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Monday, November 20, 2017

Madras High Court out of bounds for a day ! locked !!!

By Court Order, premises could be sealed ~ can you ever imagine, Court Premises getting locked and not transacting any business ! ~ strange things do happen ..

Every time one passes by, one is awe-struck by this magnificent edifice !  ~  it is the  brick mortar in red of the Madras High Court.   The  court is one of the three High Courts in India established in the three Presidency Towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras by Letters patent granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, bearing date 26 June 1862. It exercises original jurisdiction over the city of Chennai and appellate jurisdiction over the entire state of Tamil Nadu and Union territory of Puducherry.   Even before that, Governor Strynsham Master felt that the Choultry Court was inadequate to deal with the subjects and hence, he established the first Court of Judicature at Madras and the first trial by Jury was held on 16.04.1678.

Recently, in 2017, for the  first time in the 135-year history of the Madras high court, the prestigious first bench has become an all-woman bench. Headed by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee, it has Justice Bhavani Subbaroyan, who was sworn in on Wednesday , as junior judge. Justice Indira Banerjee herself is the only second woman chief justice of the high court -the first one being Justice Kanta Kumari Bhatnagar, who held the post for more than five months from June 1992. Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer KCIE (1832 –1895), a native lawyer  became the first native Indian to be appointed as judge of the Madras High Court in 1877.  He acted as Chief Justice for 3 months in 1893.  Iyer was acclaimed for his sharp intellect, memory and legal expertise.

The eye-capturing building of the High Court is  an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture,  built in 1892 with the design prepared by J.W. Brassington and later under the guidance of the famed architect Henry Irwin, who completed it with the assistance of J.H. Stephens. Though Madras has not seen many wars and not certainly the World Wars – the High Court building was damaged in the shelling of Madras by S.M.S. Emden on 22 September 1914, at the beginning of the First World War. It remains one of the very few Indian buildings to have been damaged by a German attack.

The painted ceilings and the stained glass doors are masterpieces in themselves. The minars are quite attractive – they once housed the lighthouse of the city, which is decrepit now.  According to some reports, the lighthouse used kerosene to produce light with an intensity equivalent to that emitted by about 18,000 candles  ~ and perhaps that was one of the  reasons for attracting the attention of the German warship SMS Emden.   The Department of Posts has allotted a Postal Index Number (PIN) code of 600 104 to the zone occupied by the Madras High Court. The boundaries of the High Court complex are marked by  namely, Prakasam Road (formerly Broadway), NSC Bose Road  and Rajaji Road (the old North Beach Road)

Of the many statues, the decade old statue is apt symbolism – it is the majestic one of  Chozha, King Manuneethi Chozhan known to have ruled in the third century BC. This Tamil king is considered the embodiment of justice himself. Legend has it that he crushed his son under the wheels of the royal chariot just as his heir apparent had run over a calf !  Arising out of that deed of executing his own son, when the cow moved the kingdom bell, he became ‘Manuneethi Chozha’.  

Every year in Nov this strange ritual happens – last year it was on 28.11.2016 and this year it was on 19.11.2017 ::  Madras high court was locked for 24 hours from 8pm on Saturday to 8pm on Sunday. Heavy locks and chains made sure that no one — judges, advocates or litigants — were allowed to enter the premises  !  - what Court premises locked out ?

Photo credit : The Hindu Tamil.
No, justice was not locked out. The court was closed in keeping with a pre-British era tradition, one that requires the high court premises to be locked for 24 hours each year. Senior lawyers said the land for the construction of the court was acquired from a private person — whose name is lost with hoary antiquity — in the 1800s. Though the land was initially taken on lease, the ownership deed was later transferred to Lord Permual Temple on Parry's Corner. To ensure that no individual or entity claims ownership of the edifice, the court's administrators lock the court premises, hand over its keys to the chief priest of the temple and renew the lease agreement on one day each year.

The State Government continues to protect the building and site from bogus ownership claims while maintaining its status as a public property/pathway. In sync with the old tradition, the court's registry locks up the premises every last Sunday of November after putting up notices on its six gates that it would reopen on Monday. The current high court building moved to its brand new quarters from an edifice near Beach Station on July 12, 1892. Sir Arthur Collins, chief justice at the time, formally received permission to start proceedings in the new building from Madras Presidency governor Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock.

~ .. .. .. strange it may sound that the Court was locked and remained out of reach – closed, yet,  neither delay nor denial of justice to those who seek it in its corridors.

Sir Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange (1756 – 1841) Chief Justice  in Nova Scotia, known for waging "judicial war" to free Black Nova Scotian slaves from their owners,  became the first Chief Justice of the erstwhile Supreme Court of Madras (which has since become the High Court of Madras) and in that capacity was also the first Chief Justice of the Madras Presidency, British India from 1801 to 1817.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

20th Nov. 2017.


  1. Really interesting reading... ownership of "temple of justice" belong to Lord Perumal

    1. It is heard that land belongs to Sri Vasavi kanyakaparameswari temple, kothwalchavadi,audiappa naicken street, chennai. 600 001 and the highcourt keys will be kept at goddess feet.

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  8. The correct former name of Prakasam Road is "Popenhams Broadway". There are two lighthouses which are not functional, one the older lighthouse which is a tower, the newer light house integral to the building in the main dome. This was functional until 1976, when it s function was taken over by the current one on the Marina Beach.