Comparison between Indian Judiciary System and the Kautilyan/ Chanakya’s Legal System


The Indian judiciary system is known as World’s oldest judiciary system. In the 3rd Century BCE, the Kautilya’s Arthashastra was written and it is one of the oldest Judicial and Administrative scripture, known for its constitutional laws and regulations which helped in building and maintaining the Mauryan empire by making it one of the prominent dynasties of the era. Let us study the Indian Judiciary system and the Kautilyan Legal System. Let us find out the similarities and differences between the two systems by analyzing the structure of the Judiciary systems. Some parts of the Kautilyan law system may influence you to implement in the modern system and may not convince you to implement in today’s world. Let us Brainstorm it together.

If you are aware of the Indian Judiciary system skip the next three paragraphs which describe the structure of the Indian legal system. If you are not aware of the structure of the Indian legal system, go ahead with reading, and then let’s take up the Kautilyan Judiciary system. Let us take a look at the Kautilyan Legal System.

In today’s Indian judicial system, the Supreme court is the highest court of justice in India and the Chief Justice of the Supreme court is the top judge to whom the final appeal will be given. It was established on 28/01/1950 under Article 124(1) of the Constitution of India. Initially, only 7 judges were supposed to proceed with the judgments in the Supreme court till 2009. From 2009, 31 judges including the Chief Justice of the Supreme court are running the preceding and granting the judgments. All the proceedings in the Supreme court are meant to be done in a single language, that is English.

The next level of court is the High courts. It is formed on taking note of Article 214 of the Constitution of India. There are 21 High courts in India. Let us see the hierarchy of Indian courts. The courts are divided into Civil courts and Criminal courts. The Civil courts are governed by CPC (Civil Procedure Code) and the Criminal courts are governed by CrPc (Criminal Procedure Code).  The Supreme court is the first court of the nation, it is followed by State level courts named the High courts. The High courts will be followed by the District level courts namely District civil and criminal courts and Subordinate courts for the District courts.

The District courts and Subordinate courts will be followed by the Court of Subordinate Judge Class 1. The Court of Subjudge class 2 will follow the Court of subordinate judge class 1 and it will be followed by the 2 other levels of courts or same jurisdiction level. They are, the Court of Small causes for Metropolitan cities, the Munsif’s court, or Court of Sub-judge class 3. These courts will be for the metropolitan cities level and towns level according to the properties of the area of the jurisdiction. This is the hierarchy of courts in our Indian courts according to the Constitution of India.

Let us look over the hierarchy of Judges of Civil and Criminal courts of India. The Supreme court consists of 34 Chief Justice, they are named as the Chief Justice of India. The High courts in the respective states of India have their own Chief justices. There are permanent and additional judges in the respective courts. The Allahabad High court has 160 judges, among them 120 are permanent and 40 judges are additional. This court is consists of a large number of Judges in India. The Sikkim High court has the least number of judges, 3 permanent judges. The High court judges will be followed by District and Sessions judges along with the Additional Sessions Judges.

The Chief Justice of District Civil and Criminal courts along with Special Session Judges and Additional session judges will be added to proceed with the trials and judgments. After the District Court judges, the Assistant Session judges will follow them. The Assistant Session judges will be followed by the two classes of Magistrates, are the Chief Justice Magistrate and the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. The Metropolitan Magistrates will under the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class will follow the Chief Justice Magistrate. The Judicial Magistrate of the Second class and Special Judicial magistrate will follow the Judicial Magistrate of the First Class. This is the hierarchy of Judges or Justice of our Indian courts according to the Constitution of India.

Now let us understand the structure of the Kautilyan Legal System. The King is the Chief Justice in this system and he will be the topmost justice in the Mauryan court. The Government or Court of Kautilyan system will be divided into two parts, one for Civil Law and another one for Criminal Law. Civil law consists of Family Law, Law of Contracts, and Law of Labour. The Criminal consists of penal codes regarding the penalties and punishments of the criminal and anti-social activities. The Pradeshtr or Magistrate will be head of a province that consists of a small number of villages. The Pradeshtrs will be assisted with some more additional judges who are appointed based on their qualification in Dharmashastras (the main source of law in Mauryan government or court).

