What Is Jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction of a court refers to the extent to which or the limits within which, courts or magistrates/judges may act in the course of handling a particular type of a case pass a particular sentence or it may mean an authority which the court has been vested by law to decide matters litigated before it.
Jurisdiction is fundamental. It prescribes the boundaries of the authority of a court. The limits within which a court may exercise its powers may be geographical or pecuniary or may be prescribed according to the subject matter.
Types of jurisdiction
The following are the types of jurisdiction;
Original Jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to hear or try a case as a matter of the first instance. Original jurisdiction requires that a particular type of case should only be commenced and tried in the lowest court in the ladder before moving to the next court in that hierarchy if need be.
A court with original jurisdiction may hear the case; make various findings and orders, within the limits provided for in the law.
For example in Tanzania, According to sections 18, 40 and 41 of the Magistrates Courts’ Act, Primary Courts, District Courts and Resident Magistrates’ Courts in Tanzania mainland have original jurisdiction in criminal matters as provided by the First Schedule (jurisdiction of primary courts) and Second Schedule (jurisdiction of district courts) of the Act. Further, original jurisdiction in relation to economic crimes lies with the High Court.
Another example of the original jurisdiction can be found under section 76 of the law of marriage Act which provides that Original jurisdiction in matrimonial proceedings shall be vested concurrently in the High Court, a court of a resident magistrate, a district court and a primary court.
Territorial Jurisdiction refers to the geographical area within which a court may exercise its powers.
With territorial jurisdiction, A District Court has jurisdiction within the district in which it is situated, and a court of a resident magistrate has jurisdiction in the region within which it is situated. On the other hand, the High Court has jurisdiction within the territorial limits of a State.
Before a court proceeds to entertain any civil case or inquire into any offence it must satisfy itself that the allegation at hand happened within its territorial jurisdiction.
For example the case of Sharma v. R., 20 EACA 310sufficiently illustrates the point as to the importance of territorial jurisdiction;
In that case, territorial jurisdiction was in issue. The Court of appeal for Eastern Africa pointed out that proof of place of commission of the offence is essential to the prosecution’s case and that although it is not always capable of exact proof, evidence should be led on which the necessary inference can be drawn.
It is for this reason that a charge must always state in the particulars as to where the alleged offence was committed. It is from those particulars that the court will be able to know whether or not it has territorial jurisdiction to try or to inquire into the case.
If the court discovers, on reading the charge, or in the course of the trial, that the offence was committed outside its territorial jurisdiction, it must immediately make an order transferring the case to the court within whose jurisdiction the offence was committed.
As officers of the court, counsel for the defence or prosecution, as the case may be, have a duty to assist the court by drawing its attention to any matter or fact that may affect its jurisdiction.
Subject matter jurisdiction
Subject matter jurisdiction is the type of jurisdiction expressly conferred by legislation stating which cases are triable by what court.
For example, if the subject matter of your case is a land, section 3 of Land Disputes Courts Act, 2002 (Tanzania) provides that every dispute or complaint concerning land shall be instituted in The Village Land Council, The Ward Tribunal; The District Land and Housing Tribunal; The High Court (Land Division) and The Court of Appeal of Tanzania.
That means when you file your land case in courts other than those, your case will be rejected.
Further, the case of R. v. Mrisho s/o Seffu, (1968) HCD 140, sufficiently illustrates the issue of subject matter jurisdiction.
In that case, the accused was tried and convicted by a district court of the offence of incest by males contrary to section 158 (1) of the Penal Code.
The High Court in revision declared the trial a nullity as the offence is triable only by the High Court. Consequently, the conviction was quashed, the sentence set aside, and the case was remitted to the subordinate court for committal proceedings at the option of the Republic.
Pecuniary Jurisdiction means a limitation of the powers of a court by the value of the subject matter in issue. This kind of jurisdiction usually applies to civil cases.
Here the law states the specific amount of money that a certain court can entertain.
For example, a primary court can entertain a case for the recovery of any civil debt arising out of contract, if the value of the subject matter of the suit does not exceed three million shillings.
