The Supreme Court of India exercises Plenary Power under Art 136 of the Constitution of India.

Article 136. Special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court

(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India

(2) Nothing in clause ( 1 ) shall apply to any judgment, determination, sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal constituted by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces

Over which courts/tribunal does the Supreme Court exercise its Plenary Power?

It has been well settled by the majority decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Bharat Bank Ltd. v. Employees of the Bharat Bank Ltd.[1] that the expression “Tribunal” as used in article 136 does not mean the same thing as “Court” but includes, within its ambit, all adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by the State and are invested with judicial as distinguished from purely administrative or executive functions. The only Courts or Tribunals, which are expressly exempted from the purview of article 136, are those which are established by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces as laid down in clause (2) of the article. It is well known that an appeal is a creature of statute and there can be no inherent right of appeal from any judgment or determination unless an appeal is expressly provided for by the law itself.

Scope and Amplitude of Power

The Supreme Court considered the scope and amplitude of plenary power under Article 136 of the Constitution in Durga Shankar Mehta v. Thakur Raghuraj Singh & Ors[2], the Apex Court considered the scope and amplitude of plenary power under Article 136 of the Constitution_

The powers given by Article 136 of the Constitution, however, are in the nature of special or residuary powers which are exercisable outside the purview of ordinary law, in cases where the needs of justice demand interference by the Supreme Court of the land. The article itself is worded in the widest terms possible. It vests in the Supreme Court a plenary jurisdiction in the matter of entertaining and hearing appeals, by granting of special leave, against any kind of judgment or order made by a court or Tribunal in any cause or matter and the powers could be exercised in spite of the specific provisions for appeal contained in the Constitution or other laws. The Constitution for the best of reasons did not choose to fetter or circumscribe the powers exercisable under this Article in any way.

In Arunachalam v.P.S.R. Sadhanantham & Anr.[3], the Supreme Court entertained an appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution of India by special leave at the instance of a complainant against the judgment and the order of acquittal in a murder case and on appraisal of evidence, it set aside the order of acquittal. Objections raised on behalf of the accused relating to the maintainability of the special leave petition under Article 136 of the Constitution, was rejected. Chinnappa Reddy, J. speaking for the Court held that

“Article 136 of the Constitution of India invests the Supreme Court with a plentitude of plenary, appellate power over all courts and Tribunals in India. The power is plenary in the sense that there are no words in Article 136 itself qualifying that power. But, the very nature of the power has led the court to set limits to itself within which to exercise such power. It is now the well-established practice of the Supreme Court to permit the invocation of the power under Article 136 only in very exceptional circumstances, as when a question of law of general public importance arises or a decision shocks the conscience of the Court. But, within the restrictions imposed by itself, the Supreme Court has the undoubted power to interfere even with findings of fact, making no distinction between judgments of acquittal and conviction, if the High Court, in arriving at those findings, has acted “perversely or otherwise improperly”.[4]

With regard to the competence of a private party, distinguished from the State, to invoke the jurisdiction of the Apex Court under Article 136 of the Constitution-

Appellate power vested in the Supreme Court under Article136 of the Constitution is not to be confused with ordinary appellate power exercised by appellate courts and appellate tribunals under specific statutes. It is a plenary power, exercisable outside the purview of ordinary law’ to meet the pressing demands of justice[5],. Article 136 of the Constitution neither confers on anyone the right to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court nor inhibits anyone from invoking the Court’s jurisdiction. The power is vested in the Supreme Court but the right to invoke the Court’s jurisdiction is vested in no one. The exercise of the power of the Supreme Court is not circumscribed by any limitation as to who may invoke it.

There is, therefore, no room for any doubt that the Supreme Court has wide power to interfere and correct the Judgment and orders passed by any court or Tribunal in the country. In addition to the appellate power, the Court has special residuary power to entertain appeal against any order of any court in the country. The plenary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to grant leave and hear appeals against any order of a court or Tribunal, confers power of judicial superintendence over all the courts and Tribunals in the territory of India including subordinate courts of Magistrate and District Judge. The Supreme Court has, therefore, supervisory jurisdiction over all courts in India

[1] 1950 AIR 188.

[2] [1955] 1 SCR 267.

[3] [1979] 2 SCC 297.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Durga Shankar Mehta v. Thakur Raghuraj Singh

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