The Pradeshtr will follow the Samahartr or Chancellors, the next level of justice. Samahartr will be appointed for the large towns or 400 to 800 villages based on the population the cluster will be made. The Samahartrs will appoint the Clandestine agents in their provinces to collect the information about the various crimes. The King or Chief Justice of Mauryan court is called the Dharmastha, which signifies the ‘Upholder of Dharma/ Law’. The Dharma or Dharmagrantha or Dharmashastras or Ancient scripture regarding the administration which is carried from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Garuda Purana, Vedas, and Upanishads are the main source of Law for the Constitution of the Mauryan Empire.

Raja dharma is the dharma or law to be followed by the Aryan Kings and the Swadharma is the dharma or law to be followed by the Aryan people or residents of the Northern part of India, which was under Mauryan rule. A broad distinction is maintained between civil and criminal laws in the Arthashastra by placing most aspects of Civil law in book3 and criminal law in book 4. The name of book 3 is ‘Concerning Upholders of Dharma’ and book 4 is ‘The Removal of Thorns’, which means the elimination of anti-social activities. Now we are done with the structure of the Kautilyan Legal System. Now let us understand the sources and implementation of civil and criminal laws in the Mauryan court.

In Mauryan court, there was a bench of three judges who should hold the court at frontier posts, sub-district headquarters, and provisional headquarters based on the necessity of judicial assistance. The judges should be the scholars in Dharma, they will have the qualifications of a minister. There are many does and don’ts to be performed by Judges. Let me write it down for you. The Judge should not: 

  • Threaten or intimidate or drive away or unjustly silent litigants.
  • Abuse any person in the court
  • fall back to put relevant and required questions and ask the irrelevant questions to the accused. 
  • leave out of consideration of answers relevant to the questions they asked for the accused and litigant.  
  • give the information of the question he asks or answer he expects.
  • remind the fact to the lawyer or any other in the court.
  • fail to call the evidence relevant to the case.
  • decide any case without considering or calling the evidence.
  • dismiss the case without making trial or under any pretext.
  • abandon someone by delaying the judgment or any other proceedings.
  • mistake in judgment made in a particular context.
  • train or coach the witness.
  • rehear a case that had completed and got the judgment 

If in case the offense mentioned above is performed by the judge, he will be fined the double amount and suspended from the office.

Then who is called the Clerks in Mauryan Courts? Let us read about their duties and responsibilities. The Clerks are responsible for recording the statements made before the court. They are supposed to record the evidence without any mistakes and misconceptions. They are not allowed to add any additional or irrelevant statements to the record maintained by then the court. They are not supposed to hide the confusion or ambiguity in the evidence they found during the court trial. Making unambiguous statements appeared to be confused or change in any way in the sense of the evidence as presented to the court, it is a punishable offense performed by the respective clerk of the court. If they fail to perform the mentioned duties, the clerks will also be sentenced to the punishments under the Mauryan court in Kautilyan Legal System.

Let us know about the Magistrates in the Mauryan Court. The bench of three Pradeshtr, known as Magistrates is equal to the rank of the minister based on qualification in the Dharma. Pradeshtr will be responsible for the suppression of the Anti-social activities performed by the activists within the borders of the Mauryan kingdom. The Magistrates are responsible for inspecting the records of the Provisional Governor responsible for the tax and revenue collection maintained by record keepers and governors. Magistrates are ensured to the proper collection of taxes, particularly the Special Emergency dues at certain times.

The punishments are written by judges on many levels according to the crime performed by the citizens, officials, and court personnel. In Kautilyan legal system, there will be punishments for the court officials also based on the level of offense performed by them respective to their positions. If incase, judges perform threatening, intimidating, driving away, or unjustly silencing a litigant which comes under a lower level of offense. the abusing of the litigant by the judge will come under the double lowest level of offense and not asking the right questions to evidence and litigant will comes under the middle level of offense performed by the Judges of Mauryan courts.

The highest level of offense performed by the Judges will include asking irrelevant questions to litigants or evidence, ignoring the answers of litigant or evidence, instructing or reminding or prompting the witness while enquiring, and failing to call the relevant evidence to the court or calling irrelevant evidence to the court. If the judge decides the case without calling the evidence, dismiss a case on a pretext, tiring out a litigant with undue delays, mispresenting the final statement, training the witness, rehearing the case which had been decided will make the judge to bare double fine for the respective offense and suspension from the office. The offenses performed by the Clerks of the judge will also be punished according to the level of mistake.

