The Law, the Visual and Access to Justice in the Colonial Courts of India
Rahela Khorakiwala's chapter from the book, 'Invisible Institutionalisms: Collective Reflections on the Shadows of Legal Globalisation'
In the new book, Invisible Institutionalisms: Collective Reflections on the Shadows of Legal Globalisation, Rahela Khorakiwala’s chapter, ‘The Law, the Visual and Access to Justice in the Colonial Courts of India‘ talks about the judicial system that the Republic of India adopted at the time of formulating the Constitution of India, which relied heavily on a continuation from the common law system as had been imposed by the British. As Mithi Mukherjee argues, independence did not mark a break for India from its colonial past, and instead, India and its polity continued to evolve in the shadows of the empire. Therefore, the courts that were set-up by the British, merged into the Indian legal system with the promulgation of the Constitution.
While they are now governed by the rules of the Constitution and subject to judgments of the Supreme Court, these colonial courts continue to practice certain internal traditions and customs that are inherently colonial in nature. Looking at the first three such courts created by the British – the high courts in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras – affords several examples of the continuous tension between a colonial past and postcolonial present. Detailing these courts through their judicial iconography, that is, looking at the courts in terms of how images of law and justice are perceived in these spaces, opens up the institution of the judicial system to the idea that one does not need to reinvent the existing colonialism, but instead observe it as its own individual iteration. Courts in the global north, most without the colonial experience, have been explored in this context, but the Indian subcontinent is yet to be investigated in terms of how the judicial iconography impacts the relationship of these courts with its people.