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What is Jurisdiction?

7 min read


Tanvi Sinha

The word jurisdiction comes from the Latin terms Juris and Dicto which mean “I speak by the law.” The term hence intends to denote authority of the Law. In modern common law, it simply means the power of the courts. It is the extent of the authority of the courts and the limitations to it. Jurisdiction is absolute and the absence or presence of consent has nothing material to it.

In the case of AR. Antulay V. R.S Nayak, the decision of the Supreme Court to confer jurisdiction to High Courts was challenged by the Appellant and it ultimately was stated that even the Top Court could not decide jurisdiction. Hence in the absence of an inherent jurisdiction no directive, estoppel or any kind of order could create jurisdiction. In the cases of an incorrect jurisdiction the decision of the court in that case and any proceedings taken during its course are absolutely null and in cases of irregular exercise of power of a court but WITHIN JURISDICTION, the decision would hold absolute (provided there is a way for someone to seek remedy following the decision) as the courts hold the power to decide cases rightly and wrongly. It is something that in a case, is normally decided after being presented by the Plaintiff and not the Respondent.

Types of Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of Courts in India can widely be said to be divided into certain categories made to ascertain jurisdiction of a case to a court. With respect to Civil Courts, their jurisdiction is established under Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code where it states that a civil court would have jurisdiction of all civil cases unless it is barred. Criminal Courts on the other hand are handed jurisdiction under Section 177 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that every offence that occurs in the jurisdiction of the court bound by law has to be inquired into and tried by that court. Sections 177 to 189 deal with the different questions that could arise in jurisdiction for criminal courts.

Civil Courts and Criminal Courts both can generally entertain three kinds of jurisdictional cases- Territorial jurisdiction, Subject Matter jurisdiction and Pecuniary jurisdiction.

Pecuniary Jurisdiction deals with the jurisdiction of courts limited by the amount of money concerned in a civil case. In a criminal case this could refer to the fines that are charged by Specific courts defined with relation to the specific crimes done by the accused as described under the IPC.

Territorial Jurisdiction refers to the geographic jurisdiction that every court civil or criminal in the country has to adhere to that have been set by the legislative. The High Court’s territorial jurisdiction exists over the entirety of the state it exists in and a District Court’s territorial jurisdiction exists over the entirety of the district it exists in. This results in a case that arises in Maharashtra in a certain part of the state to only be territorially available to courts that are bound by law to Maharashtra to that part of the state.

A good example of the intricacies of territorial jurisdiction of civil courts and the places the text concerning it can fall short in is the Swastik Gases Pvt Ltd vs Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. The parties in Swastik Gas case had earlier agreed to a clause in their agreement that stated that the jurisdiction of the case, if any case arose, would be under Calcutta High Court exclusively, however they had already referred to the Rajasthan High Court for a case and the contention now existed on if there would be any validity to the order given by the Rajasthan High Court.

The appellant in the case stated that the cause of action in Swastik gas had arisen in Kolkata and in parts in Jaipur as well, hence justifying the order given by the Rajasthan high court and that the cause of action was enough consideration to prove the Rajasthan High court’s jurisdiction in the case, as was done by referring to Section 20) c) of the Civil Procedure Court. Since the cause of action had in part arisen in Rajasthan there was no question on not involving the high court there.

However, when the courts analysed if in view of Clause 18 of the agreement, that specific jurisdiction would have to be ignored since the clause specifically speaks about exclusive jurisdiction to the Kolkata High Court, the courts concluded that the intention behind such a clause was to have jurisdiction given to Kolkata high court alone. The courts also said that for such a clause words like “exclusively, alone” were immaterial since the intention remains for the jurisdiction to be given to the court specified in the documents alone. The courts also agreed that the clause would stand and that it is not forbidden by any law or is against any public policy. With view of this, the of jurisdiction be given to Kolkata High Court only was agreed to by the courts.

In criminal cases the place where the offence takes place or where the accused was found is considered to be the locality of which a court that is by law attached to that place would be available to be moved in the case.

Subject matter Jurisdiction of courts refers to the specific courts that relate to specific matters when stated so by legislation. There might be times where a specific civil court would be created by the legislation for specific civil matters, the cases and any contentions that concern those matters would then only be available.

However, the jurisdiction of such special matter courts has terms to it. In the Dhulabhai Vs. State of MP case. There the Civil Courts were excluded from the jurisdiction that they would have otherwise had if the legislative document did not SPECIFICALLY have a provision excluding them and giving their power to a tribunal. Here Hidyatullah C.J gave conditions that made for the civil court to have jurisdiction when it was explicitly denied by the act. The court here agreed with the exclusion of jurisdiction of the civil courts in matters where it was explicitly denied by the act, however stated that in the absence of persons being able to seek relief from the civil court, should be able to seek adequate relief otherwise. They found that “additional relief” to be insufficient. The courts stated that while it was understandable to have a test to see if the adequate relief was sufficient or not, it was not decisive for sustaining the jurisdiction of a civil court. This adequate relief has to be something that is something that a civil court could provide as well. If the tribunal elected are not able to do that, this would render the aspect of the exclusion of jurisdiction of civil courts invalid and would make the tribunals decision in the case, despite having jurisdiction, invalid.

An example of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction would be a Consumer Court. These were established under The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the act’s objective being to protect a consumer’s interest as well as to establish state bodies that would deal with such problems. The state bodies in this case is what specifically gave rise to consumer courts.

They generally fall under District Consumer Redressal Forums where the appellants claim for compensation less than 20 Lakh rupees, the State Consumer Redressal Forums (SCDRC) which limit the compensation to up to 1 crore rupees but not less than 20 lakh rupees, and the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission or the NCDRC that deals with amounts exceeding 1 crore rupees.

This in itself can give us an idea of the jurisdiction that these courts must follow. The DCDRC can only have a pecuniary jurisdiction of 20 lakhs and is limited to the district it is assigned to- the SCDRC can only have a pecuniary jurisdiction of up to 1 crore rupees, greater than 20 lakhs with the territorial jurisdiction of the state it is assigned to and the NCDRC has pecuniary jurisdiction of anything higher than 1 crore rupees with the territorial jurisdiction limited to the entirety of the Nation of India. It’s territorial jurisdiction is described by – as is in other civil matters- the place of residence of the defendant or defendants or the where the cause of action exists.

These courts follow a hierarchy like any court in India, where appellate jurisdiction exists, in which at being dis-satisfied by the decision given by the DCDRC they can appeal to the SDCRC and with complaints from which they can then appeal to the SCDRC and finally at dis-satisfaction from all these courts can appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hence, the clauses to jurisdiction maintain some kind of organisation to the courts that is necessary to provide specific and detailed relief to the people and the judiciary interprets these clauses by strictly adhering to the legislation but also making sure the relief provided is adequate.


  • Civil Procedure with Limitation Act 1963 – CK Takwani.
  • Civil Procedure Code
  • Criminal Procedure Code
  • AR. Antulay V. R.S Nayak, 1988 AIR 1531, 1988 SCR Supl. (1) 1
  • Swastik Gases Pvt Ltd vs Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, (2013) 9 SCC 32
  • Dhulabhai Vs. State of MP, (1968)3 SCR 662
  • Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Chapter – III, Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies, Section 9- Section 21