If a clerk fails to record the evidence’s statement correctly, hiding the confusion while recording the statements without correcting, turning the correct statements into confusing statements or irrelevant statements will be considered an offense and will be fined and punished. Eight times the fine has to be submitted by Judges or Magistrates if they impose the wrong fine of the accused, twice the fine imposed for imposing the fine when nothing has to be paid, same punishment with twice the redemption of money if they impose the unjustly physical punishment, and eight times the claims if they decree the case wrongly whereby making litigant is obliged to pay the fine for the loss of an asset or other property mentioned in the case. Pretending to be a Judge or Magistrate or Judge’s clerk and examining a litigant or evidence under oath is a punishable offense. These are the offenses and respective punishments given to the officials working in the Kautilyan Legal System. The punishments for the citizens are written in books 3 and 4 of Arthshastra as mentioned before in previous paragraphs.

Till now readers, you might have got an idea of the Chanakya’s legal system, might be some of you compared it with the Indian Legal System. I know law students and professionals might have done this one. Come, let us read ahead to know about the ‘ Determination of Civil Suits and the Law of Evidence’ prescribed in Chanakya’s Arthashastra. What are the procedures to be followed in civil suits or civil cases? Heraldry of civil cases: The cases of crimes that are charged with the affairs of Gods, Brahmins, Ascetics, women, minors, old people, or orphans will be determined by the Judges if they won’t appeal to the court for justice.

No cases of them will be dismissed for the want of jurisdiction, time, or adverse possessions. The plaintiff and the defendant should both be persons fit to sue and to be sued. They should provide adequate sureties to cover the fines and payments for the loss of suits. The court clerk should record the statements of both the plaintiff and the defendant after the surety has been provided to the court. They should include the substance of the dispute and the respective questions raised in the trial. The record should reflect the date and time of the case file to court and the place of filing the case, the amount in dispute, and the personal details of both the sides, I mean plaintiff and defendants. The statements should be recorded by clerks in due order of subject matters that will be scrutinized by the judge for the accuracy of statements. The civil cases once decided cannot be filed again.

Countersuits, except in cases of riots, seized or trade disputes among the merchants, the defendants should not have the right to file the countersuit against the plaintiff. Rejoinders, the Plaintiff must file a response on the same day to the statement or counter-statement filed to the court by the defendant.  For this, the plaintiff and not the defendant has to be determined to bring it to the action. Defendants are allowed time between three to seven days depending on the complexity of the filed case to prepare their defense to confront. If the rejoinder is not filed in the given time, the judge should impose a fine for the delay.

The maximum time allowed for a defendant to file their defense should be three fortnights. After the expiry date, the suit shall be decreed against him with costs, as specified below. If a person is accused of assault does not file the defense within the permitted period, the case should be heard on the day when the filing period expires. The procedures for the production of witnesses will be discussed ahead. The parties themselves should be responsible for producing the witness for the case who do not live far away from the location of the court or who have an invalid reason for postponing their appearance. The witness that is not willing to appear or those who live far away may be summoned by the royal writ. The Servant of the court who summons the witnesses should be paid with his or her travel expenses and a fee of one-eighth part of pana should be paid. These costs should be borne by the loser.

Let me wrap up this reading here by concluding here. As Indian is a country which is teaching the world many things for many centuries, among those contributions I have chosen Kautilya’s Arthshastra to make you know about the rich and eminent judiciary system of the Mauryan dynasty which ruled from around 321 BC to 185 BC making Pataliputra (today’s Patna) as it’s capital. Kautilya or renowned as Chanakya, was the Indian teacher, scholar, philosopher, economist, and royal administration advisor of third century BC who had given many works to educate the world with aspects of Law and administration. In the same land, many among us are teaching and leading the world with their knowledge in administration and the legal system. Hope one who is reading this blog also might be one among them or yet to join the list. Thank you reader, Hope my blog is worth your time.  

Author Details: Rahul Aradhya T R (Manipal University Jaipur)

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