Conditions at the Delhi High Court

The first time that I had occasion to visit the Delhi High Court was back in 2004 or 2005. I had learnt about the power of the law not too long ago, and I had decided to file a writ petition to resolve an issue of international importance. I used to think that the phrase 'writ petition' means the same thing as a petition. I was surprised to learn that writ petitions are a separate class of suits, and that they are filed directly in the high courts without having to go through lower tiers of courts. I engaged a senior lawyer, an advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court.

One thing about a writ petition is that you can file it but you cannot be sure of getting a hearing until they admit your petition. The lawyer's office called me a couple of days before the hearing for admission of the petition. The lawyer in-charge of my case had a discussion with me and then told me to take a slip from the peon on which there was the firm's stamp, and the signature of one of the firm's officers. I had to fill out this slip in order to be able to enter the premises of the high court.

I reached the Delhi High Court on the day of the hearing and found a parking spot in the lawyers' parking opposite the court. I crossed the road and stood in a queue to get an admission slip in exchange for the slip which I had received from the lawyer's office. I got the admission slip and entered the court complex. There was a queue of people at the entrance of the court building, and people were handing over their mobile phones to a man who was pasting stickers with numbers to the backs of the phones and putting them in a rack. I gave my mobile phone to him and entered the building.

For people who do not know anything about courts at all, Delhi High Court –just like most other courts– is not one court, but it is a collection of many courtrooms. There are a number of judges and each judge is given one courtroom for his whole tenure in the court, unless he gets promoted to Chief Justice, in which case he gets the biggest courtroom in the building. Sometimes there is a bench of judges which hears a petition, which might consist of two to nine judges. There is something called a full court, which includes all the judges in the court, but this is not a bench. A full bench is any bench which consists of three or more judges. All the judges in a bench go and sit in the court of the seniormost judge in the bench on the days of hearings. Perhaps the reason for a high number of vacancies for judges in our high courts is that there are not enough courtrooms for them.

The lawyer in-charge of my case had told me that Gita Mittal would be the judge for my case, and had told me the court number where she would be sitting. I found out that this court was on the first floor and I went to the lobby on that floor and waited. The senior lawyer came and I greeted him. He was busy with other senior lawyers so I thought it better not to disturb him with my chit-chat. When the judge came to the court we entered the court. Later on I came to learn that we can enter the courtroom even before the judge comes to her chair, but everybody should stand up when the judge comes, and should sit down quietly when she sits down.

But this does not happen in reality. All the people in the seats for the lawyers and the public keep talking endlessly amongst each other. There is also a massive racket due to the two to five hundred people who are chatting in the lobby on each floor. The courtroom has a single door, and people keep coming in and going out all the time. The racket from the lobby disturbs all the people who are sitting in the back of the courtroom, and they cannot hear what the judge and the lawyer are saying. In smaller courtrooms there are only two or three rows of chairs, and your lawyer stands very near the door when he argues the case, and the noise from the lobby must be disturbing him while he is trying to listen to the judge who is seated far away without a microphone.

The judge also speaks in a very soft voice when he announces his order or decision, and it is difficult to hear him at the back. The judge speaks softly because he thinks that he is basically dictating the decision to the typist, who is not far from him.

But the voice of justice should be loud in my opinion, or in my humble opinion as the lawyers in this –and other courts in our country like to say (more about the humbleness of lawyers further on in this article).

The courtroom is full of papers and wood and computers with battery powered backup, and is a potential firetrap. The only door for the public swings inward, which is a ridiculous thing in a public room with only one door, and can be dangerous in the event of a fire.

Interestingly, I had occasion to visit Delhi High Court again in 2012-13, and was amazed to see that the same problems existed in the new court block which had been erected to accommodate the growing number of litigants.

There was also the small matter of the booths for visitor's passes being located right on the road, where anybody could place a bomb. This did happen, as everyone knows. (I do not remember whether I noticed this back in 2005 or not, but I did notice in those days that the first frisking cum security check for a person flying out of Indira Gandhi Airport took place after the person was already more than a quarter of a kilometre inside the building.)

