Powers and Functions of the Judiciary | Branch of Government
The judiciary constitutes the arm of government that interprets the law of the state and applies the existing law to individual cases. In any modern state, the liberty of individuals depends upon the fairness of the courts in providing protection against the tyranny of overzealous members of the government.
The judiciary, for example, is made up of a large number of courts, ranging from the Supreme court, Appeal courts, High courts and down to magistrate and customary courts. The judiciary consists of judges who are honest and impartial with sound legal knowledged.
Functions of the Judiciary Arms of Government
The judiciary performs a number of functions m the political system.
Settlement of Disputes
The major function of the judicialy is to settle disputes. It settles disputes between two individuals, between an individual and govemment and between governments. There are two types of cases which litigants usually bring before the court for settlement. These are civil and criminal cases.
A civil case is usually a case between two individuals although it may sometimes be between an individual and government e.g. land and marriage cases. The relief which the court usually grants is in form of damages (compensation).
On the other hand, a criminal case is a case brought in the name of the state against an individual accused of an offence e.g. stealing and corruption are criminal offences. The objective is to punish the offender either by imposing a fine or a sentence of imprisonment.
Sometimes the courts help to prevent an impending breakdown of law and order by the use of writs and restraining orders such as injunction.
An injunction is an order, which requires a person to refrain from specific acts.
Failure to obey an injunction constitutes contempt of court and may be punished by the court.
The court may also give declarative judgment. That is, it may determine the rights of the parties especially where there are controversies between parties to contracts, wills and other documents.
Declarative judgments enable the parties to ascertain their respective rights without being involved in wasteful litigation and without having to prove that any wrong has been done or immediately threatened. Such judgments are binding the parties.
Interpretation of Constitution
The judiciary, especially the Supreme Court in a presidential system, may interpret the constitution of a country. This is usually the case where there are conflicts between the different levels of government as to the proper meaning of certain provisions of the constitution. In this way, it arbitrates between various political institutions.
The courts have the power to relate any law made by the legislature or any act of the executive to the constitution and declare whether or not it is in conformity with the constitution. If a law made by the legislature or any act of the executive is inconsistent with the constitution, the court can declare such a law or act as unconstitutional, null and void.
The famous case of Marbu v Madison – 1803, for example, established the court’s right to declare a law void if it is in opposition to the American Constitution as interpreted by the court.
The courts also perform a number of non-judicial or administrative functions such as:
- Grant of licences;
- Appointment of receivers in bankruptcy;
- Appointment of guardians for minors;
- Naturalization of aliens;
- Conduct and dissolution of marriages.