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Different Branches of the Legal System


The Legal System can be divided into 2 branches

  • Criminal Law
  • Civil Law

Criminal Law :

Criminal Law deals with acts like theft, harassing a woman for more dowry and murder.

The procedure of a criminal case starts with the lodging of the First Information Report (FIR) followed by police investigation and filing the case in court. After the trial in court the accused can be sent to jail, sentenced to be hanged or fined.


Civil Law :

Civil Law deals with cases were harm or injury is caused to rights of individuals like disputes relating to sale of land, purchase of goods, rent matters and divorce cases.

The procedure of civil cases starts with the filling of a petition in the relevant court by the affected party only.

In a case between a landlord and a tenant, the court can order the flat to be vacated and pending rent to be paid.

  • All citizens of India have access to the courts in the country.
  • Every citizen has a right to justice through the courts.
  • The courts play a major role in protecting the Fundamental Rights of a citizen.

Stumbling blocks in seeking justice

  • Access to courts has always been difficult for a vast majority of the poor in India. Legal procedures involve a lot of money and time.
  • For the poor who are illiterate and financially weak going to court to get justice is remote.
  • In the 1980s the Supreme Court devised a mechanism of Public Interest Litigation or PIL to increase access to justice for the poor and illiterate.

Public Interest Litigation :

"Litigation is the act or process of bringing or contesting a lawsuit".

"Public interest Litigation", is a litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of "Public Interest", such as pollution, terrorism, road safety, constructional hazards etc.

Areas where PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (PIL) can be filed are ………..

  • Violation of basic human rights of the poor
  • Content or conduct of government policy
  • Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty
  • Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights

People who can file a PIL

  • Any individual or organisation can file a PIL in the High Court or the Supreme Court on behalf of those whose

     rights are being violated.
  • It is not necessary, that the person filing a case should have a direct interest in the case.

Cases where PIL were used

  • For rescuing bonded labourers from inhuman work conditions
  • For securing the release of prisoners in Bihar who had been kept in jail even after their punishment term was complete
  • For providing mid-day meal in government and government-aided schools

The courts exercise a crucial role in interpreting the Fundamental Rights of citizens.

According to Article 21 of the Constitution, no person in the country may

be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.


Does Everyone Have Access to the Courts?

Every Indian citizen has the right to seek justice through the courts. The courts have an important role in upholding the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.

Any citizen who feels that his right is being violated can approach the court for justice. Though this is true the poor people in India find it difficult to get justice through the courts.

Reasons why the poor are sometimes denied justice

  • Legal procedure cost a lot of money, as daily wage earners and the poor find it difficult to pay the court fee
  • Poor people are often illiterate and find it difficult to understand the legal terms and conditions
  • Court proceedings usually take a long time and the workers find it difficult to spare time


Public Interest Litigation

  • Public Interest Litigation or PIL was established in the 1980s to enable the poor to seek justice
  • According to the PIL, any individual or organization can file a case in the High court or Supreme Court on behalf of those whose rights have been violated
  • A letter or telegram addressed to the Supreme Court is also considered as a PIL
  • PIL has been used to free bonded labourers and prisoners who were kept in jail illegally

     Mid day meal scheme

Mid-day meal scheme


The mid-day meal scheme for school children which is very popular now was a result of a PIL. Millions of people in Orissa and Rajasthan were starving during the period of draught in the year 2001.


An Organization called the People’s Union of Civil Liberties filed a PIL in the Supreme Court stating that the people had the right to food and the grains in the government godowns can be used to feed the people in the draught areas. Supreme Court ruled that the state governments had the responsibility to provide food for its people, food was sold at a cheaper cost in ration shops and the mid day meal scheme for school children was initiated.


Eviction of slum dwellers


Court orders that state slum dwellers have to be evicted from certain areas cause hardship to the slum dwellers. Sometimes these people are not provided with an alternate dwelling place and the people are left homeless.


Supreme Court of India

By and large courts play a crucial role in upholding the fundamental rights of the citizen. The inordinate delay in settling court cases are a great set back to the public. In spite of a few setbacks, the judiciary, which is independent of the government, is the key factor of Indian democracy.


The 2 Case Studies given below illustrate the role of the judiciary

Case study I

The People’s Union of Civil Liberties filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against the Rajasthan and Orissa government.

The PIL brought to light that millions of citizens faced acute shortage of food during the 2001 drought in the states.

The PIL stated that the "Right to food’ was the fundamental right of the people.

The Supreme Court ruled that the State had a duty to provide food to all and directed it to provide food at cheaper prices through the government ration shops, and to provide mid-day meals to children.

It also appointed two Food Commissioners to report on the implementation of government schemes.



Case study II

Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation case portrays the plight of lakhs of persons who live on pavements and in slums in the city of Bombay. They constitute nearly half the population of the city.

These men and women came to Court to ask for a judgment that they cannot be evicted from their shelters without being offered alternative accommodation. They rely for their rights on Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees that no person shall be deprived of his life except according to procedure established by law.

They do not contend that they have a right to live on the pavements. Their contention is that they have a right to live, a right which cannot be exercised without the means of livelihood. They have no option but to flock to big cities like Bombay, which provide the means of bare subsistence. They only choose a pavement or a slum which is nearest to their place of work.

Their plea is that the right to life is misleading without a right to the protection of the means by which alone life can be lived.


Conclusion :

  • The Indian judiciary consists of one Supreme Court with 26 judges, 21 High Courts with a sanctioned strength of 725 judges and 14,477 Subordinate courts as on 31 December 2006
  • The judiciary plays a crucial role in interpreting the Fundamental Rights of citizens in democratic India
  • It serves as a check on the powers of the executive and the legislature.
  • The system of courts with an independent judiciary is the key feature of our democracy.

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