Delhi as a district legal entity was recognised by the Proclamation Notification No.911 dated 17.09.1912 issued by Governor General of India in Council. By this Notification, Delhi came under the immediate authority and management of the Governor General of India in Council and Mr. William Malcolm Hailey, C.I.E., I.C.S. was appointed the first Chief Commissioner of Delhi. Simultaneously the Delhi Laws Act, 1912 was enacted for enforcing the existing laws in Delhi.

On 22.02.1915 the area falling on the other side of the river Yamuna (now known as Trans Yamuna) was also included in the newly created province of Delhi.

Civil Courts

During the year 1913, the Delhi Judiciary consisted of :

  • 1 District & Sessions Judge
  • 1 Senior Sub-Judge
  • 1 Judge, Small Causes Court
  • 1 Registrar, Small Causes Court
  • 3 Sub-Judges

Two Courts of Sub-Judges were added in 1920. These Courts continue to function, although due to exigencies some temporary measures were adopted to clear back logs etc. In 1948, one more post of Sub-Judge was created to enforce the Rent Control Act. Thereafter six temporary Courts of Sub-Judges were created in 1953. In 1959, the strength of the Sub-Judges went upto 21. At that time there was one District & Sessions Judge and four Additional District & Sessions Judges. Till 1966 the District Courts of Delhi remained under the administrative control of Punjab High Court when Delhi High Court was established.

Criminal Courts

According to Delhi District Gazetteer (1912), the District Magistrate was responsible for the administration of criminal Justice, being Chief Magistrate and Supervisor of the police, as far as their duties related to crime. The staff in 1910 consisted of:

Types of Magistrates Stipendary Honorary
First Class Magistrates 08 11
Second Class Magistrates 04 14
Third Class Magistrates 03 01

One of the first-class magistrates had always the powers of District Magistrate to enable him to try serious cases, and thus the District Magistrate and Section Judges were relieved of undesirable strain. The honorary magistrates were all but two located in Delhi itself, where they usually sat as a bench for the trial of minor offences (chiefly assault cases), which occurred in the city.

A bench consisting of a Hindu and a Mohammedan, with Second-Class powers, was constituted for Raisina (New Delhi) in 1912 to deal with cases within the limits of the Imperial Delhi Municipal Committee to which Magistrates with Third Class powers was constituted in 1921, having the power throughout the province.

During 1926, there were two First-Class and one Second-Class Honorary Magistrates at Delhi. The comparative strength of criminal courts in the Union Territory of Delhi during 1951 and 1961 was as follows:

Strength of Courts
S. No. Type of Court 1951 1961
1 District Magistrate 01 10
2 Addl. District Magistrate 01 03
3 Stipendary Magistrates 13 24
4 Honorary Magistrates 11 27

The institution of honorary magistrates was abolished in Delhi in October 1969. The magisterial strength in 1972 consisted of one District Magistrate, three Additional District Magistrates and twelve Sub-Divisional Magistrates.

Separation of Executive and Judiciary

The Judiciary of the Union Territory of Delhi was separated from the Executive in October 1969 under the Union Territories (Separation of Judicial and Executive Functions) Act, 1969. The Act provides for two classes of criminal courts, namely the Courts of Sessions and the Courts of Magistrates. The latter consists of Judicial Magistrates namely (i) The Chief Judicial Magistrate and the Judicial Magistrate of the First and Second Class and (ii) the Executive Magistrates including the District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrates, Executive Magistrates of the First and the Second Class and the Special Executive Magistrates.

Prior to the separation of judicial and executive functions, the entire Magistracy used to function under the direct control of the District Magistrate of Delhi. Under the new setup, The Judicial Magistrates were placed under the direct control of the High Court. The Chief Judicial Magistrate exercised most of the powers under the Criminal Procedure Code previously exercisable by the District Magistrate.

For the proper implementation of the scheme of separation, Section 5 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 (as amended by Act 19 of 1969) streamlined the sphere of duties of both the Judicial and Executive Magistrates. The Judicial Magistrates were to deal with the matters which involved the appreciation of sifting of evidence or the formulation of any decision which exposes any person to any punishment or penalty or detention in custody pending investigation, inquiry or trial or would have the effect of sending him for trial before any court. But where such functions related to matters that are administrative or executive.

