Madras High court, second largest judicial complex in the world !!

Madras-high-court building, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. .
The Esplanade Road with the Madras High Court on the left. Circa 1905. Photo.
The Madras Presidency happened to be one of a few places in India that became an integral part of the British East India company in the 18th century. The company built its trade post at Ft. St.George. It was the British who developed Chennapatnam into a big commercial center to cope with their further expansion of trade activities.  It was here the dynamic Robert Clive, the man who first  laid the foundation of the British Empire, began his career as a clerk with the British company. Under the direct administration of the British Crown after 1857, Madras saw several rapid developments such as railways, administrative buildings, tram services in the city, colleges, etc.  So, just like Bombay and Calcutta (Kolkata),  Madras (Chennai)  has innumerable historical  British buildings that exhibit impressive European architecture. The  vast majestic  Madras High Court complex is one among them that stands as a great monument of the past British glory and legacy 

The Madras High Court  established on June 26, 1862 as one of the three High Courts of India;  others being Bombay and Calcutta. It came into being at Madras (now Chennai) Presidency town by letters Patent granted by Queen Victoria  under the authority of the British parliament's Indian High Courts Act 1861. The purpose of the High court here was to expedite the pending  civil and criminal cases after India came under the control of British Crown in 1859 from  East India British company which became corrupt, repressive and had to handle enormous lands in the Indian sub continent. Sepoy mutiny was yet another reason for the take over of the administration under the direct control of the English Government.

To day the Madras High court stands as a solid monument to the past glory of the British rulers and is an important land mark in this sprawling city. Considered as the second largest judicial complex in the world, it was designed by the well-known British architect Henry Irwin. This impressive edifice is a good example of  Indo-Saracenic style of architecture

The Madras High Court, Tamil Nadu
As per the letters patent the court had original   jurisdiction  over the city of Chennai (Mad wasras) and appellate jurisdiction over the entire state as well as extraordinary original jurisdiction both  civil and criminal, It began to function when one  Beilby, Baron Wenlock was the Governor of Madras  and the Chief Justice was Sir Arthur Collin. The Court was specially empowered to handle cases in accordance with justice, equity and good conscience.
There were 59 justices in charge of dispensation of cases and administration of justice. Initially  the Supreme Court of Madras functioned from 1862 to 1892 in a building opposite to Beach Railway station. The early judges of the high court included  judges Holloway, Innes and Morgan. For a long time only the British subjects were allowed to function as justices. It was one Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer was the first Indian to be appointed as a justice, later followed by  Justices V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and P. R. Sundaram Iyer.
As mentioned above the architect of this unique court building was Henry Irwin who was ably assisted by  J. H. Stephens. The building is characteristic of painted ceiling and colored stained  glass windows that enhance the beauty and majesty of this historical building. However, the old light house of the city located on the High court complex is poorly maintained and is losing its heritage value. The ruling government ought to do some thing to preserve such heritage building that takes us back to the colonial British era.

A part of the high court building was damaged during the sudden shelling of German war ship S.M.S. Emden  on the night of 22 September 1914 at the beginning of WWI. Under the able and  chivalrous German Commander Von Muller,  Emden shelled at Burmah Shell oil tanks near the shore and set them ablaze.Unfortunately, as the court building happened 
The Madras High Court
to be near by, some shells hit it. After half an hour lightning bombardmen S.M.S. Emden slipped into  darkness in the Bay of Bengal and disappeared from the sight.
The Madras Hight court has the unique distinction of having the largest number of courts in Asia.


Initially the Indian justices were not allowed to preside over cases involving British subjects and pronounce judgments and such cases were handled  by a bench comprising only of British Justices. This caused lots of resentment among  Indian justices. This trend continued for a bit of time.