Hierarchy of Courts in USA, UK and India

This Article "Hierarchy of Courts in the USA, UK and India" explains in detail the Global(American & English) and Indian Legal Systems


This Article “Hierarchy of Courts in the USA, UK and India” explains in detail the Global(American & English) and Indian Legal Systems including – the court’s structure and legal system in India – the court structure of England and Wales – the legal system in the USA

Hierarchy of Courts in India

  1. Supreme Court of India
  2. High Courts
  3. District and Sessions Courts
  4. Subordinate Court

Supreme Court of India

In our country, the Constitution lays down the foundation of an integrated judiciary having the Supreme Court as the highest and final court of appeal.

Article 124(1) of the Indian Constitution states that there shall be a Supreme Court of India constituting a Chief Justice of India.

Initially, the Supreme Court of India consists of the Chief Justice of India and seven other judges. The Parliament may, by law, increase or decrease the number of judges of the Supreme Court when it is required.

Now, the Supreme Court’s maximum sanctioned strength is 34 judges including the Chief Justice of India. (ie CJI+33Judges) Ad-hoc judges In our Constitution, there is a provision for the appointment of judges on an ad hoc basis, whenever it is required.

Article 127(1) of the Indian Constitution deals with the appointment of ad hoc judges. Ad hoc is a Latin term which means “for this”. It means for a particular purpose.

When a quorum of judges is not available to continue or hold the sessions of the Court then ad hoc judges can be appointed.

Jurisdiction of Indian Supreme Court
  1. Writ Jurisdiction (A32/226)
  2. Original Jurisdiction (A131)
  3. Appellate Jurisdiction (A132-134)
  4. Advisory Jurisdiction (A 143)
  5. Special Jurisdiction (A136)
SC is the Custodian of Civil Liberties/Writ Jurisdiction (A32/226)

The judiciary protects individual liberty by punishing those who intrude against it. It also safeguards
people against the tyrannical action of the Government.

Article 32 which is also known as the “heart and soul of the Indian Constitution” provides the right to the people they can directly approach the Supreme Court in the case of the infringement of the fundamental

A writ can also be filed in the High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution to protect
these rights.

Resolves the disputes of jurisdiction between the Centre and State Governments in Federations (Original Jurisdiction) (A131)

The Constitution of India establishes a federal structure for the Indian Government, so the powers are divided between the Centre and the States. There are chances that disputes may arise between the Centre and the State over the jurisdiction. Therefore, the Supreme Court is given the right to decide these disputes.

Appellate Jurisdiction: (A132-134)

As per articles 132, 133, and 134 of the Constitution, the SC has appellate jurisdiction in matters that
are related to
– civil,
– criminal, or
– Constitutional cases.

Advisory Jurisdiction (A143)

As per article 143 of the Constitution, the SC can advise the President of India that is related to the question of law, and the nature of the matter is associated with public importance. And the President can also seek opinions on matters that are related to Article 131 of the Constitution.

SLP -Special Leave Petition (A136)

The Supreme court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgement, decree, determination sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or tribunal in the territory of India.

Precedents (A141)

Law declared by Supreme Court to be binding on all courts. The Jugdement declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.

High Court

Article 214 of the Indian Constitution states that there shall be a High Court for each State. The High Court consist of one Chief Justice and other judges.

The President appoints the Chief Justice of the High Court in consultation with the Chief Justice of India while other judges were appointed by the President in consultation with the Governor of the state, the Chief Justice of the High Court as well as the Chief Justice of India.

ARTICLE 226 –Writ Jurisdiction

Article 227 of the Indian Constitution has empowered all high courts to practice superintendence over all the courts of tribunals effective within the regional jurisdiction of the High Court.

Lower Courts of India

District Courts

The basis of structuring district courts in India is mainly depending upon the discretion of the state governments or the union territories.

The structure of those courts is mainly made considering several factors like the number of cases and also distribution of population, etc. Moreover, depending upon those factors the state government takes the decision of a number of District Courts to be in operation for a single district or clubbing together different adjacent districts.

The district courts are mainly run by state government-appointed district judges. There are also additional district judges and assistant district judges who are there to share the extra load of the proceedings of District Courts.

These additional district judges have as equal power as the district judges for the jurisdiction area of any city which has got the status of a metropolitan area as conferred by the state government.

These district courts have the additional jurisdictional authority of appeal handling over the subordinate courts which are there in the same district specifically in the domain of civil and criminal affairs.

Criminal Courts and Civil Courts

The subordinate courts covering the civil cases, in this aspect are considered Junior Civil Judge Court, Principal Junior and Senior Civil Judge Court, which are also known as Sub Courts, or Subordinate Courts.

All these courts are treated with ascending orders. The subordinate courts covering criminal cases are the Second Class Judicial Magistrate Court, First Class Judicial Magistrate Court, and Chief Judicial Magistrate Court and also family courts which are founded to deal with the issues related to disputes of matrimonial issues only.

The status of the Principal Judge of the family court is at par with the District Judge.

Court structure and hierarchy in England and Wales

Diagram depicting the Hierarchy of the Court system in the UK

Supreme Court of UK

Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom. It hears appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance, for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and also for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases.

In Scotland, appeals can be made from the lower courts in criminal cases to the High Court of Justiciary, which is Scotland’s supreme criminal court.

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal and the High Court constitute what is called the Senior Courts/Higher Courts of England and Wales.

It is an appellate court and is divided into two divisions, Criminal and Civil. Bringing an appeal is subject to obtaining ‘permission’, which may be granted by the High Court or, more usually, by the Court of Appeal itself. Moreover, applications for permission to appeal are commonly determined by a single judge of the Court of Appeal.

The High Court

The High Court comprises three divisions – Queen’s Bench, Family and Chancery.

