The 'Indian High Court Act' of 1861, vested in Her Majesty the Queen of England to issue letters patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom to erect and establish High Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Indian High Courts Act, 1861 did not by itself create and establish the High Courts in India. The express and avowed aim of the Act was to effect a fusion of the Supreme Courts and the Sudder Adalats in the three Presidencies and this was to be consummated by issuing Letter Patent. The Charter of High Court of Bombay was issued on June 26, 1862.
The Bombay High Court was inaugurated on 14th August ,1862. The High Court had an Original as well as an Appellate Jurisdiction the former derived from the Supreme Court, and the latter from the Sudder Diwani and Sudder Foujdari Adalats, which were merged in the High Court. With the establishment of the High Court the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and Code of Civil Procedure were enacted into law.
The Letter Patent of the Bombay High Court authorized 15 Judges, but it started with only 7. It is remarkable that, for about 60 years thereafter, the High Court managed to pull on with just 7 Judges, although with advancing years, the laws and the litigation both multiplied. There were no indications that this limited Bench was found inadequate to cope with the work, till about 1919. With the armistice at the termination of the First World War, there was sudden spurt of litigation in the City of Bombay. The number of Suites filed on Original Side, which during War had dwindled down to about 500 rose to about 7000, that the Prothonotary found it difficult to prepare daily boards for 3 Judges. It was only then that an additional Judge was demanded and was grudgingly granted . Bombay was lucky or unlucky in having at this crisis a Chief Justice of exceptional caliber, Sir Norman Mcleod, who instead of multiplying Judges preferred to massacre suits and appeals.
The Charter of the High Court also made it the supreme and final court of appeal in all cases, civil and criminal, decided by inferior courts, except such as possessed the requisite importance, pecuniary or legal, demanding a further appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Ever since the Constitution of the Privy Council as the Court of ultimate appeal from British India by a Statuette of 1833, the bulk of its business was from Indian appeals; so much so that for Indian appeals, a Judge or a lawyer of adequate Indian experience had later to be associated with the Committee. The Bombay High Court has been represented on the Judicial Committee by three distinguished judges, and four eminent counsel; Sir Richard Couch, Sir Lawrence Jenkins and Sir John Beaumont, all Chief Justices. The lawyers who practiced in Bombay High Court before they were appointed to the Judicial Committee, were Sir Andrew Scoble, Sir George Lowndes, Sir D.F. Mulla and Mr. M.R.Jayakar.
The judgments of the Privy Council, generally speaking, have been received in India with complete satisfaction; and some of them contain illuminating expositions of Anglo-Indian law, including principles of Hindu and Mahommedan law. But on one or two occasions, owing to overlooking the relevant section of an Indian statuette, or by a revolutionary construction of a section, their decisions have created some confusion and consternation.
All the Charters of the law Courts in India from the Mayor's Court down to the High Court are silent as regards the jurisdiction of the Privy Council over criminal cases in India.
The last appeal from India was disposed of by the Privy Council on December 15, 1949. Thus came to an end India's 200 years' old connection with the Privy Council on January 26, 1950, the Federal Court gave way to the Supreme Court of India under the new Constitution. The Supreme Court of India is the highest Court of the land. and has been empowered to issued directions, Order of Writs, like the Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights which have been guaranteed by the Constitution of the people of India. The Supreme Court has thus been made the guardian of the freedom and liberties of the Indian people.
The work on the present building of the High Court was commenced in April 1871 and completed in November 1878 and is situated between the University Building and the Public Work Secretariat and is 562 feet in length by 187 in breadth. It general height to the east is 90 feet, and the Central feature is 178 ½ feet in height. The building which is early English-Gothic was designed by Colonel J.A.Fuller, R.E. and was completed at a cost of Rs. 16,44,528 which was about Rs. 3000, less then the sanctioned estimate. The walls are of rubble and chunam faced with blue basalt roughly dressed and in shallow causes. The Judges have two private stair cases on the western side of the building in the Octagon tower an either side of the porch. The main staircase and entrance for the general public are on the east.
After the reorganisation of the States with effect from November 1, 1956, the territories of the Bombay State and with it the jurisdiction of the High Court were extensively extended.
Benches of the High Court were established at Nagpur and Rajkot to deal with matters arising from Vidharbha and Saurashtra districts respectively. In 1960 on the formation of the State of Gujarat, the Gujarat High Court was set up. In 1981 a Bench of the High Court was notified in Aurangabad and the Permanent Bench was established in 1984 by the Order of the President. In accordance with the High Court at Bombay (Extension of Jurisdiction to Goa, Daman and Diu) Act, 1981, the Panaji (Goa) Bench of the High Court for the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu was inaugurated in 1982. Later when Goa attained statehood in 1987 the High Court came to have jurisdiction.