This is one question which comes to the mind of many persons who daily see that the Supreme Court of India and High Courts are delivering many judgments on various relevant issues, and he wants to file similar cases directly to these courts.
The legal position for such queries is described which can be understood simply.
The efficiency of the legal systems requires that there must be a judicial hierarchy. Common law countries tend to administer justice through a hierarchy of courts, and India is no exception. At the base of the hierarchy are the trial courts, which engage in the process of fact finding and dispute resolution at the very initial stages of a litigation. There usually then exist levels of appellate courts, for parties to approach in appeal if they are dissatisfied with the decision of the lower court.
The principle of hierarchy of courts is cherished by the Indian judiciary, and even the apex court has time and again emphasized the importance of following and placing faith upon this principle. [Few Judicial Citations on these principles (2011) 3 SCC 573; 1989 Supp. (2) SCC 310; (1965) 2 SCR 547].
Yet, there exist certain circumstances where a party may approach the appropriate High Court or the Supreme Court directly, without approaching subordinate courts to pursue the remedy sought. A higher level of expertise and experience is associated with the High Courts and the Supreme Court, and accordingly, the Constitution of India provides for certain exceptions where this expertise may be directly required at the first instance.
Articles 12 to 35 forming Part III of the Constitution of India incorporate a set of fundamental rights including the right to equality, life, liberty, freedom of speech, religious freedom, among others. Simply providing people with these rights will not suffice, and thus, there are specific provisions for their enforcement in cases where they are violated.
Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, which itself is a fundamental right and has famously been referred to as the heart and soul of the Constitution by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, gives individuals the power to directly approach the Supreme Court for enforcement of their fundamental rights. The Supreme Court has the discretionary power to exercise writ jurisdiction under this article. Similarly, High Courts also possess writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, however this is a broader power with regard to issuance of writs as the same may be done for not just fundamental rights (as under Article 32). but other legal rights as well.
There are namely five writs that the courts may issue: (i) habeas corpus, literally translating to “you have the body”, which is a writ used to seek relief from unlawful detention, (ii) quo warranto, meaning “with what warrant/authority”, used to restraint persons in public office from unwarrantedly exercising some power, (iii) mandamus is a command issued by the Court to a lower court or the government for correct performance of a duty, (iv) certiorari may be used to quash the wrongful action of a lower court in excess of its powers or against the principles of natural justice or the procedure established by law, and (v) prohibition is issued by higher courts to a lower court to prohibit it from doing something it is not supposed to do as per the law.
Writs are powerful tools in the hands of the judiciary to keep a check on the excesses of the administration, and protecting the spirit of the Constitution. [See AIR 1950 SC 124; AIR 1961 SC 1457; (1969) 1 SCC 110; see also M.P. Jain and S.N. Jain, Principles of Administrative Law 306 (2nd ed., 1973)].
Another exception to the hierarchy of Courts where parties have to directly approach a higher court is under Article 131 of the Constitution of India. According to Article 131, the Supreme Court of India has exclusive jurisdiction over disputes arising between two or more states, or between the centre and the states. Thus, in all such disputes, the aggrieved party, whether the centre or any state, must directly approach the Supreme Court.
While there exist certain exceptions to the normal principle of approaching the appropriate adjudicating authority such as a trial court or specialised tribunal and then going in appeal before higher courts, these exceptional remedies must be utilised with caution. In recent years, with the rising success of ensuring justice by means of Public Interest Litigation, Courts have faced a large number of unnecessary, frivolous, or personal agenda-centric PILs and other such writ petitions, which are an added burden to the already hard-pressed judiciary.
Particularly in cases of writ jurisdiction, parties must exhaust any alternative remedies available before approaching higher courts. However, the apex court has gone as far as to say that in cases of violation of principles of natural justice, availability of an alternate remedy shall not be an absolute bar to issuance of writ, though the factor must be taken into consideration [see (1969) 1 SCR 518, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 932]. With a responsible and cautious approach, parties certainly possess the right to approach a higher court directly if their disputes fall in any of the above discussed categories.
By Shiv Mangal Sharma
Advocate Supreme Court