Administration of Justice in Bombay before 1726

Administration of justice in Bombay before 1726

In Bombay, the administration of justice was started from 1534 under the control of Portuguese. When the Portuguese king married the former sister in 1661, he gave it as a dowry to the Charles II of England. The king leased it to the company. The administration of justice in Bombay developed in three stages. They are

Stage I   :  1668-1683

Stage II  : 1684-1690

Stage III:  1718-1726

Stage I 1668-1683:

Judicial reforms of 1670

The old judicial setup of Bombay was recognized by the Gerald Aungier and al laws were classified into six sections. They are:

  • Related to the freedom of worship and religious believes.
  • Impartial administration of justice.
  • Establishment of a court of Judicature to decide all criminal cases and for the appointment of justice of peace and order to arrest criminals.
  • Registration of transaction concerning sale of land and houses.
  • Contained miscellaneous provisions dealt with penalties for different crimes.
  • Military discipline and prevention of disorder and revolt.

The Bombay was divided into two major divisions. They are

  • Division 1-Bomay, Mezagoan and Girgaon
  • Division 2-Mahim, Parel, Sion and Worly

Each division had a court consisting of five judges. The custom officer of each division that is an Englishmen presided this court. Some of the Indians were also a appointed as the Judges but they were not paid any emoluments. They sat once a week and tries petty civil and criminal cases upto the value of two hundred Xerophins ( A Portuguese con equal to nearly Rs.7.50).

Appeals from this court went to Deputy governor in council. All criminal cases like murder and mutiny etc. were to be decided by the deputy governor.

Defects :

The person who were appointed as the judges of this court were all laymen and doesn’t have the knowledge of law as Gerald Augnier felt.

So, he requested the company to send a law expert from England. When the experts of law arrived, he framed the new judicial plan of 1672 with the advise of them.

New judicial plan of 1672:

  • English law came into existence and all cases were tried according to the English law.
  • Central court of judicature was established and they sat twice a week.
  • The central court of judicature was presided by the single judge and tried all civil and criminal cases.
  • Bombay was divided into four divisions and each divisions were headed by an Englishmen and known as Justice of peace.
  • The appeals from this court was dealt by the governor and council. The court of conscience was also established and decided the petty cases without any fees from the litigants.


The panchayats were also established in several places.

They members of the panchayats were also authourized to here cases among persons of their own caste only if they were willing to submit the case before the panchayats or else the cases will be referred before the central court of judicature.

Stage II 1684-1690:

  • By the charter of 1683, the admiralty court was established in 1684 with the same guidelines as in Madras.
  • In this court, Dr. St. John the person who was well versed in civil law was appointed as the  judge- advocate.
  • But the authourity of admiralty court was not satisfied to cover all the civil cases. So, the court of judicature was established and Dr. John was made as its chief justice.
  • Dr. John was much spirited in having independent judiciary which caused much annoyance to the governor in council ,Mr. Child who did not respect the judges.
  • Dr. John took some evidence against the governor but the governor directed him not to take such type of evidence.
  • Dr. John refused on the ground that he was bound by the oath not to conceal any information which was brought to his notice against any person.
  • So, conflict between John and Governor arose which finally resulted in the dismissal of john.
  • Vaux was appointed as the judge . he remained as judge in the admiralty court from 1685-1690.
  • Criminal and civil jurisdiction of the court were forfeited after this period.
  • From 1690-1718, there was no court in Bombay. The Governor- in-council was deciding civil and criminal cases hardly.

Stage III 1718-1726:

  • After the gap of 20 years on 25th march 1718, again the company started the court in Bombay which consisted of chief justice and 9 judges.
  • Among them chief justice and 5 judges were Englishmen and 4 other judges were Indians. They were authourized to decide all cases i.e. civil, criminal and testamentary cases.
  • The court handled all cases and followed the laws of England and tried to pay attention to the caste and customs of each religion also.
  • The court also worked as registration house also for the sale of immovable property and charged fees also.
  • The court sat once a week and decided all cases.
  • The British judges enjoyed more powers and report that the Indian judges. The Indians acted more like assessors than full-fledged judges.
  • The court gave justice as soon as possible and worked more efficiently.
  • It was cheap for everyone to go to the court. Unlike the court of 1672, the court of 1718 did not use jury.
  • The courts while trying cases followed the customs of Hindus as well as Muslims and also considered International law and British law.
  • It was common practice to give lashes as punishments to criminals and robbers were whipped and branded with red hot iron.
  • So everyone feared to do crime and justice was deterrent.
  • At that point of time, one interesting case is that the officials falsely charged innocent person and robbed his property by proving  him guilty in court by producing the fake papers and witnesses who were tortured. The cases is known as the Rama Kamati case. This trail proved that justice was rough and ready and there was miscarriage of justice.
  • This kind of a judicial system continued to function till it was appointed by a new judicial system under the charter of 1726.

Author: sathiya v,
Dr.Ambedkar Law university, chennai

Leave a Comment