While the district court has jurisdiction in the proceedings where the subject matter is capable of being estimated at money value, to proceedings in which the value of the subject matter does not exceed thirty million shillings.
The court of resident magistrate generally has and exercise the same pecuniary jurisdiction as a district court held by a resident magistrate or a civil magistrate. The High Court, however, has unlimited pecuniary civil jurisdiction.
Extended Jurisdiction is the type of jurisdiction whereby the magistrate a subordinate court is given the power to try offences not ordinarily tried by subordinate courts. The important thing to note here is; extended jurisdiction is not vested on courts but on the Magistrates.
For example in Tanzania legal system, the resident magistrate may be vested, by the Minister responsible for legal affairs, with power to try any category of offences, or specified cases which, would ordinarily be tried by the High Court, specifying the area within which he may exercise such extended powers.
In such circumstances, a magistrate exercising extended jurisdiction has the power to impose any sentence which could lawfully be imposed by the High Court.
Therefore, for the purposes of any appeal from or revision of his decision in the exercise of extended jurisdiction, such resident magistrate is deemed to be a judge of the High Court and the court presided over by him while exercising extended jurisdiction shall be deemed to be the High Court.
Revisional Jurisdiction refers to the power vested in a superior court to examine the records of an inferior court in order to satisfy itself as to the correctness, legality or propriety of any decisions or orders made by such lower court.
For instances section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Act (Tanzania) a District Court may call for and examine the records of proceedings in primary courts and revise them.
Similarly, a Resident Magistrate-in-charge may call for and inspect the record of any proceedings in a district court and the High Court has revision jurisdiction over matters originating in primary courts.
Also, section 372 of the Criminal Procedure Act empowers the High Court to call for records of a subordinate (magistrate’s) court for the purpose of examining such record and satisfying itself as to the correctness, legality or propriety of any finding, sentence or order recorded or passed by that court.
Supervisory Jurisdiction is the type of jurisdiction whereby the higher courts is vested with the power to supervise the lower court when exercising their jurisdiction.
For example, the High Court of Tanzania exercises general powers of supervision over all courts in the exercise of their jurisdiction.
When exercising its supervisory jurisdiction, the High Court may; call for and inspect the record of any proceedings in a district court or primary court and examine the records or register thereof, or direct any district court to call for and inspect the records of any proceedings of the primary court established in its district and to examine its records and registers thereof, in order to satisfy itself, as to the correctness, legality and propriety of any decision or order and as to the regularity of any proceedings therein
Appellate Jurisdiction means the power of a court to hear or try matters on appeal from another court inferior to it. When exercising its appellate jurisdiction, the superior court may quash the decision of the lower court, order the lower court to hear the case again (De novo) or order the lower court to take additional evidence and any other order it may think fit.
For instance in Tanzania, section 20 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act gives district courts the power to hear appeals from decisions of primary courts, while section 21 stipulates what district courts may do in the exercise of their appellate jurisdiction.
Further, in terms of section 25 of the same Act; parties aggrieved by decisions of the district courts in the exercise of their appellate jurisdiction may further appeal to the High Court.
Finally, in accordance with section 4 of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, Cap 141, the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from the High Court and from subordinate courts with extended jurisdiction.
Concurrent jurisdiction refers to the type of jurisdiction whereby two or more courts are given equal powers to adjudicate certain kinds of cases. For example in Tanzania section 76 of the law of marriage, Act provides that Original jurisdiction in matrimonial proceedings shall be vested concurrently the High Court, a court of a resident magistrate, a district court and a primary court.
That means those courts shall have equal powers when it comes to matrimonial proceedings.
Also, the court of resident magistrate generally has and exercise, the same pecuniary jurisdiction as a district court held by a resident magistrate or a civil magistrate
Sentencing jurisdiction refers to the sentencing powers of a court. This jurisdiction is exclusively available in criminal cases. A relevant example of sentencing jurisdiction may be drawn from section 170(1) Criminal Procedure Act which provides that a subordinate court may not pass a sentence exceeding five years imprisonment or impose a fine of more than twenty million shillings.