Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Inherent Jurisdiction Definition:

The residual, automatic and ex officio authority of a court of law to regulate proceedings before it including punishing contempt.

Related Terms: Judicial Discretion

Also called inherent power.

Justice Anderson wrote of inherent jurisdiction in the 1841 case of Cocker v Tempess as follows:

"The power of each court over its own process is unlimited; it is a power incident of all courts, inferior as well as superior; were it not so, the court would be obliged to sit still and (to) see its own process abused for the purpose of injustice. The exercise of the power is certainly a matter of the most careful discretion."

In a book on topic, South African jurist Jerold Taitz used these words:

"The inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court may be described as the unwritten power without which the Court is unable to function with justice and good reason. As will be observed below, such powers are enjoyed by the Court by virtue of its very nature as a superior court modelled on the lines of an English superior court. All English superior courts, English colonial superior courts and the superior courts which succeeded them are deemed to posses such inherent jurisdiction save where it has been repealed or otherwise amended by legislation."

In Connelly, Justice Morris of the House of Lords (England) wrote:

"There can be no doubt that a court which is endowed with a particular jurisdiction has powers which are necessary to enable it to act effectively within such jurisdiction. I would regard them as powers which are inherent in its jurisdiction. A court must enjoy such powers in order to enforce its rules of practice and to suppress any abuses of its process and to defeat any attempted thwarting of its process."

In Golden Forest, Justice Hallet adopted these words:

"The term inherent jurisdiction is not used in contradistinction to the jurisdiction of the court exercisable at common law or conferred on it by statute or rules of court, for the court may exercise its inherent jurisdiction even in respect of matters which are regulated by statute or rule of court. The jurisdiction of the court which is comprised within the term inherent is that which enables it to fulfill itself, properly and effectively, as a court of law. The overriding feature of the inherent jurisdiction of the court is that it is a part of procedural law, both civil and criminal, and not a part of substantive law; it is exercisable by summary process, without a plenary trial; it may be invoked not only in relation to parties in pending proceedings, but in relation to any one, whether a party or not, and in relation to matters not raised in the litigation between the parties; it must be distinguished from the exercise of judicial discretion; and it may be exercised even in circumstances governed by rules of court ....

"In sum, it may be said that the inherent jurisdiction of the court is a virile and viable doctrine, and has been defined as being the reserve or fund of powers, a residual source of powers, which the court may draw upon as necessary whenever it is just or equitable to do so, in particular to ensure the observance of the due process of law, to prevent improper vexation or oppression, to do justice between the parties and to secure a fair trial between them."

In a 1970 article on inherent jurisdiction, jurist I.H. Jacob wrote this:

"On what basis did the superior courts exercise their powers to punish for contempt and to prevent abuse of process by summary proceedings instead of by the ordinary course of trial and verdict? The answer is, that the jurisdiction to exercise these powers was derived, not from any statute or rule of law, but from the very nature of the court as a superior court of law, and for this reason such jurisdiction has been called inherent.

"This description has been criticized as being metaphysical, but I think nevertheless that it is apt to describe the quality of this jurisdiction. For the essential character of a superior court of law necessarily involves that it should be invested with a power to maintain its authority and to prevent its process being obstructed and abused. Such a power is intrinsic in a superior court; it is its very life-blood, its very essence, its immanent attribute. Without such a power, the court would have form but would lack substance. The jurisdiction which is inherent in a superior court of law is that which enables it to fulfill itself as a court of law. The juridical basis of this jurisdiction is therefore the authority of the judiciary to uphold, to protect and to fulfill the judicial function of administering justice according to law in a regular, orderly and effective manner."


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