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150 years of Bombay HC with CJ Mohit Shah

Published on Sat, Sep 08,2012 | 18:44, Updated at Sat, Sep 08 at 19:24Source : CNBC-TV18 |   Watch Video :

In a nation besieged by allegations of corruptions, failing institutions and declining standards of integrity I found a reprieve this week in the Bombay High Court that is celebrating a grand 150 years of its existence. In this magnificent central court is an exhibition that showcases some of Bombay High Court's finest moments. Moments that has shaped India's history. So the pride of place on this week's show goes not to some new law, tax, policy or regulatory development. It goes to an institution that has stood the test of time, the test of 150 years.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"Our history even goes beyond 150 years. The first court of judicature at Bombay was established on 8 August, 1672 and the then Governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier said that judges will be dispensing justice without considering the caste or community of the suitors. The government decided that adjudication of disputes will be done in an institution which would be manned by independent judges and this independence was shown by Sir John Peter Grant. In 1828 when the Governor of Bombay refused to enforce the writs issued by the High Court, which was then the Supreme Court, he said we will close down the courts and he did carry out this and closed the courts for five months. This was the independence that was exhibited by judges, right from earlier days. It was as far back in 1828 that he spoke these memorable words, "Within these walls there is no equal or superior than the God and the King." And that is what we now say that within these walls there is no equal or superior than the Constitution of India."

On August 14, 1862 the Bombay High Court became India's second High Court and covered in its jurisdiction Karachi to Karnataka. Nanabhai Haridas was the first Indian to become a permanent judge of this court and as the nation rose up against British rule, the Bombay High Court played home to many of our sterling leaders.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"The great leaders of the independence movement where all advocates or barristers on the roll of this high court including Mahatma Gandhi. He became a barrister and joined this court in 1891, then we had Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Kanhaiyalal Munshi, Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, we had this great galaxy of the Indian freedom fighters who were advocates, the barristers of this court."

It was in the Central Court of the Bombay High Court that Lokmanya Tilak's sedition trials took place between 1897 and 1916. A plaque outside the courtroom serves as an evocative reminder of his patriotism. That tablet was unveiled by MC Chagla, a legendry judge and the first Indian Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court in independent India.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"Sir Leonard Stone who was the last British Chief Justice-  he said that on India getting independence the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court should also be an Indian. So he handed over the reigns of his office on the midnight of 14 August, 1947. Our first Chief Justice after independence was Chief Justice, MC Chagla. He was the Chief Justice of this court for 11 years and he took this institution to such great heights that today also the Chief Justices' court is known as Chief Justice Chagla’s courtroom. The courtroom where I am sitting was occupied by Chief Justice Chagla and all subsequent Chief Justices have been occupying that courtroom and dispensing justice from that courtroom and it is still known as Chief Justice Chagla's courtroom. We have a portrait of Chief Justice Chagla looking over my shoulders. We also have a bust of Chief Justice Chagla where as soon as the lawyers and the litigants enter the courtroom, they see the bust of Chief Justice Chagla where they can reflect that here is a great institution where the great Chief Justice was there. We also had very great lawyers after independence. Sir Motilal Setalvad was the first Attorney General of India, Mr. CK Daphtary who was the first Solicitor General of India and of course the first Chief Justice of India."

From Supreme Court's Chief Justice, YV Chandrachud to eminent jurist, Nani Palkhiwala the Bombay High Court’s contribution to India’s justice system is a long and luminous one. Around the same time, the High Court played host to another important turn in India’s judicial history- the last jury trial in 1960.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"The last case where we had the jury assisting the court was the famous case where Nanavati was charged, the Naval Commander was charged for murder and that was the case where jury gave the verdict in his favor that he was not guilty but the session judge did not agree with him and therefore the case was referred to the High Court where a bench of two judges heard the case and held him to be guilty. There was a feeling that the Jury, the common citizens who compose the jury, may sometimes be swayed by emotions and not necessarily by the evidence on record and the court of law has to decide this is according to the evidence on record."

In the last 50 years the Bombay High Court has followed the cities meteoric rise to a global financial center.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"Bombay High Court is in the forefront of adjudication of disputes in the commercial field. You must have seen all the cases under the Income Tax Act and Excise Aact or even cases against regulatory agencies like SEBI and Electricity Regulatory Commission. So we have been in the forefront because Bombay is the commercial capital of India, apart from these commercial cases Bombay High Court is also very well-known as the defender of civil liberties of the people."

But all institutions need renovating and Chief Justice Shah is doing that to both the building and its functioning. The English gothic structure built at a cost of Rs 16 lakh is now under Rs 10 crore restoration project. In his two years as the Chief he has also focused on modernizing the functioning of the High Court and the district judiciary. E-payment of court fees, fast track mobile courts, updation of computers records and training of judicial officers.
Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"We have tried to see to it that the cases are assigned to judges who have specialized in that branch of law. So we are able to deal with them more expeditiously and bring more competency also. The litigants who file cases before us, they are told in advance that their case will be listed on so and so date, so they do not have to come and make inquiries. We inform them, they can find out about the status of their case on their cell phones also."

The changes have reduced case pendency. The Bombay High Court now has an ambitious target.

Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Bombay High Court

"We are waiting for more judges to come and thereafter we will see to it that no case should remain pending in the High Court for more than five years and that will be our priority."

Before we signoff –kudos to advocate and philatelist- Rajan Jayakar- who organized the exhibition of Bombay High Court’s 150 years.

Rajan Jayakar, Advocate, Bombay High Court

"A good memory about this High Court because normally people who come here are advocates or litigants. There are hardly lay people who just come to see an exhibition. But this exhibition has given them an insight and in fact we are also coming out with a booklet which will give a little synopsis of the exhibition that is the memory that they are going to take back."

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