The history of the District court at Amritsar dates back to more than one hundred and fifty years. During the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the famous Sikh Ruler of Punjab, there used to be no written laws or judicial courts and no established authority. Only the chieftains would decide cases as per their whims. The Sadar adulate court (Chief Court) was the sole court in his realm.
The annexation of the Punjab by the British was immediately followed by the creation of a Board of Administration in 1849 having power so a Sadar Court of Judicature and a Sadar Board of Revenue. In 1853 it was replaced with a Chief Commissioner, and two Principal Commissioners separately appointed for Judicial and Administrative work. The Judicial Commissioner was the chief Judge of appeal and his Court was the final appellate court. By 1856, the Tehsildars were empowered to exercise the powers of a Subordinate Judge in small court to deal with the suit of which value up to Rs. 300/-. At that time there were 104 small causes, courts and each court had on the average an area of 784 square miles. Thus, the civil courts started function at Amritsar in the year 1856. During the year 1862 itself Honorary Native Magistrate for the disposal of petty criminal cases were appointed at Amritsar and Gujaranwala. During the year 1862, a total of 3117 civil and rent matters were instituted and 3054 case were disposed of leaving the balance at 63.
By the Punjab Courts Act, XIX of 1865, inter alia, seven classes of Courts were brought into being in the civil Jurisdiction. Starting from the Court of Tehsildar at the bottom to the Court of the Judicial Commissioner at the top
In 1877, the Punjab Courts Act, (XIX OF 1865) AND The Chief Court Act (IV of 1866), were repealed by the Punjab courts Act, (XVII of 1877), which consolidated and re-stated the law inter alia relating to the Chief Court.
The Punjab Courts Act, XVIII of 1884, which repealed the Punjab courts Act of 1877, not only touched the question of subordinate courts, their reconstruction, jurisdiction and powers, but also modified and restated the law regarding the constitution, powers and jurisdiction of the Chief Courts as well. The Punjab Courts Act 1884 also created the divisional courts.
By the year 1884, elaborate and well organized machinery was established for the administration of justice in the province. On the civil side the British brought up successful working hierarchy of civil courts. There were seven grades of civil court:-
1. The Judges of Small cause Courts:-
2. Tehsildars, Naib-tehsildars, Munsifs and Honorary Civil Judges.
3. Assistant Commissioners and Extra-Assistant Commissioners.
4. Judicial Assistant and Subordinate Judges with appellate powers.
5. Deputy Commissioners and District Judges.
6. The Courts of Commissioners.
7. The Chief Court.
The parallel judicial organization came into existence along with the administrative organization. In the District, the District Judge's court was the principal court of original jurisdiction. The Punjab Courts Act, 1884 was amended in 1888 with the object to enable the Chief Court to deal with the accumulated arrears, more expeditiously. The Revenue Courts were constituted in the Punjab under the Punjab Tenancy Act, 1887.
The Small Cause Courts Act, 1887 invested powers to the Munsif, who was also called Sub Judge. Three small cause Courts were established at Amritsar, Shimla & Delhi; the small Cause Court is still functioning at Amritsar, which one of its kinds in the entire Punjab and Haryana, Prior to this there used to be four Small Cause Courts at Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore and Peshawar which were established in 1861. In the General Report on the Administration for the year 1862-63, some of the Judges of Small Cause Courts namely T.H.Thornton, Capt. C.A. Momohan, J.C.Murphy, L. Berkeley and R.R.Scarlett were specially appreciated for their excellent work and disposal. Subsequently in the year 1947, the Judge of Amritsar Small Cause Court was vested with delegated powers under the Provincial Insolvency Act and the Guardians and Wards Act.
During the late thirties, the crime rate in Amritsar increase tremendously resulting in increase in number of criminal cases the district. Average number of murder cases rose from 38 in 1934 to 71 in 1939. During this period, the criminal work increased so greatly that it was found necessary to appoint one or more Additional Sessions Judges.
Senior Subordinate Judge, Amritsar exercised control over the process serving agency consisting of civil Nazar, ten Naib nazars, ten bailiffs and 96 process servers in 1947. At present, this agency comprises of two Nazars, 8 Naib nazars, 9 bailiffs and 79 process servers in Amritsar sessions division.
After annexation, the Deputy Commissioners were incharge of district, who were Commissioners were authorized to deal with the civil suits of having value Rs.1000/-. Extra Assistant commissioners performed both civil and criminal functions and the lowest court was that of the Tehsildar's court.
The Punjab courts Act XVII of 1877, repealed the Chief Court Act, 1866 and consolidated and re-stated the law, relating to the Chief Court. The Punjab Courts Act, 1877 was repealed and re-enacted by the Punjab Court Act, 1884 9XVIII of 1884), without any significant change regarding the constitution, powers and jurisdiction of the Chief Court. The main reason for the repeal of the Act of 1877 was to reorganize the Civil courts in the Province. Under the new Act, Divisional courts were established for the performance of judicial functions and the Commissioners were relieved of their judicial duties. Subordinate Judges and Munsifs were appointed to discharge purely judicial work.
The Punjab Court of Wards Act, Which came into force on June 25, 1903 established courts of wards in the province.
Further changes in the subordinate judicial set up were brought by the Punjab Courts Act, 1914; where under four classes of courts were set up, namely, the Court of District Judge, the Court of Additional district Judge, the Court of Subordinate Judge and the Court of Munsif. Later through the Punjab Courts Act, 1918, a landmark, which continued with minor amendment as the court of Munsif was abolished. In addition to these courts, Courts of Small Causes were established under the Provincial Small Causes Courts Act. By this Act of 1918, the administration of the Judicial Courts at Amritsar was controlled by the High Court of Judicature at Lahore whose vast jurisdiction ranged over 28 districts including Shimla, Gurgaon, Kangra, Gujranwala, Lyallpur, Hissar etc.
As per records available, Mr.H.V.Riddell was District Judge, Amritsar in the year 1885, Mr. H.S. Cott Smith was the District and Sessions Judge in the year 1900. As per notification no 334 dated 17.3.1904, Mr. H.A.Sama, Asstt Commissioner, Amritsar was vested with summary powers under section 260 Cr.PC Lala Kushi Ram, officiating Naib Tehsildar of Ajnala was appointed as Magistrate of IIIrd Class vide notification 348 dated 12.3.2004. Lala Hukam Chand, extra Astt Com missioner was posted as Magistrate Ist Class, Amritsar vide notification no. 615A dated 20.4.1915 Mr. Marsden and in 1917 Mr. A.C. Bendnock worked as Magistrates at Amritsar. Mr. Ghulam Hussain Manto, father of eminent Urdu novelties, Sadaat Hassan Manto also worked Sub Judge at Amritsar.
Before the separation of the executive from the judiciary, the District Magistrate, in his capacity as head of the district criminal administration, was overall in charge of the magistracy and the police. Immediately under him,there was also an additional district Magistrate who normally exercised power under Section 30 of the Criminal Procedure code. Besides there was one or more Magistrates Ist class who dealt with the entire criminal work. For the disposal of the civil work, there was a separate Senior Subordinate Judge and of Subordinate Judge who were under the administrative control of District and Sessions Judge.
Since the separation of the executive from the Judiciary in the state from October 2, 1964, the administration of both civil and criminal Justice in the district has been controlled by the District and Sessions Judge, Amritsar. At present, 35 courts are functioning in the Sessions Division including District & Sessions Judge, nine Addl. District & Sessions Judges & Small Causes Court.