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The story of Supreme Court of India

Written by:
Abhishek Sahoo
Published on

Indian Judiciary: A Historical Transformation!

In the last episode of our Gallery Walk, you learnt about the inception of the Indian legal system through story of a majestic king Mahendra. In today’s story, let us take you through time and visit much simpler era, where the foundation of Indian Judiciary, as you know today, was cemented.

Let me introduce myself, I’m Supreme Court, a 240+ years old judicial institution, constantly remodelled . The Apex Court of India established by the British during post-colonial period.

Initially I was established in the Presidency town of Calcutta as the Supreme Court of Judicature, a court of equity that had the power to administer justice! I had numerous powers to deal with civil, criminal, admiralty and ecclesiastical matters, just like my contemporary self has now. My various counterparts were later established in Presidency towns of Bombay and Madras.

Within Presidency towns the lex loci were English laws, and outside presidency towns the judges decided matters regarding succession, inheritance, marriage, caste, etc. according to the personal Hindu and Mohammedan laws and matters other than these, on the principles of ‘justice, equity and good conscience’.

The profession of ‘lawyers’ in India was conceptualised during this time and people with special education on the existing laws could represent others in their court cases. However, Indians were barred from practicing this profession until the Legal Practitioners Act, 1846, which opened the gates for people irrespective of their nationality or religion.


Technology was slowly finding its way into the day-to-day operations and the legal profession was not left untouched. Typewriters brought a whole new revolution in the legal industry, with case documentation made possible and formal records for each case. The first rail line was set-up between Bombay and Thane, leading to the industrial revolution in India.

Post-offices were established all over India! It was possible to send telegrams and letters, which eminently reduced the time taken for filing cases in Presidency courts. In mid 1800s, electronic telegram were introduced, which brought people closer to the judicial system significantly. Telegraph lines were extended to more than 4250 miles and connected 46 stations Pan-India.

Foundation of judiciary’s pyramidical structure that you know of in present times, was laid way back by the British. Codification of laws first happened in the late 1800s, and these laws are still followed after more than 200 years! Regardlessly, technological advancements in British India were stagnant and one had to travel miles and dish out extravagant amount of money to access them.

Few decades later, my counterparts and I were abolished and I was re-established in Delhi as a Federal Court with additional appellate and advisory jurisdiction. Then the country attained independence through its long-fought battle and the Constitution of India, the supreme law of the land was enacted!

I was once again instituted as Supreme Court, with immense powers and High Courts, district courts and other subordinate courts that are in-operation even today, brought to function under me in the judicial pyramid.

Not much has changed since then in terms of the judicial structure. In terms of technology, however, there have been radical transformation, which no one could have ever predicted back in the old, nostalgic days. The crux of the legal system in India remains unchanged, with major technological changes nonetheless, that have happened since early 2000s!