For the past 40 years, the corridors of the District Court Complex in Madurai have served as office space for lawyers.
A recent notice from the Principal District Judge asking the lawyers to vacate the corridors of the court complex ignited protests. On January 28, lawyers boycotted court proceedings. “There are more than 4,000 lawyers registered under Madurai Bar Association. The lawyers’ chamber building has only 99 rooms. Unless additional chambers are constructed, we have nowhere to relocate our offices,” says A. Neduncheziyan, vice-president of Madurai Bar Association.
Every room in the chamber is shared by at least four advocates, if not more. “The chamber building with 99 rooms accommodates around 600 lawyers. Those enrolling later have no option but to set up offices in the corridors,” Mr. Neduncheziyan added.
The inadequate work space is the foremost reason for 3,500-odd lawyers to invade the corridors of the court complex. “I don’t have an office in the chamber building. I have my office in South Masi Street. It is not possible for me to go to my office in South Masi Street every time I have a case to discuss with the client or prepare a petition,” rues R.K. Arunjunai, a lawyer with his office in the corridor. “But, we have to be cautious when we hold meetings with clients in the corridors because there is a possibility for the other lawyers and their clerks to overhear whatever we discuss,” Mr. Arunjunai added.
Senior lawyers and their clerks point out that this has been their plight since the district court complex was inaugurated in 1971. “When the court complex was established, it did not have a chamber building for the lawyers and, therefore, we set up offices in the corridors. It was easy for us to meet our clients here. In the year 2000, when the chamber building was inaugurated, it was woefully short of space. The inadequate number of rooms available in the chamber building compelled us to carry on in the corridors. We now find this arrangement more comfortable and convenient,” says M. Ramanathan, a senior clerk.
“Initially, the corridors behind the Judicial Magistrate Courts alone were occupied by the lawyers and their clerks. Now with the number of lawyers increasing, the corridors near the western entrance have also been occupied,” points out C. Rajamohan, a lawyer, who is lucky to have an office in the chamber and one in the corridor as well.
“My senior advocate transferred his chamber to me. However, I cannot rush to my chamber each time I want to prepare a petition,” Mr. Rajamohan explained, justifying his dual holding.
During court hours, at least one junior advocate or a clerk stays put in the ‘corridor office.’ There is generally bustling activity in the forenoon when clerks are busy preparing petitions.
By lunch hour, the corridor turns into a fun place and by late afternoon it looks like a mini café with lawyers and their clerks sipping hot cups of tea or coffee and munching ‘vadais’ supplied by the mobile vendors.
To an outsider, the cluster of tables, chairs and wooden chests occupying the corridors, overflowing with advocates and clerks presents a picture of chaos. But every nook and corner of the corridor has some value attached to it.
“The court complex itself has become overcrowded in recent times, with Fast Track Courts adding to the congestion,” says M.N. Radhakrishnan, a senior advocate and one of the few advocates who enjoy the privilege of having a corner office.
There is only a small hall for the clerks. Mr. Radhakrishnan says a hall big enough to accommodate 500 clerks needs to be constructed on a priority basis. “If the clerks are relocated, the corridors would be de-cluttered to some extent,” he says.
The extension of the offices to the corridors near the western entrance is said to be the reason for the Principal District Judge to issue the notice, asking the lawyers to vacate the corridors. “During his recent visit to the court for a function, Justice K.N. Basha promised to initiate efforts to construct a new chamber building for the lawyers. But till that happens, we have no option but to continue working out of the corridors”, says Mr. Neduncheziyan.
Running offices in the corridors is no easy task for the lawyers, though they claim it is convenient.
There is no fear of theft, claim some lawyers. However, there is evidence to the contrary.
Almost all the tables and chairs seen near the western entrance of the district court complex are shackled to the gates, pillars and the grills of the staircase.