Coordinates: 13°05′16″N 80°17′17″E / 13.08778°N 80.28812°E / 13.08778; 80.28812

The Madras High Court (Tamil: சென்னை உயர்நீதிமன்றம்) is a senior court located at Chennai (Madras), in India. The court buildings, which are believed to be the second largest judicial complex in the world, are located near the beach, in one of the city's major business districts.

The jurisdiction of the Madras High Court covers Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.


British India's three presidency towns of Madras, Bombay (Mumbai), and Calcutta (Kolkata) were each granted a High Court by letters patent dated 26 June 1862. The letters patent were issued by Queen Victoria under the authority of the British parliament's Indian High Courts Act 1861. The three courts remain unique in modern India, having been established under British royal charter; this is in contrast with the country's other high courts, which have been directly established under Indian legislation. However, the Constitution of India recognises the status of the older courts.

The Madras High Court was formed by merging together the Supreme Court of Judicature at Madras, and the Sudder Dewanny Adawlut. The Court was required to decide cases in accordance with "justice, equity and good conscience. The earliest judges of the High Court included Judges Holloway, Innes and Morgan. The first Indian to sit as a judge of the High Court was Justice T. Muthuswamy Iyer. Other early Indian judges included Justices V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and P. R. Sundaram Iyer.

The Madras High Court was a pioneer in Original Side jurisdiction reform in favour of Indian practitioners as early as the 1870s.

The Madras High Court's history means that the decisions of the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are still binding on it, provided that the ratio of a case has not been over-ruled by the Supreme Court of India.

Although the name of the city was changed from Madras to Chennai in 1996, the Court as an institution did not follow suit, and has remained as the Madras High Court.

Building complex

The building of the High Court, an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, was built in 1892, under the guidance of the famed architect Henry Irwin. The High Court building was damaged in the shelling of Madras by S.M.S. Emden on 22 September 1914, at the beginning of the First World War. It remains one of the very few Indian buildings to have been damaged by a German attack.

There are several matters of architectural interest in the High Court. The painted ceilings and the stained glass doors are masterpieces in themselves. The old lighthouse of the city is housed within the High Court campus, but is unfortunately poorly maintained and is in disrepair.


With Chief Justice M. Y. Iqbal heading the court, it currently has 49 judges who exercise civil, criminal, writ, testamentary and admiralty jurisdiction. The Madurai Bench has been functioning since 2004.

The vestiges of the colonial High Court continue to characterize the premises till date. In a rare tradition which is today a distinction, Judges of the Madras High Court are still led by orderlies who bear a ceremonial mace made of silver. This is a practice so old and Anglican that most High Courts and even the Supreme Court of India have either not had the practice at all or have abandoned it long back.

Reporting - Madras Law Journal (since 1891)

The Madras High Court is the birthplace of organised legal reporting in India. It is home to the Madras Law Journal., which was the first journal dedicated to reporting texts of judgments of the High Court started way back in 1891.

An informal eponymous club called The Saturday Club, that met at 11 a. m. every week, was started at the house of the Vakil Bar's senior member Sir S. Subramania Iyer in Mylapore in 1888 with all leading members of the Madras Bar taking part. At one of these meetings it was decided to start 'The Madras Law Journal', which was inspired by the then newly established periodicals like 'Law Quarterly Review', started by Sir Frederick Pollock in England in 1885 and 'The Harvard Law Review' established by Harvard Law School Association in 1887.

The objectives of the journal were laid out in the preface of the first issue: "In addition to giving our own reports of the decisions of the High Courts in Madras and other places, we hope to place before our readers translations of various Hindu Law Books which remain yet untranslated, insofar as they have bearing on questions which practically arise for decision every day in our Courts of Justice. We propose further from time to time, to place side by side the conflicting decisions of the various Courts in India on the same point in the hope that such procedure will enable the Courts to act in greater harmony than they do at present in the interpretation of Acts and enunciation of general principles of law and when this is not possible, to enable the Legislature to bring about such harmony by removing the ambiguities which may have given rise to such discordant views."

