Criminal Courts- An Overview 

The various laws in existence can be broadly classified as Substantive and Procedural laws. The Indian Penal Code [1] is an example of a substantive law that provides with the definitions of various crimes, the elements of such crimes and their punishments whereas the Code of Criminal Procedure [2] can be placed in the purview of procedural laws that provides for the procedures, powers and jurisdictions to provide justice in the eventuality of  commission of crimes defined under the IPC [3]. 

In Iqbal Ismail Sodawala v. State of Maharashtra [4], the Supreme Court said that,” It is the procedure that spells the difference between the rule of law and the rule of will and caprice.” The criminal courts of the country are authorised to carry out the administration of criminal justice. The Magistrate and the Sessions Court comprise the basis of Criminal Courts.

Power and functions of the Criminal Courts  

The Constitution of India [5] provides the setup of various courts in our country in order to ensure adequate delivery of justice. Other than the Supreme Court as the Apex and the High Courts of various states, subordinate to the Supreme Court, there are other classes of subordinate courts as provided in the CrPC, under Section 6, namely-

  1.     Court of Session,
  2. Judicial Magistrate of first class and, in any metropolitan area [6] a metropolitan magistrate,
  3.       Judicial Magistrate of second class,
  4.       Executive Magistrates

Structure and functioning: 

  •         Courts of session and assistant sessions judge- The State Government shall, under Section 9 of CrPC, establish a court of every sessions division. The High Court shall appoint the Sessions Judge, Assistant Sessions Judges and Additional Sessions Judges. The Sessions Judge of one session shall have discretionary powers as that of an Additional session Judge in another session, if so appointed by the High Court. The Assistant Sessions Judge shall be subordinate to the Sessions Judge of that court.
  •         Courts of judicial magistrates– Under Section 11 of the Code, the State Government, after consultation with the High Court, shall appoint the Judicial Magistrates of first and second class in every district (not being a metropolitan area). The High Court may appoint any person who has held a post under the Government as a Special Judicial Magistrate, under the requisites provided in Sec 13. Such a Special  Judicial Magistrate shall have the same functions as a Judicial Magistrate. 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. Except as provided in Section 13, the Judicial Magistrate shall have jurisdiction over the specific district they’re assigned to as provided in Section 14 of the Code.
  •         Chief judicial magistrate and additional chief judicial magistrate– A Judicial Magistrate of the first class shall be appointed by the High Court to hold the designation of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in every district (not being a metropolitan area). The High Court shall also appoint a Judicial Magistrate of first class as an Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate or a Sub-divisional Magistrate, when necessary, and confer them with powers as of a Chief Judicial Magistrate.
  •         Court of metropolitan magistrates- Section 16 of the Code confers the power on the State Government to establish as many Metropolitan Courts as there are metropolitan areas, after consultation with the High Court. As provided under Sections 17 and 18 of the Code, the High Court shall also appoint the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate also a Special Metropolitan Magistrate as and when needed. The Metropolitan Magistrate is the metropolitan equivalent of the Judicial Magistrate with relation to the powers bestowed upon them. The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate shall be subordinate to the Sessions Judge and every other Metropolitan Magistrate shall be subordinate to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and be under the general control of the Sessions Judge, as provided in Section 19.
  •         Executive magistrates– The Executive Magistrates are appointed by the State Government in every district and metropolitan area. The State Government is also liable to appoint a District Magistrate and an Additional District Magistrates under Section 20 of the Code. With respect to Section 21 of the Code, the State Government may also appoint Special Executive Magistrates with the same powers conferring on them as that of an Executive Magistrate.

Powers of Courts:

The CrPC provides the powers conferred upon the Courts under Sections 26-35. Herein under are discussed the powers of different courts under various heads

  •         Courts eligible to try offences– Section 26 of the Code provides the eligibility of courts to try offences. It states that an offence, if enlisted under the IPC, shall be tried by the High Court or the Court of Sessions or any other court as directed in the First Schedule. In offences relating to Sec 376, 376A, 376AB, 376B, 376C, 376D, 376DA, 376DB or Sec 376E the case shall be tried in courts presided over by women as far as practicable. Offences under any other law shall be tried in courts as mentioned in that law. If such a court for the trial is not specified, it can be tried in the High Court or the court as is mentioned in the First Schedule for such offence.
  •         Jurisdiction in the case of juveniles- Any person under the age of 16 years shall be deemed as a juvenile [7] and hence, exempted from capital punishment or imprisonment for life. Such a person, as provided under section 27, may be tried by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate or any court that is specially empowered by the Children Act [8] or any other law that provides for the treatment, training and rehabilitation of youthful offenders.
  •         Sentences which various courts may pass-
  1.   According to Section 28, the High Court may pass any sentence. The Sessions Judge or Additional Sessions Judge, as well, may pass any sentence, but a judgement with sentence to death shall be confirmed by the High Court. An Assistant Sessions Judge is eligible to pass any sentence other than a death sentence or life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term more than 10 years.
  2.   According to Section 29, the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate has the discretionary power to award any sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years. A Judicial Magistrate of First Class may give away a sentence of imprisonment upto three year and fine not exceeding ten thousand rupees or of both. The Court of a Magistrate of Second Class has the power to pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or of fine that shall not be beyond five thousand rupees or of both.
  3.   In default of payment of fine, the Court of a Magistrate may sentence a person with imprisonment as is authorised by the law [9]. If the imprisonment awarded is part of a substantive sentence, it shall not exceed one-fourth of the term of imprisonment which the Magistrate is competent to inflict as punishment for the offence.
  4.   According to Section 31, when any person is convicted of several offences at one trial, the Court may sentence him for such offences with respect to Section 71 of the IPC. Punishments for such several offences shall commence consecutively in such order as the Court may direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments shall run simultaneously. In case of succeeding punishments, the Court isn’t bound to send the offender before the High Court if the aggregate punishment exceeds the power of the court due to a single offence. Provided, the term of such punishment shall not exceed fourteen years of imprisonment, also the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment that the Court can sentence for a single offence.  
  •         Mode of conferring powers– Section 32 states that the powers shall be conferred to any person by the High Court or the State Government, as the case may require. Such powers shall be deemed to be bestowed on the person from the date on which it is communicated to the person.
  •         Appointment and withdrawal of powers- According to Section 33, a person appointed either by the High Court or the State Government shall have the same powers as any other in the same office/position in that local area. Section 34 gives the High Court or the State Government the power to withdraw powers conferred upon them.
  •         Powers of successors-in-office– The powers and duties of the Judges or Magistrates shall be passed on to the successors-in-office. When there is any doubt in who is the successor-in-office of an Additional or Assistant Sessions Judge, the Sessions Judge shall determine the successor. In case of a Magistrate’s successor-in-office, the Chief Judicial Magistrate or the District Magistrate shall decide the same. This power is conferred under the Sec 35 of the CrPC.

