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Magistrates Courts exercised considerable powers, including issuing of search warrants, requiring of the

furnishing of security, and to inquire into sudden deaths. They were also empowered to sit as Juvenile
Courts. Appeal could not be taken from the Magistrates courts to the Supreme Courts.
District Courts
In many respects, the District Courts were truly the primary trial court during the period covered . They
possessed wide ranging powers. Their civil jurisdiction was primarily determined by the civil procedure
Code of 1889, and essentially, there was no monetary limit placed upon it. They were also vested with
testamentary, matrimonial and insolvency jurisdiction, and in addition, they had jurisdiction over
lunatics, minors and wards as well as over estates of trust beneficiaries and over guardians and trustees.
The Criminals Procedure Code primarily determined the criminal jurisdiction of the District courts, and
they exercised this authority generally on the basis of a preliminary determination by magistrate s
Courts to commit an accused for trial before them.
The Supreme Court was the appellate body for the District Courts. The District Courts themselves played
a role in the appellate process in that they heard appeals from the Rural Courts.
Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was at the apex of the judicial system within Sri Lanka. It had original criminal
jurisdiction, civil and criminal appellate jurisdiction, and in addition, was also a court of admiralty and
the authority vested with the admission and discipline of Advocates and Proctors. It possessed broad
injunctive powers and powers of punishment for those found guilty of contempt of court.
The original criminal jurisdiction was exercised by the Court through its own justices or through
Commissioners of Assize appointed for that specific purpose who generally held their proceedings in
circuit in the more important towns. The criminal powers of the court extended over any crime but in
practice it tried only the more serious crimes such as treason, murder, culpable homicide not
amounting murder, rape and graver types of extortion.
Unlike the original jurisdiction, appeals from the lower courts were held only in Colombo were the Court
was formally located. Appeal lay from both findings of facts or of laws, but the court rarely intervened in
the fact determination of a lower court because of the principal that issues involved in fact
determination, most importantly the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses, could properly be carried
out only at the trial. As to its decisions on the appeals, the Court could affirm, reverse, modify, or order
new trials.
Court of Criminal Appeal
The creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal was dictated by the necessity found to give a further right
of appeal to those who were convicted by the Supreme Court in the exercise of its original criminal
jurisdiction. The court comprised of a bench of at least three justices of the Supreme Court, excluding
the judge who gave the decision from which the appeal was taken. The appeal could be based on error
of fact or of law or of both or any other ground which warranted an appeal. In addition, by the leave of
the court an appeal could be taken against the sentence passed, unless such sentence was fixed by law.
In dealing with appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeal had broad powers, including ordering new trial
under certain circumstances or substituting a new punishment in place of the sentence handed out.
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
Under the Administration of justice which was typically established throughout the territories and
colonies of the British in their overseas empire, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had the
standing as the ultimate appellate authority. In the case of Sri Lanka, the right of appeal to this body was
recognized very clearly during the British rule, in 1798, and this right was reaffirmed through various
enactments, including the Charter of Justice of 1833 and the Court ordinance of 1889. The jurisdiction of
Privy Council was again more categorically spelt out in The Appeals (Privy Council) Ordinance of 1009.
The Privy Councils role as the final appellate authority was extremely significant in many respects,
perhaps most importantly when it dealt with constitutional issues. It should be noted, though, that the
Privy Council rarely exercised criminal appeal authority given to it.