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Report No. 14

33. Organisation of Criminal Courts

1. Classes of criminal courts.-

The hierarchy of criminal courts has remained practically unchanged since the enactment of the Criminal Procedure Code in 1898. The provisions of the Code control the working of these courts down to the minutest detail. Some slight variations have been introduced in those States where the executive has been separated from the judiciary. These details have been dealt with in a separate chapter and do not require to be specified here. The following are the existing classes of criminal courts:-

(1) High Courts.

(2) Courts of Session (including Additional and Assistant Sessions Judges).

(3) District Magistrates.

(4) Magistrates of the First, Second and Third Class.

(5) Presidency Magistrates.

(6) Honorary or Special Magistrates.

(7) Panchayat Courts.

The panchayat or village courts are constituted by special Acts.

2. High Courts (Original jurisdiction).-

Of all the High Courts, only those of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay exercised ordinary original criminal jurisdiction. The High Courts of Madras and Bombay have, however, recently been deprived of this jurisdiction by the creation of sessions courts at the seats of the High Courts. All offences triable by a court of session arising within the ordinary original civil jurisdiction of these two High Courts are now tried by the courts of session established for the purpose, namely, the City Sessions Court, Madras and the Court of Session for Greater Bombay. In the State of West Bengal also, Act XX of 1953 has been passed creating a City Sessions Court for Calcutta for the trial of offences triable by a court of session arising within the ordinary original civil jurisdiction of the Calcutta High Court.

This Act, however, lays down that certain of the more serious offences, that is, those falling under sections 131-134, 302, 307, 396, 468 and 477A of the Indian Penal Code and abetments of and attempts to commit these offences should continue to be tried by the High Court. This Act, though passed in 1953, was brought into force by a notification of the Government only early in 1957. The High Court at Calcutta, therefore, exercises ordinary original criminal jurisdiction within the limits of its ordinary original civil jurisdiction in respect of the offences set out above.

3. Appellate and revisional jurisdiction.-

All the High Courts possess both appellate and revisional jurisdiction under the Code.

4. Sessions courts (Their jurisdiction).-

Normally, a sessions division is constituted and a court of session presided over by a sessions judge is established for every revenue district. In some parts of the country, however, a sessions division is constituted for more than one revenue district. The State Government may appoint additional sessions judges or assistant sessions judges to preside over such Courts if the volume of work makes it necessary. Their powers are defined in the Code. It should be noted that, barring cases falling under section 198B, Criminal Procedure Code, Sessions Courts have no power to take cognizance of and try cases other than those committed to them by the magistrates. But they exercise both appellate and revisional jurisdiction to the extent provided by the Code.

5. Magistrate's courts (The district magistrate).-

Except in those States where the separation of the executive from the judiciary has been effected resulting in a slight modification of the pattern of the hierarchy of courts of magistrates, the district magistrate is the head of the magistracy in the district. All magistrates of the first, second and third class, including magistrates of the first class specially empowered under section 30 of the Criminal Procedure Code and honorary or other special magistrates and even additional district magistrates are subordinate to him. Apart from the statutory duties laid upon him by the Criminal Procedure Code and other enactments, the district magistrate's principal function is to ensure the proper working of the magisterial machinery. His supervisory duties are by no means the least important though, in the States where separation of the judiciary from the executive has not been effected, they are rarely discharged in a satisfactory manner.

6. Under the control of the district magistrate, a large number of stipendiary or honorary magistrates of the first, second or third class function, who between them dispose of the bulk of the criminal work. The powers of these magistrates are described in detail elsewhere. Generally speaking, the lower class of magistrates deals with comparatively minor offences, whether under the Indian Penal Code or under other special or local law. The more serious offences are dealt with by the superior magistrates, or in appropriate cases committed to the court of session for trial.

7. Presidency magistrates.-

Presidency magistrates are appointed in the three towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay for the trial of all lesser offences, that is, other than those triable by the court of session or the High Court in the presidency towns. These presidency magistrates are not superior to magistrates of the first class insofar as the powers conferred upon them by the Code are concerned but they enjoy certain privileges, such as the right of recording evidence in a condensed form. The limits of the non-appealable sentences that can be passed by them are higher than those applicable to first class magistrates and even to courts of session. Presidency magistrates can, under the Code, commit cases to the High Court or the sessions court for trial.

8. Honorary magistrates.-

In addition to the various classes of magistrates appointed by Government who hold judicial posts under the State, the State Government is authorised under section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Code to confer upon any person who holds or has held any judicial post under the Union or the State or possesses such other qualifications as may, in consultation with the High Court, be specified by it, the powers of a magistrate in respect of particular cases or categories of cases or generally in regard to cases in any local area. Such magistrates are called honorary or honorary special magistrates.

9. Their role.-

Though the power under this section has been exercised fairly freely, the practice of appointing honorary magistrates appears to have been given up in some States in recent years. The honorary magistrates are intended to give relief to the stipendiary magistrates in their work; most of the work entrusted to them is of a petty type which does not require to be dealt with by a trained judicial officer and which would needlessly clog the files of the stipendiary magistrates.

The institution of honorary magistrates is also helpful as a method of associating the public with criminal judicial administration. In practice, these magistrates are appointed where the volume of criminal work is very large and the regular magistracy feels the need for additional help. As the appointment of a sufficient number of paid magistrates in some areas would impose a heavy financial burden upon the State, suitable persons are chosen and appointed in those areas to work as Honorary Magistrates.

10. Extent of the system of honorary magistrates.-

In the States of Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Mysore, Orissa and Rajasthan, the institution of honorary magistrates is not in vogue. In the Punjab, the system has been discontinued, though it continues to prevail in the Delhi State area.

U.P.- In Uttar Pradesh, the honorary magistracy has helped to expedite the disposal of criminal cases and to relieve the congestion in criminal courts. They dispose of nearly twenty-five per cent. of the criminal work in the State. In 1956, there were three hundred and fifty-seven honorary magistrates in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Some of these magistrates sit singly as honorary special magistrates and the rest in Benches. Important police cases are not, as a rule, sent to these magistrates for trial; but complaint cases of less importance and petty cases under the various local and other Acts are disposed of by them. The Government of Uttar Pradesh has stated that the duties performed by these magistrates, if entrusted to stipendiary magistrates would cost the exchequer several lakhs of rupees every year.

In Madras.- In the State of Madras also, these honorary magistrates have served a very useful purpose. According to the Chief presidency magistrate, Madras, in the year 1956, out of a total of two lakh cases, the honorary magistrates disposed of one lakh thirty-two thousand and odd cases. The problem in large towns is the extremely large number of petty cases which calls for disposal; the task of finding the necessary number of honorary magistrates in such places is simpler inasmuch as retired judicial officers and other capable persons are more easily available there than in the mofussil.

The Code contemplates two classes of honorary magistrates special and bench magistrates. Men of greater experience can be appointed to sit singly whereas others can be empowered to sit in benches.

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