The Queen’s Bench Division is the biggest of the three High Court Divisions and has the most varied jurisdiction. Included within it are a number of specialist courts: the Admiralty, Commercial, Mercantile, Technology & Construction, and Administrative Courts.

The Chancery Division– The Chancery Division deals with company law, partnership claims, conveyancing, land law, probate, patent as well as taxation cases. This Division has three specialist courts: the Companies Court, the Patents Court and the Bankruptcy Court.

The Family Court- The Family Court was established in 2014. It has national jurisdiction and brought all levels of the family judiciary to sit together in the same court.

England and Wales

England and Wales are split into six circuits or distinct geographical regions for the practice of law.

They are the areas around which the High Court judges travel. The six circuits are South Eastern, North Eastern, Midland, Northern, Wales and Western Circuits.

What are Circuits?

Circuits are the six distinct geographical regions which England and Wales are split into for the practice of law. They are the areas around which the High Court judges travel (`go out on circuit’) as they try the most important cases.

The County Court

There are approximately 160 county courts that hear cases within their geographic catchment area.

These courts deal with civil (non-criminal and non-family) cases. The county court hears (subject to exceptions)
– money claims
– claims for damages for personal injury

The Crown Court

The Crown Court sits in centres around England and Wales. This deals with indictable criminal cases that are transferred from the Magistrates’ Courts, moreover serious criminal cases.

Magistrates’ Courts

These courts hear all criminal cases at first instance. Less serious cases and those involving juveniles are tried in the Magistrates’ Courts, as well as some civil cases.

Magistrates deal with three kinds of offence: summary (less serious cases); either-way (cases that can be heard either in a Magistrates’ Court or before a judge and a jury in the Crown Court); and indictable-only (serious cases).


Tribunals are an independent as well as a specialised part of the justice system of England and Wales. Parliament sets them up to rule on disputes between individuals or private organisations and state officials. Tribunals sit across the UK.

Within England and Wales, there are approximately 100 different tribunals, each dedicated to a distinct area. The most common include those dealing with agricultural land, employment, asylum and also immigration and mental health.

Tribunals operate their own procedures that are less complicated and more informal than those usually associated with courts. Moreover, tribunals are made up of panels comprising a tribunal judge and tribunal members who are often drawn from relevant professions. These members are not necessarily legally qualified but they have valuable specialist knowledge and experience.


There are also specialist ombudsmen who have been appointed to deal with complaints about an organisation. Using an ombudsman is often a way of trying to resolve a complaint without going to court.

There are a number of ombudsmen, including:

  • The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who investigates complaints about Government departments and certain other public bodies.
  • The Local Government Ombudsman who investigates complaints about local councils and other local organisations.
  • The Financial Ombudsman Service.
  • The European Ombudsman.
  • The Legal Ombudsman.
  • The Housing Ombudsman.

USA Hierarchy of Courts

Unlike UK and India, The United States(USA) court system is a dual system so the hierarchy of courts is not unitary. The dual court system refers to the separate federal judicial and state judicial court systems. The two court systems were formed in America when the United States Constitution established federal courts. Each of the new 13 states had already established its own state court system so this created a dual court system in America

This Article "Hierarchy of Courts in the USA, UK and India" explains in detail the Global(American & English) and Indian Legal Systems
Dual Court System in USA. (image source https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/os-government2e/the-dual-court-system/)

Types of Courts in the USA

There are several types of courts in the USA. The federal and state court systems consist of two levels of courts: Trial courts and appellate courts. Cases are tried in trial courts. Appellate courts review the decisions of the trial courts.

Federal Court System

The federal court system has three main levels: district courts (also called the trial court), circuit courts which are the first level of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States which is the final level of appeal in the federal system. There are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court throughout the country.

The federal court system is divided into 13 judicial circuits. Eleven of the circuits are numbered. Each of the numbered circuits contains more than one state. The Ninth Circuit, for example, covers California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii.

The 12th and 13th circuits are the District of Columbia Circuit and the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit handles appeals in patent cases and Claims Court cases.

Moreover, Each federal circuit has one appellate court. These courts are known as Courts of Appeals or Circuit Courts. The Supreme Court reviews the decisions of the Courts of Appeals. Also each federal circuit is divided into judicial districts. A district can be as small as one city
or as big as an entire state. The trial courts are also known as the United States District Courts.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and also authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts.

State Court System in the USA

The Constitution and laws of each state establish the state courts. A court of last resort, often known as a Supreme Court, is usually the highest court in a state i.e The Supreme court of Florida. Some states also have an intermediate Court of Appeals. Below these appeals courts are the state trial courts.

Appeals from state trial courts go to the state appellate court and not to the federal appellate court. i.e a California state court civil appeal differs from a federal civil appeal in that the case originates in a state trial court. If a case originates in a federal district trial court, the appeal is brought before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


The federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving federal statutes (the Copyright Act, for example) and other “federal questions.”

They also have jurisdiction over cases in which the party filing the suit and the party being sued reside in different states.

This type of federal jurisdiction is known as “diversity” jurisdiction tribunals operate their own procedures that are less complicated and more informal than those usually associated with courts.

Summary of Hierarchy of Courts in USA, UK and India

The three levels of judiciary in India are divided as follows; – District, that is, District and Sessions Courts, State, that is, High Courts, and the Supreme Court at the top.

whereas the USA has a Dual system of courts. Moreover, the federal court system has three main levels: district courts (the trial court), circuit courts which are the first level of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the final level of appeal in the federal system. The state has its own courts.

In England, all criminal cases will start in the Magistrates’ court, but more serious criminal matters are sent to the Crown Court. Appeals from the Crown Court will go to the High Court, and potentially to the Court of Appeal or even also to the UK Supreme Court. Civil cases will usually start in the County Court.


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