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Report No. 14

11. Their procedure.-

In respect of the procedure to be followed by the panchayat courts, the enactments generally contain a provision such as this:

"The procedure to be followed by a Bench of the Gram Cutcherry shall be such as it may consider just and convenient and the bench shall not be bound to follow any laws of evidence or procedure other than the procedure prescribed by or under this Act". (Section 60, Bihar Panchayat Raj Act, 1947).

12. Criminal Jurisdiction.-

The jurisdiction of the panchayat courts in criminal matters extends to a large number of offences under the Indian Penal Code. Offences under certain provisions of the Cattle Trespass Act and under minor local enactments have also been made cognizable by the panchayat courts. In the case of offences of theft, receiving stolen property and the like, the jurisdiction of the panchayat courts is limited. Cases where the value of the property alleged to be stolen exceeds Rs. 50 and cases in which the old offenders are concerned cannot be tried by the panchayat courts.

In some States, the panchayat courts have been given the power to bind over parties for keeping the peace for a period not exceeding 15 days, a provision analogous to section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In Assam, panchayat courts can impose a fine of Rs. 100 for non-execution or.violation of the bond. In Bihar, panchayat courts can only issue a notice to the parties as to why they should not be bound over. Thereafter, the proceedings go to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate who would pass final orders in the matter.

Generally, panchayat courts have not been given the power to sentence an accused person to a term of imprisonment either substantively or in default of payment of a fine. However, in Bihar these courts have the powers of a Magistrate of the Third Class and are, therefore, competent to impose a sentence of imprisonment up to one month. In Orissa and Rajasthan, the panchayat courts have power, in the event of a default in payment of fine, to order imprisonment. Generally, the fine which can be imposed by the panchayat courts is limited to Rs. 50. In Assam, however, the panchayat courts can impose a fine upto Rs. 250.

It is noteworthy that in the Kerala State (excluding the parts transferred from Madras) the village courts have no criminal jurisdiction.

13. Appeal and Revision.-

The law in some of the States makes the decision of the panchayat courts final, subject to the powers of revision vested in the District Munsif or the District Judge. Some of the Acts provide for appeals to a Full Bench of the panchayat or to a Tehsil panchayat and even to the District Judge. In criminal matters, the revision lies generally to the Sub-Divisional

Magistrate but sometimes a revision or an appeal is provided to the Sessions Judge. Broadly speaking, the grounds on which revision is entertained are want of jurisdiction, corruption, partiality or misconduct on the part of the Panchas or a miscarriage of justice. Power is also generally given to a superior court to withdraw any suit or case from the file of a panchayat court and transfer it to another panchayat court or to a regular court for disposal.

14. Appearance of legal practitioners barred.-

These enactments also contain provisions preventing lawyers from appearing in these courts. For example, section 24 of the Madras Village Courts Act, 1888 provides:

"No legal practitioner, whether qualified or unqualified, shall be allowed to appear before a village court on behalf of any party to a suit or proceeding but any party may authorise a servant, gumasta, partner, relation or friend to

The Travancore-Cochin Act is, however, unique in that it does permit legal practitioners to appear before these courts (section 22 of the Travancore-Cochin Village Courts Act, 1954). The maximum fee payable to a lawyer in a suit or case is, however, fixed at Rs. 3.

The Tables set out below indicate the extent of the civil and the criminal jurisdiction of these courts, the punishments which they can award, the court-fees chargeable by them and the extent of the control exercised by superior courts over them.

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