Some little-known facts about Patna High Court

Some little-known facts about Patna High Court

Nearly 100 years back, when the then Viceroy Lord Charles Baron Hardinge laid the foundation of the Patna High Court building on December 1, 1913, he had predicted that “this court will make history in the days to come.”

His assertion came true when the first constitutional amendment was carried out on June 18, 1951 after the Patna High Court declared the Land Reforms Act 1950 as unconstitutional.

In Independent India, the Land Reforms Act came into force on May 9, 1950 after India’s first President Rajendra Prasad gave his assent. But Maharaja Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga challenged it in the Patna HC  and it declared the act unconstitutional.

It’s not only the first constitutional amendment which is related to this high court. It was perhaps for the first and last time in the history of Independent India that an Advocate General (AG) was appointed directly as the chief justice of any high court.
 Senior lawyer Laxmi Kant Jha, who was appointed as the AG of Bihar on April 4, 1948, was directly appointed the chief justice of Patna High Court on April 8, 1950. Jha continued as the CJ till June 1, 1952.

Actually, Patna High Court came into existence soon after the bifurcation of Bihar and Odisha (then Orissa) from Bengal in 1912. In less than three years after the foundation stone was laid, Lord Hardinge, accompanied by the then Bihar Lieutenant Governor Sir Edward Gait, inaugurated the building. 

Designed by the renowned architect Munnings and assisted by AM Millwood, the huge structure in neo-classical style is based on the Palladian concept of a country house. It creates a grand impression with its huge proportions and fine detailing.
Laid out in a U-shape, it follows symmetry in form while the centre is emphasised by the elevational treatment. It has a pedimented portico carried on tall Doric columns behind which rise the high dome over the central hall of the structure. It has an arcaded colonnaded verandah all around.

“Patna High Court building was planned exactly, though on a small scale, on the pattern of building of the Allahabad High Court,” reminisces retired engineer of Building Construction Department UN Choudhary. “Martin Burn of Kolkata (then Calcutta) was its builder,” he hastens to add. 

Its first chief justice Sir Edward Chamier was a strong advocate of separation of powers. He wanted to keep judiciary separate from the executive, which, in British era, was headed by the Viceroy.

So when the functioning of the court began in March 1916,  Sir Edward Chamier refused to invite the then Bihar Lieutenant Governor Sir Edward Gait.

“Justice Chamier did not involve anyone other than the six officiating judges in the opening ceremony of the high court. He was a fierce champion of the autonomy of the judiciary,” says Justice (retd) SK Katriar, author of the book “Patna High Court – A centenary of glory”.

Senior lawyer Rakesh Prabhat said that with the constitution of the high court, Rajendra Prasad, who went on to become India’s first President, on February 25, 1916 applied to this high court for permission to practice law. “In those days, no one was allowed to practice law without the permission of the chief justice or the registrar,” said Rakesh. Even the first president of the Constituent Assembly Sachchidanand Sinha was a practitioner of law at this court. 

Though Sir Edward Chamier (1916-17) was the first chief justice of Patna High Court, it was actually Sir Fazi Ali who was the first Indian to be sworn in as the CJ. Justice Ali served as the chief justice from 1943 to 1946. He was elevated as the Supreme Court judge (1950-51) before being appointed as Governor of Orissa and later Assam.

“Initially, Patna High Court had jurisdiction over three States – Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand. However, on July 26, 1948, a separate High Court for Orissa was set up, while Jharkhand HC came into existence following Bihar’s bifurcation in November 2000,” said  Rakesh.

In later years, Justice Rekha M Doshit became the first woman to become Chief Justice of the Patna High Court. “Although Justice Indu Prabha Singh was the first woman judge of the high court, it was actually Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, the second woman judge in HC, who was elevated to the Supreme Court,” the lawyer added.

No wonder, while inaugurating the year-long centenary celebrations here in the state capital, President Pranab Mukherjee dwelt at length about its glorious past and reminded the audience how the HC had given India three chief justices.

Justice BP Sinha was the first judge of this court to be appointed the Chief Justice of India (retd in 1964). Later Justice Lalit Mohan Sharma (1987) and Justice RM Lodha served as the CJI in 2014.

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