The Supreme Court is the highest and final court of record, and exercises final civil and criminal appellate jurisdiction. Litigants who do not agree with a decision of the original court, be it civil, criminal, or Court of Appeal, may take the case before the Supreme Court, with permission from the Court of Appeal, or special permission from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, will only agree to consider cases involving a substantial legal issue. The Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and not less than six, and not more than ten, other judges. Cases that fall under the several jurisdictions of the Supreme Court are exercised, subject to provisions in the Constitution, by a bench of at least three judges of the Supreme Court.
Thus different cases may be heard at the same time by several judges of the Supreme Court sitting apart. Appeals of decisions of a High Court Trial at Bar are heard by a Bench of five or more Supreme Court judges. The Constitution provides for temporary restrictions on fundamental rights if national security issues are involved. This determination and opinion of the Supreme Court should be by at least five judges of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, except for in the event of the Chief Justice’s recusal. The Chief Justice’s recusal will result in another judge of the Supreme Court taking the Chief Justice’s place. The Constitutional Council’s approval is not required if the appointment is for a period of less than 14 days. The age of retirement for Supreme Court judges is 65 years.
COURT OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal is the first appellate court for decisions of all original courts and certain Tribunals. The Court of Appeal is composed of the President of the Court, and not less than six, and not more than eleven other judges. Many cases at the Court of Appeal are presided over by a single judge. The Court of Appeal hears appeals against judgments of the High Courts. It exercises appellate jurisdiction for the correction of errors in fact or in law at a High Court, or any Court of first instance, or Tribunal, or other Institution.
In addition to the jurisdiction to affirm, reverse, correct, or modify a judgment, the Court of Appeal may give directions to a Court of first instance, Tribunal, or other Institution, or order a new trial, or order additional hearings as the Court of Appeal deems appropriate. “Even when there is no right of appeal from a particular court or tribunal, [the Court of Appeal] can exercise [its] powers of ‘revision’ and quash the original court’s or tribunal’s order [based on] an error of law apparent [in] the record.” 1The Court of Appeal, if appropriate, also has the authority to issue a ‘stay order’ and suspend proceedings in a lower court until the revision application is heard and determined.
The Court of Appeal also has the authority to receive and admit new evidence additional, or supplementary, to evidence already recorded in a court of first instance. Appeals of judgments, sentences and orders at a High Court Trial at Bar are forwarded directly to the Supreme Court by virtue of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, No.21 of 1988. The Court of Appeal, in exercising its power to examine and reverse a judgment of any court of first instance, has the authority to examine any record of any court of first instance. The Court exercises jurisdiction to grant writs of habeas corpus in order to bring before the Court a person who has to be dealt with according to the law, or to bring before the Court a person illegally or improperly detained in public or private custody.
Court of Appeal cases are now published in Sri Lanka Law Reports. As of October 2012, Court of Appeal cases from 1809 through 2005 are accessible online. See section on Cases, Bills, and Acts.
Trials at a High Court are conducted by the State (Sri Lanka), through the Attorney-General’s Department. The Attorney-General’s Department prosecutes on behalf of the State. Murder trials and various offenses against the State are tried at the High Court; other criminal offenses are tried at a Magistrate’s Court. While some High Court trials will have a jury, some trials will not have a jury. The types of cases that require a jury are provided in the Second Schedule of the Judicature Act No.2 of 1978. Also, the Attorney-General has the authority to determine whether a case that does not fall into a category provided in the Second Schedule of the Judicature Act No.2 of 1978 should nonetheless have a jury. The Penal Code stipulates the types of cases argued in a High Court: “The Penal Code defines most of the criminal offenses known to our law.
And the Code of Criminal Procedure Act. No: 15 of 1979 sets out which of these offenses [can be tried] by each court [High Court and Magistrate’s Court].” The High Court is composed of not less than ten and not more than forty judges. This Court sits in 16 provinces in the country (16 High Courts). Judges of the High Court are appointed by the President of the Republic on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, and in consultation with the Attorney-General. The President of the Republic, acting on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, exercises authority in disciplinary matters concerning the High Court judges. The President may terminate the service of a High Court judge on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was established by the enactment of Article 111D of the Constitution, incorporated by the 17th Amendment, which became effective on October 3, 2001. The JSC is composed of the Chief Justice (as Chairman) and two other judges of the Supreme Court appointed by the President of the Republic. The age of retirement for High Court judges is 61.
4. DISTRICT COURTS
District Courts are the Courts of first instance for civil cases. District Courts have jurisdiction over all civil cases not expressly assigned to the Primary Court or a Magistrate’s Court. Sri Lanka has 54 judicial districts. Every District Court is a court of record and is vested with unlimited original jurisdiction in all civil, revenue, trust, insolvency and testamentary matters, other than issues that are assigned to any other court by law. Certain specific civil issues handled by the District Courts include: i. Cases related to ownership of land.
ii. Action by landlords to eject tenants.
iii. Action to recover debts of more than Rs. 1,500.
iv. Action in connection with trademark and patent rights, and infringement of copyright laws. v. Claims for compensation of more than Rs. 1, 500 for injuries caused by negligence. vi. Divorce cases (Formerly, divorce cases were handled by the now defunct Family Courts). Judges of the District Courts are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (See section on High Courts for information on the JSC). The JSC has the power to dismiss and maintain disciplinary control over the District Court judges. The retirement age for District Court judges, generally, is 60 years.
