The court-structure consists of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeal, High Courts,
Municipal Courts, and Primary Courts. Additionally, there are numerous
The Supreme Court is the highest and final court of record, and exercises final civil and criminal
The Court of Appeal is the first appellate court for decisions of all original courts and certain
Tribunals. The Court of Appeal hears appeals against judgments of the High Courts. It exercises appellate jurisdiction for the correction of errors
in fact or in law at a High Court, or any Court of first instance, or Tribunal,
or other Institution.
Murder trials and various offenses against the State are tried at the High Court; other criminal offenses are tried at a Magistrate’s Court.
The High Court of each province exercises:
i. Original jurisdiction over prosecution of offenses committed within a particular province.
ii. Admiralty jurisdiction, which is usually exercised in Colombo, the capital city.
iii. Commercial jurisdiction, which is vested by the High Court of the Provinces (Special Provisions) Act, No. 10 of
iv. Jurisdiction to hear cases involving attempts to influence the outcome of a decision made, or an order
issued, by the Judicial Service Commission. This jurisdiction is vested by
Article 111 L (2) of the Constitution.
v. Applications for the return of, or access to, a child, under the Hague Convention, is handled by the High Court
of the Western Province (Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Act, No:10 of 2001).
vi. Appellate jurisdiction over convictions, sentences, and orders imposed by the Magistrate’s Courts and
Primary Courts within the province.
vii. Writ jurisdiction in respect to powers exercised under any law or statutes enacted by the Provincial Council of
that particular province, with regard to an issue delineated in the Provincial
viii. Appeals of decisions reached by Labor Tribunals, Agrarian Tribunals, and Small Claims Courts.
District Courts are the Courts of first instance for civil cases. District Courts have jurisdiction
over all civil cases not expressly assigned to the Primary Court or a
Certain specific civil issues handled by the District Courts include:
i. Cases related to ownership of land.
ii. Action by landlords to eject tenants.
iii. Action to recover debts of more than Rs. 1,500.
iv. Action in connection with trademark and patent rights, and infringement of copyright
v. Claims for compensation of more than Rs. 1, 500 for injuries caused by negligence.
vi. Divorce cases (Formerly, divorce cases were handled by the now defunct Family Courts).
Magistrate’s Court is vested with original jurisdiction over criminal offenses (other than offenses
committed after indictment in the High Court.) In cases involving criminal law, the Magistrate’s Courts and the High Court are the only Courts
with primary jurisdiction. The respective domains of these Courts are detailed
in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Primary Court is vested with the following jurisdictions:
i. Original civil jurisdiction over cases involving debt, damages, demands, or claims that do not exceed Rs. 1,500.
ii. Enforcement of by-laws by local authorities and disputes relating to recovery of revenue by these local
iii. Exclusive criminal jurisdiction over cases relating to offenses “prescribed” by regulation by the Justice
iv. Offenses in violation of the provisions of any Parliamentary Act, or subsidiary legislation, that is related
to jurisdiction vested in the Primary Courts.