High Court under various statutes. The High Court also enjoy extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 to issue various writs. Each High Court has supervisory power over subordinate courts under it. Each High Court, being a court of record enjoys the power to punish for its contempt as well as of its subordinate courts.


Jurisdiction of High Court


1. Court of Record.

2. It has power to punish for contempt. (Article 215)

3. Original Jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in the case of some High Courts.

4. Appellate jurisdiction in respect of criminal and civil cases decided by Subordinate courts. 5. Revision Jurisdiction conferred under the Civil Procedure Code and Criminal Procedure Code.

6. Writ jurisdiction. (Article 226)

7. Administrative Jurisdiction over subordinate courts.


3. Courts of Session


As per Section 9 of CrPC, the court is established by the State Government for every sessions division. The court is presided over by a Judge, appointed by the High Court of that particular state. The High Court may also appoint Additional Sessions Judges and Assistant Sessions Judges in this court. It has the power to impose any sentence including capital punishment.


4. Courts of Judicial Magistrates


Section 11 of CrPC states that in every district (not being a metropolitan area), there shall be established as many Courts of Judicial Magistrates of the first class and of the second class and at such places, as the State Government may after consultation with the High Court, by notification specify. Courts of Judicial Magistrate of First Class are at the second lowest level of the Criminal Court structure in India. According to Section 15 of the CrPC, a Judicial Magistrate is under the general control of the Sessions Judge and is subordinate to the Chief Judicial Magistrate. In terms of Section 29 of the CrPC, a Judicial Magistrate of First Class may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or of fine not exceeding five thousand rupees or of both.


5. Chief Judicial Magistrate and Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, etc.


In every district (not being a metropolitan area), the High Court shall appoint a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class to be the Chief Judicial Magistrate. A Chief Judicial Magistrate may impose a sentence except:-

(a) sentence of death,

(b) imprisonment of life, or

(c) imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years.

A Chief Judicial Magistrate shall be subordinate to the Sessions Judge; and every other Judicial Magistrate shall, subject to the general control of the Sessions Judge, be subordinate to the Chief Judicial Magistrate.


6. Metropolitan Magistrates

The Courts of Metropolitan Magistrates were created by Section 16 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and those of The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates were created by Section 17 of the Code. Section 18 of the Code also provided for Special Metropolitan Magistrates. The towns having population exceeding one million could be declared as Metropolitan Areas. A Metropolitan magistrate is under the general control of the Sessions Judge and is subordinate to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.


Executive Magistrates


Executive Magistrates are officers from Indian Administrative Services or State Administrative services. Executive Magistrates are under the control of the State Government. In every district and in every metropolitan area, the State Government may appoint as many persons as it thinks fit to be Executive Magistrates and Additional Magistrate. District Magistrate are always an IAS officer appointed by state government.

The State Government may appoint any Executive Magistrate to be an Additional District Magistrate and such Magistrate shall have such of the powers of a District Magistrate under this Code or under any other law for the time being in force as may be directed by the State Government.


Hierarchy of Executive Magistrates



Powers of Executive Magistrates


1. Power to pass injunctions

2. Power to stop public nuisance

3. Power to prevent unlawful assembly

4. Power to prevent disorder or apprehension of danger or breach of peace, when a dispute concerning land and water

5. Power to attach such subject of dispute and to appoint receiver,

6. Power to issue search warrant

7. Power to hold inquest of unnatural or suspicious death

8. Power to take dying declaration

9. Power to make inquiry on custodial death

10. Power to justification of police firing


Special Executive Magistrates


Under Section 21 of the CrPC, the State Government may appoint, Executive Magistrates, to be known as Special Executive Magistrates, for particular areas or for the performance of particular functions for instance election/calamity or any other contingency and confer on such Special Executive Magistrates such of the powers as are conferrable under this Code on Executive Magistrates, as it may deem fit.


Sentences which may be passed by the criminal courts have been mentioned under section 28 & 29 of the criminal procedure code.






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