I cannot help noticing these things because of my training as an architect, and am wondering at the genius who designed this building. He managed to win the commission for designing this building, which is any day a tougher job than designing a building in our country, but he failed to design a functional building. (Although I am impressed by the exterior massing and treatment of the main building of this court, which is architecturally much more satisfying for me any day than the Supreme Court building. This is inter alia because the visual memory that remains in my mind after having visited this building a few times is one which proclaims the equality –at an exalted level– of all petitioners before law, while the SC building which remains in my mind reminds of the power of the court itself, or of judges who work there. This building speaks to me of justice, the SC building speaks of the law.)

Also I am thinking that there are probably at least 500 geniuses in this court on any given day, and they have not been able to solve such a simple problem. A simple vestibule cum double door at the entrance to every courtroom would solve the noise problem. Covering the walls of the lobby with sound absorbent material like cork sheets or other similar perforated materials would reduce the problem even further. In fact, if I remember correctly, the walls of some of the individual courtrooms have acoustic material on them, which deadens the already soft voice of the judge, and of the lawyers too. Further, it adds to the fire risk if it is not at least partially composed of gypsum.

The judge sits on a large chair with a high back and an Ashok Chakra at the peaked centre of this back. She is situated behind a large wooden platform cum fitted table which can commonly be seen in movies, and does not need to be described here. What you don't always see in the movies is that there are a number of court employees like typists and clerks who sit in a space in front of the judge which is blocked off from the space where the public and the lawyers sit. One or two employees sit to the side of the judge also. The space occupied by the judge and court employees amounts to more than half the area of the courtroom in some courtrooms. In larger courtrooms also it takes up a significant portion of the total area.

The lawyers stand in front of the barrier at the edge of the space for the employees, and ahead of the first row of the public seating. There is a narrow table with two small tables on top of it. The lawyer for the government stands in front of the small table on the left side of the narrow table, and puts his files on this small table and to its side. The petitioner's lawyer stands on the right side of the narrow table –in front of the other small table. There can be a number of respondents, and each respondent can send one or more lawyers to the court. The petitioners can also be many, and each of them can send one or more lawyers. So there can be a number of lawyers in the court for just one case. Whichever lawyer wishes to speak must step in front of the small table while his comrades listen and observe while waiting to interject at an opportune time.

The lawyers start their arguments and I can see that some of them are well-known persons. They address the judge (even lady judges) as 'lordship', which is demeaning to the lawyers and the petitioners in addition to being incorrect. And they don't just call her 'lordship' once, and leave it at that. They go on at it continuously, and the words that are ringing in my ear as I leave the court are 'lordship lordship lordship lordship lordship'. I had occasion to visit the courtrooms of Vikramajit Sen, Anil Kumar, and P.K. Bhasin at the high court, in addition to Gita Mittal, and it was the same story in all the courtrooms. Pathetic. Some lawyers use 'me lord' or 'milord' instead of lordship. This particular word has sarcastic connotations, but I am not sure that all the users of this form of address know this fact. Gita Mittal did not force an old lady who was arguing her own case to address her as lordship. There is or used to be one judge in Delhi High Court who used to request lawyers not to address him as 'lordship', and you could see this request on his cause list every day on the net.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I got notice bail from Delhi High Court in my 498a case. The public prosecutor did not even oppose our application. Probably he got dazzled by the professor and doctor titles in the joint application. I have reason to doubt that the judge even bothered to read our application carefully or maybe even at all. The morons were calling the enquiry officer on the phone (this was in 2012-13, and by this time there was no need to deposit mobile phones at a counter) when we were walking out, and telling her that they are on their way to the court.

You may also wish to read CAW Cell process after 498a Complaint by Wife and/or Conditions at the Women's Police Station

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Published by Manish Udar

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Last updated on 06th April 2014
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