2016 will be a landmark year for this high court as it will celebrate its centenary. Down the years, this stately building has seen much history, high drama, tears and joy
Photos by Prashant Panjiar
Text: Ramesh Menon
How time flies. Patna High Court will turn 100 early next year. If a building could speak, think of how it would have narrated the changing colors of history that it has so dramatically seen: The struggles in British India, the political chaos after Independence, the maturing of a democracy, social upheavals, fight for righteousness. And many, many more events that were milestones of the changing political culture and sociology of India.
It would also have talked of the changing systems of justice, complicated cases, long hours put in by judges and lawyers, landmark judgments, the litany of the litigants and how historic cases shaped up, giving a new edge to jurisprudence.
Justice Nagendra Rai, former acting chief justice of the Patna High Court, fondly remembers his stint there. He told India Legal: “It set important traditions and one of them was respect for time. We tried our best not to grant adjournment as it delayed the process of justice. That discipline ran all through the court. I remember how in the mid-nineties, four judges, who had then just been transferred from Allahabad High Court, asked me why we were so hesitant in granting adjournments. I proudly told them that it was one of the traditions we had set. It helped us clear a huge backlog of cases and also ensure speedier justice. Those were great days. Patna High Court created a huge number of luminaries like Justice RM Lodha, Justice GP Patnaik and Justice DP Wadhwa.”
Patna High Court commenced work on March 1, 1916. On that day, judges came smartly dressed in full judicial clothes, overawing everybody. They were robed in red gowns, wigs, black breeches, silk stockings and buckled leather shoes.
At 10.35 am, they entered the chief justice’s room and took their seats on red Moroccan-stuffed armless chairs on the dais. The court registrar, the commissioner of the division, the commissioner of excise and registration and some other high officials were also seated behind the judges. It was a grand ceremony. History was in the making.
Ever since, thousands of cases have been heard in the portals of the Patna High Court, bringing new hope to those who knocked on its doors. Additional Solicitor General Amarendra Sharan, who spent seven years there told India Legal: “Patna High Court was definitely one of the greatest high courts of our time. It produced erudite judges and advocates. The standard of judges and lawyers there in those days was even better than what one sees in the Supreme Court today.”
Laying the foundation stone of the high court building on December 1, 1913, Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India, said: “I feel assured that within its walls in future days, justice will be administered with courage and impartiality to the terror of evil-doers and to the triumph of every cause which is right and true, so that the High Court of Bihar shall earn a name for sound sense and good law.”
He inaugurated building on February 3, 1916.
On February 9, 1916, Patna High Court came into existence. This is how the ancient city of Pataliputra had a High Court of its own in 1916 with Sir Edward Maynard Des Champs Chamier as its first Chief Justice. The present Chief Justice is L Narashima Reddy.
Celebrated photographer Prashant Panjiar who took the photographs said that he was pleasantly surprised at the dignity that everyone maintained here. “I came away with a feeling of respect for the judiciary as I saw an attitude and discipline that I did not expect to see in a court.”
The court was one of the first to computerize the Cause List Management System in courts in 1992. It started conducting trials by video-conferencing between the civil court and Bihar jails. It is one of the courts that adroitly uses Information Technology to speed up the judicial process. But everything is not hunky-dory.
Sharan told India Legal: “The erstwhile tradition of erudition that is now at a discount must return to restore Patna High Court to its earlier glory. An erudite bar can make all the difference. The bar and the bench must work more harmoniously there. Unless both are represented by the best, the system is bound to fail.”
Numerous other challenges like the friction between the bar and the bench have surfaced. So has a huge pile of pending cases. But the fact is that Patna High Court has come a long way.
(Above) Lawyers’ robes hang in the Barristers’ Library
(Below) A courtroom seen from the judges’ entrance, quite different from what’s depicted in Indian movies
legal tomes: A library staff member labels periodicals in the Judges’ Library
(Above) A lawyer takes a nap in one of the lawyers’ rooms, in between court proceedings
(Left) Typists work out of a shed adjoining the main building of the court
Petitioners busy with paperwork in one of the corridors, unmindful of the precariously-balanced furniture
A clerk in traditional court attire in one of the record rooms
A court official amid mountains of files
A petitioner with his lawyers, striving to grasp the legalese
Lawyers in the Barristers’ Library