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Quest for High Court Bench in U.T. of Puducherry - Challenges and Outlook

Law Centrum

16 May 2022

High court bench in Puducherry if becomes reality, the right to access to justice and legal empowerment of people of U.T. of Puducherry will be strengthened.


The High Court is the highest court in a state's judicial administration. In India, there are 24 High Courts, three of which have authority over multiple states. Only Delhi has its own High Court among the Union Territories. Different State High Courts have authority over the remaining six Union Territories. All Courts within a High Court's jurisdiction are subject to its jurisdiction. High courts can formulate and issue general guidelines and prescribe rules to control their practice and procedures, as well as determine the manner and form in which book entries and accounts must be kept [1].

Union Territory of Puducherry comes under the jurisdiction of Madras High Court i.e. the High Court of Madras exercises full administrative control over the entire subordinate judiciary in the Union Territory of Puducherry. Expenditure of officers and staff attending to Puducherry matters in the High Court is initially incurred by the Government of Tamil Nadu, and is reimbursed subsequently by the Government of Puducherry [2].

Administration of Judiciary: French Establishment to Union Territory of Pondicherry

The Union Territory of Pondicherry was a French colony until de facto cession in 1954. Following a referendum in Kizhur on November 1, 1954, the French colonies of Pondicherry (Puducherry), Karaikal, Mahe, and Yanam were ceded to the Indian Government. With the transfer of administrative powers in the French establishments by Government of France to Union of India, the Union Government extended numerous central enactments to Pondicherry by various legal procedures. In 1954, nearly 44 central enactment extended to Pondicherry by French Establishments (Application of Laws) Order, 1954 issued under the provision of the foreign jurisdiction Act, 1947.

With the adoption of the Constitution (Fourteenth Amendment) act 1962 (under entry 9, first schedule, Part II), the establishment was turned into Union Territory of Pondicherry and this is termed as de jure cession. Thus, in order to extend the application of central enactments, the Pondicherry (Laws) Regulation, 1963 provision was adopted. This brought into operation in Pondicherry, 160 central enactments by 1 October 1963 including the Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 [3]. The courts in Pondicherry were reconstituted after the de jure cession though it need not perhaps be mentioned that the extension of the enactments necessitated a reorganization the machinery established for the administration of criminal justice in territory. With the introduction of the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure into Pondicherry it became necessary to reconstitute the criminal courts in the territory. Consequently, a court of session and a few magistrates’ courts were set up. The union territory was brought under one session division and the former Superior Tribunal of Appeal was constituted as a court of session and the President of the tribunal was appointed as principal sessions judge, the two judges as sessions judges and the Procureur de la Republique, as public prosecutor. The President of the tribunal was also designated as the head of the judicial department [4].

Under sections 9 and 10 of Pondicherry (administration) Act, 1962 the Madras High Court has acquired all jurisdiction exercisable in the former French settlements by cour de cassation, conseil de etat and the cour superieur d’Arbitrage (Superior court of arbitration) [5].

The adoption of the Civil Courts Act, 1966, by the legislative assembly again brought about substantial changes in the judicial organization of the territory. Reconstitution of the civil judicial system took place with the adoption the act on 5 September 1968. Superior Tribunal of Appeal, the Tribunal of First Instance and the Courts of Justice of peace no longer exists. District Court, subordinate Judges Court, munsif court came into force.

The name of Union territory of Pondicherry has been changed to Puducherry vide the Pondicherry (Alteration of name) Act, 2006 on 13 September 2006 [6].

Establishing a High Court Bench for U.T. of Puducherry: Prospects and Concerns

Article 241 of Indian Constitution empowers the parliament to constitute a High Court for Union Territory or designate any existing court of the territory as High Court. The provision further empowers the parliament to extend or exclude the jurisdiction of a High Court for a State or to any Union Territory. In accordance to the provision, jurisdiction of Madras High Court was extended to Union Territory of Puducherry.

