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Hierarchy of courts for civil cases of India

The hierarchical setup of the Indian Judiciary has been derived from the Constitution of India which is a gift of the Britishers. This structure operates at various levels, as discussed in the article, and facilitates the imparting of justice at each level of the system throughout the country.

By: Akshat Badjatya, Renaissance Law College.


The Indian Judicial System is one of the oldest legal systems in the world today. It is a part of the inheritance India received from the British after more than 200 years of their Colonial rule. The framework of the current legal system has been laid down by the Indian Constitution and the judicial system derives its powers from it. There are various levels of judiciary in India—different types of courts, each with varying powers depending on the tier and jurisdiction bestowed upon them. They form a hierarchy of importance, in line with the order of courts in which they sit, with the Supreme Court of India at the top, followed by High Courts of respective states with District Judges sitting in District Courts and Magistrates of Second Class and Civil Judge (Junior Division) at the bottom.

Categories under the civil court

The Civil Court has been categorized based on the Jurisdiction:

  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction: It can be defined as the authority vested in the court to try and hear cases of the particular type and about a particular subject matter.
  • Territorial Jurisdiction: The court can decide within the geographical limits of a court’s authority and it cannot exercise authority beyond that territorial and geographical limits.
  • Pecuniary Jurisdiction: Pecuniary Jurisdiction is related to money, whether a court can try cases and suits of monetary value/amount of the case or suit in question.
  • Appellate Jurisdiction: It refers to the authority of a court to rehear or review a case that has already been decided by a lower court. Appellate jurisdiction is generally vested in higher courts.

In India, both the High Courts and the Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction to hear matters which are brought in the form of appeal before them. They can either overrule the judgment of the lower court or uphold it.

Hierarchy under the civil court

1. Supreme Court

The highest judicial authority of the country is the Supreme Court. When the cases have been tried in all the other courts and the parties are not satisfied with the decision of the courts, they have the right to approach the Supreme Court for seeking justice.

Supreme Court has the original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction.

The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in civil matters is provided under the Constitution of India.  Appeals lie to the Supreme Court in civil matters if the High Court certifies: (a) that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance, and (b) that, in the opinion of the High Court, the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the authority to decide the case as it thinks fit.

Article 133 of the Indian Constitution provides that an appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court from any judgment, decree, or final order in a civil proceeding of a High Court of any state, only if the High Court certifies it under Article 134-A – (a) that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance; and (b) that in the opinion of the High Court the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.

2. High Court

The High Court is the highest judicial authority for each state in India. Each state has a High Court to deal with the matters that come from the lower courts. The High Court’s help in decreasing the burden of the Supreme Court as only cases where the substantial questions of law arise are appealed to the Supreme Court is worth appreciating.

In civil casesan appeal can be made to the High Court against the decision of district courts. An appeal can also be made from the subordinate court when the dispute involves a value higher than Rs. 5000/- or on a question.

3. District Court

Every district has a district court. The cities or towns have a district and sessions court where civil and criminal cases are looked upon. The court has a district Judge. While deciding the civil matters the judge is known as District Judge. The matters from the lower authorities in the district court come to the District Judge after they have been tried in all the lower courts. The district court also has some divisions.

The Court of Civil Judge of Senior Division comes at the higher level of the hierarchy on the civil cases. Civil Judge or Senior Division has the authority to try civil cases related to any value. There are many additional courts of Additional Civil Judge (senior division). Such additional courts have the same jurisdiction as exercised by the court of Civil Judge or Senior Division.

The Court of Civil Judge of Junior Division is the lowest level of deciding civil cases. It has the power to impose any sentence as per the law and it can provide capital punishment too. Civil Judge of Junior Division can extend its jurisdiction to all the original suits and proceedings. 

4. Court of Small Causes

There are many civil matters which go to different courts. Courts such as rent control authority are set to look upon the cases related to rents. Such courts are different from the district courts and deal with cases especially of one type. Such courts are of the lower authority.

Hierarchy of Courts in India

1. The District Courts of India are established by the State Government in India for every district or more than one district taking into account the number of cases, population distribution in the district. These courts are under the administrative control of the High Court of the State to which the district concerned belongs. The District Court is presided over by one District Judge appointed by the State Government. In addition to the district judge, many Additional District Judges and Assistant District Judges are appointed depending upon the workload.

2. In every state, besides the High Court, there are several judicial Courts to administer justice. These courts function under the complete control and supervision of the High Court.

A state has got exclusive legislative competence to determine the constituent organization and territorial jurisdiction of all courts subordinate to the High Court.

The organization of subordinate courts throughout the country is generally uniform. 

3. The court of the district judges is the highest civil court in a district. It exercises both judicial and administrative powers. It has the power of superintendence over the courts under its control. The court of the District Judge is located at the district headquarters. It has the power of trying both civil and criminal cases. Thus, he is designated as the District and Sessions Judge.

4. Below the court of the District Judge are the courts of Sub-judge, Additional Sub-Judge, and Munsif Courts, which are located in the sub-divisional and district headquarters. Most of the civil cases are filed in the court of the Munsif. A case can be taken in appeal from the court of the Munsif to the court of the sub-Judge or the Additional Sub-Judge. Appeals from the courts of the sub- Judges and Additional sub-Judges shall lie in the District Court.

The Court of the District Judge has both original and appellate jurisdiction.

Against the decision of the District Judge, an appeal shall lie in the High Court.


Though the current mechanism of justice dispensation in India has many advantages, the primary one being its adaptation by the citizens of the country, and it is becoming an integral part of the count. The hierarchical structure of the judicial system in India is applaudable as it affords the opportunity of seeking justice at all levels.

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