The first wing of the High Court comprising the court of the Chief Justice and eight other court rooms became operational on January 17, 1955.
Written by Dr Balram K Gupta
The High Court of Punjab came into existence in 1955. A year later, the PEPSU High Court got merged with Punjab High Court. My father was working with PEPSU High Court on the administrative side. Therefore, we shifted to Chandigarh in 1956. I have seen this court grow in size and stature from its inception.
The first wing of the High Court comprising the court of the Chief Justice and eight other court rooms became operational on January 17, 1955. It was officially inaugurated by the first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, on March 19, 1955. Le Corbusier conceived, designed and executed this great architectural marvel. It was not an easy exercise, considering that the labour force was not used to modern building techniques. He also had to find out how to beat the violent sun, the habit of siesta and laziness. The rainy season also had its own problems. The building had to be so designed so that the courts could function throughout the year in Chandigarh without migrating to the hills every summer. But he achieved this gigantic task in record time.
OIL STAINS AND WHISPERS
As the judges occupied the High Court building, soon Corbusier came on a visit. He found the oil stains in the pitch, left behind by the official Ambassador cars. Furious, he stormed into the Chief Justice’s court and protested that this was not the parking lot. The Chief Justice told him that the judges cannot be expected to enter from the common entry. Corbusier then took up the matter with Nehru who told the Chief Justice to sort it out. The porch continues to be the judges’ parking lot minus the oil stains.
Then the courts faced a problem in acoustics thanks to the very high ceilings and spacious rooms. Corbusier sorted out this problem by creating a series of large tapestries to cover the interior walls behind the judge’s benches for sound absorption. Corbusier designed the tapestries himself. Initially, these had to be woven in villages and prisons. But when this proved impractical, the entire 650 metre tapestries were executed in five months by a Kashmir firm.
Before the tapestries, even a whisper by the judges was audible to all. A beautiful young lady lawyer had come from Delhi to argue a matter before a division bench of JJ Ashok Bhan and MR Agnihotri. Bhan wanted to dismiss the petition but Agnihotri, whispered, “let us issue, notice of motion, she will come again.” Of course, the lawyer heard it.
Corbusier believed in originality. The original wing of the High Court had Chief Justice’s Court and eight other judges’ courtrooms. The Chief’s court is a beauty, a joy forever. During my term at National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, we had a regional conference in collaboration with High Court of Chattisgarh, Bilaspur during 2013-14. Then Chief Justice Yatindra Singh showed us his newly built courtroom and asked, “Is it not majestic?” I invited him to Chandigarh. He had a hearty laugh, and said, you are being diplomatic. The fact is the grandeur of Chief Justice’s court in Chandigarh is unmatched.
Close to the High Court, in Sector 4, is the residence of the CJ and eight other judges. They were designed and built at the same time. With their verdant lawns, these sprawling houses are perfect for judicial minds.
In front of Chief Justice’s court, there is a Fountain of Justice. It continues to flow 24X7. It is the insignia and symbol of the role played by the Judicial and Legal Coparcenary of the region. It is a reminder that Justice is not to be sold. Not to be denied. Not to be delayed. The original first wing of the High Court, the library and the Bar room were too small in the plan. It was after partition (1947) that the High Court and the lawyers shifted to Shimla. The lawyers came from Shimla to Chandigarh to discuss the matter with Corbusier. When they pleaded for a bigger Bar room, Corbusier said “surely you do not expect more than 40-50 lawyers drinking at the same time during the court hours”.
Most people confuse the Bar room with a restaurant bar. I once introduced a judge by saying that he had been elevated after a long standing at the Bar. I was quietly asked, whether he drank a lot.
It is high time we understand the difference between the club bar and the court Bar. There is a Bar in every court which separates the Judge from the lawyer. The Judge sits on that side of the Bar and the lawyer stands to argue on this side of the Bar. Therefore, the lawyers’ room is known as the Bar room. The lawyers and the judges constitute the Bar and the Bench.
THE BRITISH CONNECTION
Donald Falshaw, ICS, was the last British judge to serve the Indian High Courts. At the Punjab HC in the early 1960s, he was hearing a criminal appeal in which the counsel had difficulty in expressing himself in English. Justice Falshaw hurriedly went through the district court judgment and the counsel was asked, “What have you done? You gave such a deadly blow! There was no provocation”. The counsel said, there was sudden provocation as the accused had taken away his ‘she–dog’. The judge said, “Oh, you mean a bitch”. The counsel said, “Yes, the same thing”. The judge said, even then, it was just a bitch. The counsel said, it was not just a bitch, it was a ‘foreign-bitch’. He added, “In fact, it was of my lord’s nationality.” Justice Falshaw put away the file and left the court-room.
Justice HR Khanna, the bench partner with CJ Falshaw, recounts in his autobiography ‘Neither Roses Nor Thorns’ how judges used to meet in the conference room. There was a big square table. Justice Falshaw occasionally would come out with some witty remark. The other judges would crack a joke or talk about other matters. One or two judges were real good conversationists.
I recall that during my sojourn at National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, Dr Justice S Muralidhar, (then a judge of Delhi High Court and now Chief Justice of Orissa High Court) used to come as a resource person in different programmes. We used to share different court happenings. He suggested that in the High Court Judges programme, we must have a close-door session where judges could share interesting anecdotes. They are the spice of a life in black robes.