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A royal mess

india Updated: Jan 02, 2007 00:47 IST

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Patiala House Courts has been in the news a lot recently. From Bharti Yadav’s dramatic entry to depose ‘in-camera’ to Vikas Yadav’s fisticuff with camerapersons and Pappu Yadav’s bail application, this erstwhile palace of the colourful Maharaja of Patiala is seeing much action.

Of course, the Maharaja is probably turning in his grave at the condition of the palace today. The pan-stained majestic staircase has obviously seen better days. The huge corridors are now divided into ugly plywood cubicles. The lawns have been taken over by the lawyer’s chambers. And an open space inside the building houses a Sulabh shauchalaya — the only place in India where I have seen a unisex toilet. You pay a rupee to relieve yourself on the hallowed walls, a rather dismal reminder of the extravagant, feudal lifestyle of the princes.

But the physical infrastructure here is the least of the problems for the poor litigant. The experience of going to the court is not one easily forgotten. Parking is practically impossible after 9.30 am The only way out is to depend on the parking attendant, who could easily compete with the best of the Formula One racers.

The next challenge is to find the lawyer’s chamber. This is a test of one’s geographical skills. The chamber is usually a cubby hole (i.e. if your lawyer is good enough to afford a chamber; most lawyers just sit in the verandah), where it is hard to find space to stand and explain the complexities of the case to your counsel. Soon you realise that the lawyer has very little time to listen to you.

Those of us who have grown up watching courtroom dramas in Hindi movies will be sorely disappointed with the real thing. The courtroom is chaotic. It resembles a crowded office with very few chairs, all reserved for lawyers. So the litigants and hangers-on just stand and wait their turn. The number of cases that a judge has to deal with in a day is huge and hence the amount of time spent on a particular case is minuscule. In the space of a few precious minutes, the counsels have to make themselves heard over the din.

British judges during the colonial era used to express exasperation over the ease with which witnesses would lie. In fact, there was a term for such witnesses-for-hire. They were called tamarind witnesses — presumably they used to hang around a tamarind tree outside the court, waiting for the customers.

Patiala House Courts today does not have a tamarind tree. But apart from this, there does not seem to be much change.

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