In general, High Court benches, at a place other than its Principal seat are established in accordance with the Jaswant Singh Commission's recommendations and the Apex Court's judgement in W.P. (C) No. 379 of 2000, after due consideration of a complete proposal from the State Government, which is responsible for providing infrastructure and meeting expenditure, as well as the consent of the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court, who is responsible for day-to-day administration [7]. The proposal must also receive the approval of the Governor of the concerned state [8].

Madurai Bench of High Court

Realizing the decentralization of judicial administration, the proposal was made by Tamil Nadu to establish Bench of High Court Madras outside the place of principal seat. The proposal was exhaustively examined by the Justice Jaswant Singh committee and accepted the proposal with its recommendations on 30.04.1985. Madras High Court also convinced with bringing higher judiciary to the door steps of litigants in Southern districts. With the Presidential Order “The Madras High Court (Establishment of Permanent Bench at Madurai) Order 2004” the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court became reality [9].

Discussion on establishing High court Bench in Puducherry

In April, 2017 a delegation of All India Bar Association met Pondicherry Chief Minister with a proposal and requested the Chief Minister to pass a unanimous resolution in the territorial assembly seeking a High Court at Puducherry [10]. The delegation cited following reasons for the establishment of High court in Puducherry - in 2014, the Union territory of Puducherry's lower courts disposed of 33,899 cases, 32,479 cases in 2015, and 28,631 cases in 2016. In 2016, the High Courts of Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Sikkim combined disposed of only 9031 cases. In 2016, the lower courts of the Union Territory of Puducherry disposed of nearly three times the number of cases disposed of by the aforementioned High Courts, however, only a few cases were appealed from the lower courts of the Union territory of Puducherry. This gap in numbers was ascribed to the additional work required to file an appeal in a different state, which resulted in a large rise in the litigants' legal expenses [11]. In view of the foregoing data, the AIBA delegation emphasised that access to justice is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Following the proposal the legislative assembly of the Union territory of Puducherry passed a Resolution in April 2017 for the formation of a High Court in the Union Territory of Puducherry after accepting the AIBA's recommendations. In July 2017, the Madras High Court was apprised of the situation.

Former Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, addressing at a State-level conference on legal services and motor accident mediation cells in August 2019, urged for the establishment of a Madras High Court Bench in Puducherry, similar to the Madurai High Court Bench [12]. On November 2021, the government of Puducherry has requested the Centre to create a High Court bench in the Union territory. K Lakshminarayanan, the Law Minister of Puducherry, has submitted a memorandum and appealed to Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju in New Delhi, requesting the establishment of a Madras High Court bench in Puducherry. The minister urged for a bench of the High Court in the Union Territory based on the ground that, almost 4000 cases outstanding before the High Court (2728 cases in 2020), including 2242 civil cases, 294 criminal cases, and 1992 service cases. Thus, creating a High Court in Puducherry has become necessary, according to the Law minister of Pucucherry. It's hard to even file an appeal in the Madras High Court.

Another significant contention in favour of having a High Court Bench in Puducherry is that, “According to Article 229 of the Constitution, the administrative expenses of a High Court should be met from the Consolidated Fund of the State where the High Court is situated. When a common High Court is established for a State and a Union territory, the administrative expenses must be paid from the Consolidated Fund of the State where the High Court's principal Bench is located, says Article 231 of the Constitution. The Union territory of Puducherry, on the other hand, bears a significant amount of the High Court of Madras' administrative costs. This is a violation of the Constitution's Article 231 clause” [13].

Law Commission Report 1956

In 1956, the Law Commission issued a detailed report on the issue of the High Court being divided up and made to sit in benches at many locations due to re-organisation of states. "In order to maintain the highest standards of justice administration and to preserve the character and quality of the work done by the High Courts, it is vital that the High Court function as a whole and only at one location in the State," the commission stated emphatically. The High Court, as the state's highest court of appeal, should have the best legal expertise and the best-equipped law library. The successful functioning of the court requires a well-stocked and well-equipped library. Only the High Courts have such libraries. The absence of this vital and essential convenience in other places where the Bench sits will be a significant handicap for both the lawyer and the Judge.

