The high courts are the principal civil courts of original jurisdiction in each state and union territory. However, a high court exercises its original civil and criminal jurisdiction only if the subordinate courts are not authorized by law to try such matters for lack of pecuniary, territorial jurisdiction. High courts may also enjoy original jurisdiction in certain matters, if so designated specifically in a state or federal law.
However, the work of most high courts primarily consists of appeals from lower courts and writ petitions in terms of Article 226 of the constitution. Writ jurisdiction is also an original jurisdiction of a high court. The precise territorial jurisdiction of each high court varies. The appeal order is the following: tehsil-kotwali-criminal/civil courts → district court → high court → supreme court.
Each state is divided into judicial districts presided over by a district and sessions judge. He is known as district judge when he presides over a civil case, and sessions judge when he presides over a criminal case. He is the highest judicial authority below a high court judge. Below him, there are courts of civil jurisdiction, known by different names in different states. Under Article 141 of the Constitution, all courts in India (which includes high courts) are bound by the judgments and orders of the Supreme Court of India by precedence.
Judges in a high court are appointed by the President of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the governor of the state. High courts are headed by a chief justice. The chief justices rank fourteenth (within their respective states) and seventeenth (outside their respective states) on the Indian order of precedence. The number of judges in a court is decided by dividing the average institution of main cases during the last five years by the national average, or the average rate of disposal of main cases per judge per year in that High Court, whichever is higher.
The Calcutta High Court is the oldest high court in the country, established on 2 July 1862. High courts that handle a large number of cases of a particular region have permanent benches established there. Benches are also present in states which come under the jurisdiction of a court outside its territorial limits. Smaller states with few cases may have circuit benches established. Circuit benches (known as circuit courts in some parts of the world) are temporary courts which hold proceedings for a few selected months in a year. Thus cases built up during this interim period are judged when the circuit court is in session. According to a study conducted by Bengaluru-based NGO, Daksh, on 21 high courts in collaboration with the Ministry of Law and Justice in March 2015, it was found that average pendency of a case in high courts in India is 3 years.