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Goa seat of Asia’s first high court

Goa seat of Asia’s first high court

12 Mar 2018 No comment 25 hits

The Goa bench of the Bombay high court may be just three decades old, but Goa has a rich legal legacy, one that spans more than four-and-a-half centuries, and even boasts of the first high court in Asia.
Back in 1544, when the Tribunal de Relacao was created, it was the highest court in the Portuguese territory of Goa with jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. Also known as Relacao de Goa or Relacao, it had territorial jurisdiction over not just Goa, Daman and Diu, but also Portuguese colonies of Macau, Timor, and, for a brief period, Mozambique, too.

It initially constituted three judges and appeals went directly to the supreme court of Lisbon.

There were no oral hearings in criminal or civil matters at the Relacao, former additional solicitor general of India and former advocate general of Goa, Manohar S Usgaonkar says. “Submissions were made in writing where there was analysis of the evidence with citation of law and decisions and the conclusions. Thereupon, the respondent would give his submissions within a particular time frame and after payment of the costs, the entire file would be remitted straight away to the Relacao. With that, much time was saved,” Usgaonkar adds.

In 1774, Portuguese prime minister Marques de Pombal abolished the Tribunal de Relacao and reintroduced the office of the auditor-general with all powers of the high court. Two years later, the Relacao was re-established with a chancellor presiding over the court with a bench of five judges.

“The judicial district of Goa comprised eight comarcas, six in Estado da India -- Ilhas de Goa, Salcete, Bardez, Bicholim, Quepem and Daman, and two in the overseas provinces of Macau, Timor, and two Jugaldos Municipais Especiais (special municipal courts) of Mormugao and Ponda, and one Jugaldo Municipal (municipal court) of Diu in the same Estado da India,” senior advocate Fernando Jorge Colaco says.
At the time of Liberation, the tribunal functioned from the present day commercial taxes building erected in the 1940s. It originally functioned from a building in Bainguinim, Old Goa.

Colaco says that on January 10, 1962, in a 24-hour ultimatum, the military government under the newly appointed military governor Major General K P Candeth ordered “those holding top legal positions in Goa” to choose between “swearing allegiance to India and signing of a declaration to that effect, or being ejected from their posts”.

On January 12, the Chief Justice, trying to protect the judiciary in his charge, signed the declaration, but eight days later resigned after a second declaration was asked of him, which he declined to
sign, Colaco says.
The Tribunal de Relacao de Goa was abolished and substituted by the judicial commissioner’s court that had jurisdiction over the union territory of Goa, Daman and Diu. Although it was given powers of a high court, it was not a full-fledged high court.
“There was a strong fight for the status of a high court to be restored to Goa, considering its centuries-long tradition and given that it had the oldest high court in Asia,” Colaco says.

The high court at Bombay (Extension of Jurisdiction to Goa, Daman and Diu) Act, 1981, extended the jurisdiction of the Bombay high court to the union territory of Goa, Daman and Diu and a permanent bench was set up at Panaji on October 30, 1982. It was inaugurated by Y B Chandrachud, the then Chief Justice.

The first judge to set up the bench was Justice D M Rege and local judge to sit in the bench was Justice Gustavo Filipe Couto. “The task entrusted to Justice D M Rege was accomplished successfully and to the satisfaction of all. Similarly, the contribution of Y V Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India, as he then was, to the state of Goa, was remarkable. It is he who laid on strong footing the necessity of maintenance of uniform family laws of Goa when he inaugurated the conference of Family Law of Goa, Daman and Diu held in 1979 by the Goa, Daman and Diu Advocates Association,” Usgaonkar says.
The setting up of the permanent bench has benefitted the state
tremendously, he says.

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