5. MAGISTRATE’S COURTS
The Magistrate’s Courts are established under the Judicature Act, No.2 of 1978. Each Judicial division has one Magistrate’s Court, and there are 74 judicial divisions in Sri Lanka. Each Magistrate’s Court is vested with original jurisdiction over criminal offenses (other than offenses committed after indictment in the High Court.) In cases involving criminal law, the Magistrate’s Courts and the High Court are the only Courts with primary jurisdiction. The respective domains of these Courts are detailed in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Appeals from these courts of first instance may be made to the Court of Appeal and, under certain circumstances, to the Supreme Court, which exercises final appellate jurisdiction. The vast majority of the nation’s criminal cases are tried at the Magistrate’s Courts level, which forms the lowest level of the judicial system. Cases may be initiated at a Magistrate’s Court by any police officer or by anyone else making an oral or written complaint to the Magistrate.
The Magistrate is empowered to make an initial investigation of the complaint, and to determine whether his or her Court has proper jurisdiction over the matter, whether the matter should be tried by the High Court, or whether the matter should be dismissed. If it is determined that the Magistrate’s Court has the proper jurisdiction over the matter, the prosecution may be conducted by the complainant (plaintiff), or by an officer of the Government, including the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, a state counsel, or any officer of any national or local government office. At the trial, the accused has the right to call and cross-examine witnesses.
Trials are conducted without a jury, and the verdict and sentence are given by the Magistrate. Any party in a case who is in disagreement with a judgment has the right to appeal the judgment, on any point of law or fact, at the Court of Appeal. If the police decide not to institute criminal proceedings in a Magistrate’s Court, the complainant has the option of filing a private plaint, and the complainant may retain an attorney for this purpose. As indicated earlier, while murder trials and various offenses against the State (Sri Lanka) are tried in a High Court, other criminal offenses are tried in a Magistrate’s Court. The Penal Code defines which court, a Magistrate’s Court or a High Court, has the necessary jurisdiction (Code of Criminal Procedure Act No.15 of 1979).
If a new offense is codified by law, for instance the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the relevant statute will indicate the manner of trial. The Magistrate’s Courts are ordinarily empowered to impose the following sentences: A fine of up to Rs. (rupees) 1,500.00, and/or two years of rigorous or simple imprisonment, unless special provisions vest the Magistrate’s Courts with the power to impose higher penalties. Magistrates are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and the Commission exercises disciplinary oversight over the judges, including the power of dismissal (See section on High Courts for information on the Judicial Service Commission). The retirement age for Magistrate’s Court judges, generally, is 60 years.
6. PRIMARY COURTS
Each Primary Court is vested with the following jurisdictions: I. Original civil jurisdiction over cases involving debt, damages, demands, or claims that do not exceed Rs. 1,500. Ii. Enforcement of by-laws by local authorities and disputes relating to recovery of revenue by these local authorities. iii. Exclusive criminal jurisdiction over cases relating to offenses “prescribed” by regulation by the Justice Minister. iv. Offenses in violation of the provisions of any Parliamentary Act, or subsidiary legislation, that is related to jurisdiction vested in the Primary Courts. The Primary Courts are established under the Judicature Act, No.2 of 1978.
There are seven Primary Courts: One each in Anamaduwa, Angunukolapelessa, Kandy, Mallakam, Pilessa, Wellawaya and Wennappuwa. In all other divisions, the Magistrate’s Court exercises the jurisdiction of the Primary Courts. Requests for revision of orders made by a Primary Court are handled by the High Court in that province. All Primary Court judges are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which is also vested with the power of dismissal of the Primary Court judges (See section on “High Courts” for information on the JSC). Generally, the retirement age for Primary Court judges is 60.
7. MEDIATION BOARDS
The mediation Boards Act of 1995 and subsequent amendments govern these mediation aspects. The Minister has power to set up Mediation Boards and set the areas that will come under such mediation boards. Commercial mediations are reality now in SL.Arbitration ; Is also another form of dispute resolution . Arbitration Act of 1995 and subsequent amendments govern the procedureTribunals- Labour Tribunal established under industrial Disputes Act provides provisions for the employees to institute action against employers.Agricultural Tribunals established under the Agrarian Services Act of 1979 enables settling disputes as to cultivation and related matters.Read Judicature Act , Constitution of Sri Lanka , Books on Legal System about Sri Lanka for further details. Visit website of Minisrty of Justice as well to get current information
8. OTHER COURTS AND TRIBUNALS
The other courts include the Kathi Court, the special tribunal that adjudicates on matrimonial matters relating to Muslims. Buddhist ecclesiastical matters that fall under the purview of the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance of 1931 are heard by the ordinary courts. Disciplinary matters pertaining to Buddhist clergy are handled by religious councils which are under the authority of the Buddhist priests themselves.
There are numerous administrative tribunals, such as the Inland Revenue Board of Appeal, The Workmen’s Compensation Tribunals, Labor Tribunals, the Board of Appeal under the Factories Ordinance, Tribunals under Agricultural Productivity Law, Labor Tribunals under the Wages Board Ordinance, etc. Most decisions of these tribunals can be appealed at the Court of Appeal; when regarding a substantial question of law, the decision of the Court of Appeal may be taken up at the Supreme Court.
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