In nature, such as the grant of licence, sanctioning a prosecution or withdrawing from a prosecution, they fell within the purview of an Executive Magistrate. In brief, and Executive Magistrate was to deal with matters concerning law and order and with preventive measures while offences, under IPC, special or local laws, including petty offences came to be tried by Judicial Magistrates.

The new Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (Act No 2 of 1974) came into force on 1st of April 1974. The Code specifically provided for two types of Magistrates viz. Judicial Magistrates and Executive Magistrates. The towns having population exceeding one million could be declared as Metropolitan Areas. With effect from 1st April 1974 Delhi was declared the Metropolitan Area by a notification under Section 8 (1) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 being notification No. 155 dated 28th March 1974 of the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, published in Gazette of India (Extra) Part II Section 3 (ii).

Accordingly the designation of Judicial Magistrate First-Class or Judicial Magistrate Second Class came to an end. The Judicial Magistrates functioning in Delhi were all conferred with the powers of Metropolitan Magistrates. The Courts of Metropolitan Magistrates were created by Section 16 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and those of The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates were created by Section 17 of the Code. Section 18 of the Code also provided for Special Metropolitan Magistrates. As against these Metropolitan Magistrates the other Magistrates created by the Code were Executive Magistrates with powers distinct from those given to the Metropolitan Magistrates. The Metropolitan Magistrates, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates are subordinate to the Sessions Judge whereas the Executive Magistrates are placed under the subordination of the District Magistrate.

Delhi has three tires of criminal courts, namely those of:

  1. Metropolitan Magistrates
  2. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate/Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates
  3. The Sessions Judge / Additional Sessions Judges

The entire judicial district of Delhi, which is now National Capital Territory of Delhi, is comprised in one Sessions Division. It is headed by one Sessions Judge. It has one chief Metropolitan Magistrate and four Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrates. The number of the courts of the Sessions and Courts of Metropolitan Magistrates varies from time to time depending upon the quantity of work and the number of officers available at a time for presiding over these courts.

Separate Judicial Services

On 27th August 1970 two judicial services were created for Delhi, namely Delhi Higher Judicial Service and Delhi Judicial Service. The strength of these two services has continuously increased. Now the sanctioned strength of Delhi Higher Judicial Service is 187. The Delhi Judicial Service has 283 posts.

Court Buildings

Originally, District Courts were located in the house of Mrs. Forster, where only eight courts could be accommodated. In 1899 few more rooms were rented in H-Abdul Rehman Ataul Rehman Building. The old building at Kashmere Gate was declared unsafe in 1949. In the year 1953 twenty two Civil Subordinate Courts were moved to Hindu College Building (1, Skinners House), also at Kashmere Gate. The Courts continued to function in this building till 31-03-1958.

Construction of Tis Hazari Courts Building started in 1953. It was raised at a cost of Rs.85.00 Lacs. The same was inaugurated on 19-03-1958 by Chief Justice Mr. A. N. Bhandari of the then Punjab High Court. All the civil courts and many criminal courts were housed in this building. Even today Tis Hazari continues to be the principal court building in Delhi. A smaller number of criminal courts were functioning at Parliament Street.

Parliament Street in March 1977. The Karkardooma Courts Complex was inaugurated on 15-05-1993 and the courts functioning at Shahadra were shifted there.

The building of Rohini Courts Complex was completed in the year 2005. The Courts at Rohini Courts Complex deals with Civil, Criminal, Rent and Motor Accident Claims cases pertaining to West and North-West Districts.

The building of Dwarka Courts Complex completed in the year 2008 and was inaugurated by Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Sh. K.G. Balakrishanan on 6th September 2008. Dwarka Courts Complex is another modern operational District Courts Complex in Delhi. The Courts at Dwarka Court Complex deals with cases pertaining to the South-West District and IGI Airport.

Saket Court Complex started functioning with effect from Saturday, the 28th August, 2010. The Work of Civil and Criminal cases relating to South Civil District and South and South East Police Districts earlier looked after at Patiala House Courts Complex is now taken up with effect from the functioning of the courts of the respective districts at the new court complex at Saket. Similarly, Motor Accident Claim Petitions relating to the area within the jurisdiction of the aforesaid police districts is also dealt with by the MACT’s established at Saket.