The report further revealed that, it will be impossible for the Chief Justice to maintain adequate administrative supervision over the Benches if the High Court operates in benches. When certain judges sit in locations remote from the High Court's main seat, the cohesion and unity of purpose that should exist among all of the justices of the High Court will inevitably be absent.

The notion that "justice should be brought to the litigant's door and the litigant should not be made to travel considerable distances to the High Court" was ruled out in the report. The study underlined that the presence of the litigant is not truly necessary at the hearing of the appeal, despite the major disadvantages of the High Court functioning as a whole and only at one site. The report reiterated that the litigants  presence does not obligate him to offer testimony or assist the court in any manner. The appeal is decided based on the evidence presented to the court, which was already prepared by the court of first instance. Thus, the report concluded that the creation of multiple High Court benches will not help the litigant in any manner [14].


According to 1956 report by the Law Commission, the best-equipped law library and legal expertise are the two most important factors that determines excellent standards of justice administration. Other contention of the commission against setting up of high court benches is that the difficulty faced by Chief Justice to maintain adequate administrative supervision over the Benches if the High Court operates in benches and when judges sit in remote locations the unity of purpose among the justices will be absent.

To conclude, it is undeniable that technology has ushered in a slew of developments. Libraries nowadays are equipped with technology that allows for the speedy retrieval of decisions and orders are stored in database. This improves efficiency while also assisting in the management of space and manpower constraints. In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the trend of digitalization in the judiciary has intensified, with many courts adopting online hearing capabilities and migrating to online forms. Around the world, digital platforms are continuing to revolutionize legal systems. Technology has also facilitated the forum for discussion at global context, hence judges sitting in remote locations would not defeat the perspective of the common goal. Contrary to the law commission report, that the attendance of litigants in the appeal is not essential, it is opined here that the litigant's proximity to the advocates is critical in order to keep up with the day-to-day progress of the case. This is because miscommunication and non-communication of case details by the advocate is a common occurrence and major concern among litigants of Puducherry who chose for appeal.

To sum up, Madurai High court bench, established in 2004 has been successful in rendering justice at litigant’s doorstep. Similarly, High court bench in Puducherry if becomes reality, then the right to access to justice and legal empowerment of people of U.T. of Puducherry will be strengthened.

References [1] Supreme Court of India, “Jurisdiction of Supreme Court”, [2] Government of Tamil Nadu (2021): Administration of Justice – Policy Note 2021-2022, Home Prohibition and Excise Department. [3] S. Maharajan (1973): Administration of Franco-Indian Laws – Some Glimpses, Journal of Indian Law Institute, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 122-137 [4] Joseph Minattur (1978): Administration of Justice in Pondicherry, Journal of Indian Law Institute, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 145-185 [5] Subhash C. Jain (1970): French Legal System in Pondicherry: An Introduction, Journal of Indian Law Institute, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 573-608. [6] Section 3, The Pondicherry (Alteration of Name) Act, 2006, ACT NO. 44 OF 2006, [13th September, 2006.] [7] Ministry of Law and Justice, Desk Side, Department of Justice, [8] 2020 Lok Sabha Replies, Budget Session – Third Session of 17th Lok Sabha [31st January, 2020 to 3rd April, 2020]. [9] Registrar General, Madras High Court Annual Report 2010-2011, Gnanodaya Press: Chennai [10] Nirmalkumar Mohandoss, “The Struggle in Getting a High Court Established At Puducherry, Live, 16 April 2017. [11] Akash Krishnan, Debate Surrounding the establishment of a High Court at Puducherry, I Pleaders, November 13, 2021, [12] Nirmalkumar Mohandass, “Set up a High Court for Puducherry”, The Hindu, July 23, 2020. [13] Supra Note 11 [14] Law Commission of India (1954): Fourth report on the Proposal that High Courts should sit in Benches at different places in a State.

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