India

In pictures: Inside an Indian high court

The high court in the Indian city of Patna is one of the oldest in India.

High courts in India deal with civil and criminal cases from states or union territories (federally-administered regions).

Patna High Court is one of 24 such courts in India, and is celebrating its centenary next year.

The wheels of justice grind slowly in India - more than 30 million cases are pending in all its courts and more than a quarter of them have been unresolved for at least five years.

The Patna High Court in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, also deals with thousands of cases every year. Photographer Prashant Panjiar got rare access to chronicle the workings of a court in India.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

The Patna High Court opened its door to litigants in March 1916. "On that day," according to the India Legal journal, "the judges were robed in red gowns, wigs, black breeches, silk stockings". Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India, said he hoped that the court "shall earn a name for sound sense and good law".

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

Typists work on court documents in a shed outside the main building. Some of India's last remaining typists can be still found in courts.

Image copyright Prashant Panjiar

A petitioner talks to a lawyer in the court. India has an acute shortage of judges as vacancies are not filled: high courts have more than 30% fewer judges than they should. This slows down justice.

Image copyright Prashant Panjiar

A clerk in traditional attire. Courts in India are often a throwback to the colonial era: many laws, rules and uniform date back to the British Raj.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

The tradition of wearing black and white continues. Here, lawyers go through papers in the Patna court's barrister's library.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

The court's library for the judges is stacked with books and periodicals. A former judge says that the Patna court was "definitely one of the greatest high courts of our time. It produced erudite judges and advocates".

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

A court official sits amid a mountain of files. Fast track courts have been set up to clear the backlog of cases, and have helped dispose of more than three million cases in India since 2001. But there continues to be a large backlog in the high courts, slowing down the delivery of justice.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

Original judgements and orders of the court are stored in the main records room. Interestingly, the Patna High Court was one of the first in India to computerise the listing of cases and to carry out trials by video conferencing.

Image copyright Prashant Panjiar

A lawyer catches a nap in the lawyers' room in between court proceedings.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

Outside, petitioners sit under a tree, waiting for their cases to come up.

Image copyright Prashant panjiar

Photographer Prashant Panjiar says he came away with "a feeling of respect for the judiciary as I saw an attitude and discipline that I did not expect to see in a court".

Related Topics