Jurisdiction of the Criminal Courts in Inquiries and Trials

     Jurisdiction implies the extent and authority of a Court to deliver justice. The jurisdiction to administer justice doesn’t only refer to the subject-matter but also local limits and pecuniary extents of the Court. Chapter XIII of the CrPC (Sec 177-189) provides with the Jurisdictions of the Courts in inquiries and trials.

  • General rule: Section 177 of the Code lays down the general rule for the jurisdiction of a Court. It states that any offence shall be inquired into and tried in the Court in whose jurisdiction it was committed. 
  • Exceptions to Sec 177: In Jiban Banerjee v. State [10] the Court stated that Sec 178-185 are the special provisions as to the jurisdiction of Courts in inquiry and trial.

   Section 178 states that when the area of commission of the offence is uncertain, because it is committed in several areas, any Court having jurisdiction over any such area is eligible for the inquiry and trial of the matter.

    In Lee Kun Hee v. State of Uttar Pradesh,[11] the court opined that, “By virtue of Sec 179 of the CrPC, even the courts within whose local jurisdiction, the repercussion/effect of the criminal act occurs would have jurisdiction in the matter.”

According to Section 180, when one act is related to another and such acts are offences or would be offences if committed with respect to the first act, the first-mentioned act may be inquired into or tried in a Court within whose local jurisdiction either of the offence was committed. 

Sec 181 deals with the place of trial in case of certain offences. In the offences of thug, murder, kidnapping, abduction, theft, extortion, robbery, criminal misappropriation or criminal breach of trust, the offence shall be tried in the Court in whose jurisdiction the offence was committed or the place where the offender resides at that time. 

If any offence includes cheating by means of letters or telecommunication messages, it shall be looked into by the Court, according to Section 182, under whose local jurisdiction such letters or messages have been sent or received; and under the local jurisdiction of the Court in which the property has been delivered by the person deceived or has been received by the accused person.

Section 183 empowers the Court to inquiry and trial of the offences committed on a journey or voyage. Any Court, through or into whose local jurisdiction that person or thing passed in the course of that journey or voyage, shall have the power to look into the case. 

According to Section 184 when any person commits offences, such that he may be charged with, tried at one trial for, each such offence according to the provisions of Sections 219, 220, 221; when the offences or offences have been committed by several persons, in a manner that the Court may charge and try them together, according to the provisions of Section 223, the offence may be inquired into or tried by any competent Court.

Section 185 states that the State Government has the power to direct any case or class of cases to any court, unless such direction is detestable to a previously issued direction by a higher authority or any other law. 

  • Jurisdiction of offences beyond India: Section 187 deals with the powers of a Magistrate to issue summons or warrants for offences committed beyond local jurisdiction (whether within or beyond India). The magistrate may try or inquire into such offence if it is not punishable with death or life imprisonment or if the person is willing to give bail to the satisfaction of the Magistrate. 

Section 188 provides that any offence by a citizen, whether on the high seas or elsewhere, or a non-citizen, on any Indian ship or aircraft, would be tried as if it were committed in India. Such inquiry or trial shall have prior sanction from the Central Government.

Section 189 provides for a special rule of evidence. When a case is inquired into or tried according to Sec 188, the copies of dispositions before a judicial officer in the concerned foreign courts shall be provided as evidence in such a case. 


The hierarchy and powers of Courts in India has changed over years to ease the process of dispute resolution and assure the citizens justice. The fact that people have entrusted the Indian judiciary for their grievances obliges the judicial system to make necessary amendments for better, faster and more effective grievance redressal. As goes the famous quote “Justice delayed is justice denied”. With the enormous population and lack of awareness still prevailing, people are to be made aware of their rights, the procedures and the aids provided by the Government for attaining justice. The number of courts and judges also need to be increased to ensure that no person’s grievance goes unheard and justice is provided in the right time. 


[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860).

[2] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[3] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973,s.4.

[4] 1975 SCC (3) 140.

[5] The Constitution of India, 1950.

[6] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973,s.8.

[7] The Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act, 2015.

[8] The Children Act,1960 (60 of 1960).

[9] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860), ss.65, 67.

[10] AIR 1959 Cal 500.

[11] AIR 2012 SC 1007.


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