October 4, 2022

Gandhi Murder Case-8: When Peterhoff Shimla became venue for Gandhi Murder Case

For better understanding, read this article-Gandhi Murder Case-7: What was Accused Admitted in the Trial

The lawmatics Series- Gandhi Murder Case- Part 8

After the decision of Trial judge, convicted persons filed an appeal against conviction. An appeal in a murder case is, according to High Court Rules and Orders, heard by a Division Bench consisting of two judges, but owing to the unique position which the deceased had occupied, the complexity and volume of the evidence which would have to be considered and appraised and the unprecedented interest aroused by the case, the Chief Justice decided to constitute a bench of three judges to hear the appeal by Godse and his accomplices.

The judges were Mr. Justice Bhandari, Mr. Justice Achhruram and myself. We decided that as a special measure we should resume the old practice of wearing wigs, and that on our entry into the court-room we should, as in the olden days, be preceded by our liveried ushers carrying silver-mounted staffs.

The Punjab High Court was, at that time, located at Simla, where it had been hurriedly set up during the autumn of 1947, because at no other place was suitable accommodation available. The Government of India had placed at our Disposal Peterhoff, a large manorial building which was formerly the summer residence of the Viceroy. It was a picturesque house standing in pleasant sur-roundings and commanding a view of the distant hills with their snow-covered peaks.

But it was scarcely suitable for a high court. The vice-regal bedrooms, stripped of their opulent furnishings and silver-plated fittings, gave an appearance of mock austerity, but even the largest of them was not commodious enough for a court-room in which, besides the judge and his reader, half a dozen lawyers and their clerks spent several hours a day; and often the parties to the case under consideration also came to see how their lawyers were handling their misfortunes and hopes and how the judge was reacting to the pleas put forward on their behalf.

There must be a table for the judge, another for his reader and stenographer, a separate table for the lawyers on which they can place their briefs and the law books they cite. And when a few book-shelves to hold law reports and other books of reference were placed along the walls, there was no room left for the public.

We had a constant feeling of being cramped, and there was nothing that we could do to improve matters. Chandigarh and the massive High Court building into which we moved in the beginning of 1955 was still no more than an idea. Fortunately, the non-litigant public of Simla was incurious about High Court proceedings, and we seldom had any visitors. But the hearing of the appeal in the Gandhi murder case was expected to arouse widespread interest and bring large numbers of lawyers, pressmen and spectators to court each day, and there was not a single court-room which could accommodate even the persons actually engaged in dealing with the appeal.

The ballroom on the ground floor was being used as a passage giving access to the court-rooms on the first floor. Constructed for vice-regal entertainment during the summer months when the seat of the Government of India used to move from Calcutta to Simla, the large hall was cold and draughty. However, with a few minor alterations and the additions of a dais at one end, it became an admirable court-room, and the generous teak wood staircase which came down to the specially constructed dais displayed a dignity worthy of the robed and bewigged judges who day after day for a period of six weeks marched down it, preceded by ushers resplendent in their scarlet and gold liveries and carrying tall silver-mounted staffs- symbols of the triple embodiment of law.

Such splendour and glory had not been witnessed in the refugee High Court since it had been forced to abandon its old seat in Lahore. The staffs had been put away in a store-room because the narrow corridors between the bedrooms allowed no play for processional ritual, and even the wigs had ceased to be worn because many of the advocates had left them behind in Lahore in their stampede to safety; and at Simla they had made a formal request that the dress regulation be relaxed in this respect. Their re-appearance on the opening day of the appeal was, therefore, all the more impressive.

Reference

As mentioned in the book ‘The Murder of Mahatma’ by G.D.Khosla (Formerly Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard the appeal of Nathuram Godse & others and gave his most historic verdict in the case of assassination), First Published: 1965