Right from the beginning, The Madras Law Journal has been a source of inspiration and instruction to the students of law and its notes and editorial reviews always evoked admiration and respect. It achieved well-deserved fame throughout India, in England and America and indeed throughout the British Empire for its quickness and accuracy in reporting and discrimination in the selection of cases to be reported. It has now came to occupy a premier place among legal periodicals in the country and its weight and authority have been consistently considerable with the Bench and the Bar in all parts of India.

Former Chief Justices
Supreme Court
  • Sir Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange (1801–1816)
  • Sir John Henry Newbolt (1816–1820)
  • Sir Edmond Stanley (1820–1825)
  • Sir Ralph Palmer (1825–1835)
  • Sir Robert Buckley Comyn (1835–1842)
  • Sir Edward John Gambier (1842–1850)
  • Sir Christopher Rawlinson (1850–1859)
  • Sir Henry Davison (1859–1860)
  • Sir Colley Harman Scotland (1860–1861)
High Court (British administration)
  • Sir Colley Harman Scotland (1861–1871)
    • acting Sir Adam Bittleston (1866–1867)
  • Sir Walter Morgan (1871–1879)
  • Sir Charles Arthur Turner (1879–1885)
  • Sir Arthur John Hammond Collins (1885–1899)
  • C. A. White (1899–1914)
  • J. E. P. Wallis (1914–1921)
  • Sir Walter George Salis Schwabe (1921–1924)
  • Sir Murray Coutts-Tratter (1924–1929)
  • Sir Horace Owen Compton Beasley (1929–1937)
  • Sir Alfred Henry Lionel Leach (1937–1947)
  • Sir Fredrick William Gentle (1947–1948)
High Court (Indian administration)
  • Sir Pakala Venkata Rajamannar (1948 – 10 May 1961)
  • Sir Subramanya Ramachandra Iyer (10 May 1961 – 23 November 1964)
  • Sir Palagani Chandra Reddy (23 November 1964 – 1 July 1966)
  • Madavayya Anantanarayanan (1 July 1966 – 1 May 1969)
  • Kuppuswami Naidu Veeraswami (1 May 1969 – 8 April 1976)
  • Palapatti Sadaya Goundar Kailasam (8 April 1976 – 3 January 1977)
  • Padmanabhapillay Govindan Nair (3 January 1977 – 29 May 1978)
  • Tayi Ramaprasada Rao (29 May 1978 – 6 November 1979)
  • Muhammad Kassim Muhammad Ismail (6 November 1979 – 12 March 1982)
  • Krishna Ballabh Narayan Singh (12 March 1982 – 2 April 1984)
  • Madhukar Narhar Chandurkar (2 April 1984 – 19 October 1989)
  • Shanmughasundara Mohan (19 October – 1 November 1989)
  • Adarsh Sein Anand (1 November 1989 – 16 June 1992)
  • Kanta Kumari Bhatnagar (15 June 1992 – 1 July 1993)
  • Kudarikoti Annadanayya Swamy (1 July 1993 – 7 July 1997)
  • Manmohan Singh Liberhan (7 July 1997 – 25 May 1999)
  • Ashok Chhotelal Agarwal (24 May – 9 September 1999)
  • Konakuppakattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan (9 September 1999 – 13 September 2000)
  • Nagendra Kumar Jain (13 January 2000 – 12 September 2001)
  • B.Subhashan Reddy (12 September 2001 – 28 November 2004)
  • Markandey Katju (28 November 2004 – 12 November 2005)
  • Ajit Prakash Shah (12 November 2005 – 11 May 2008)
  • Asok Kumar Ganguly (21 May 2008 – 9 March 2009)
  • Hemant Laxman Gokhale (9 March 2009-10 June 2010)
  • M Y Iqbal (since 11 June 2010)
Retired Judges
  • Hon'ble Mr.Justice S. Ashok Kumar (3 April 2003 - 21 March 2008)
  • Hon'ble Mr.Justice.S.Sivasubramaniyam.
  • Hon'ble Mr.Justice.M.Chokkalingam till 15 February 2011.
  • Hon'ble Mr.Justice.Raviraja Pandian.
  • Hon'ble Tmt.Justice.Prabha Sridevan.


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Building Activity