administration of justice in madras before 1726


In India, the administration of justice and development of courts began from 1639 to 1726  in the presidency towns of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. In Madras, these judicial administration by the britishers developed in three stages. They are

  • Stage I : 1639-1665
  • Stage II: 1665-1683
  • Stage III: 1683-1726

Stage I: 1639-1665

In 1639, for the purpose of English East India company, Francis day acquired a piece of land from Hindu raja of Chandragiri which was also known as Madraspatnam. In 1640, the English East India company constructed a factory in and it was called as Fort St. George. This fort was came to be called as the white town and the people residing in other places where called as the black town. Thus, the whole people comprising of white town and black town was called as the Madras.

Agent and council:

For the purpose of governance and judicial administration, the agent and council was authorized to decide both the civil and criminal cases of people residing in the white town. But, they referred most of the cases to the England since the judiciary was vague.

These agent and council who were appointed for the administration of justice were merchants and they didn’t have the knowledge of law. So they the cases based upon their knowledge and common sense.

Choultry court:

In the black town, the native judicial officer for the administration of justice and he was known as Adigari. They tried only simple cases but not the serious offences like murder and the appeals from the court was decided by the agent and council and they were vested with the appellate jurisdiction.

An Indian native officer called Kanappa who was appointed as the adigar was dismissed from the office and the Englishmen was appointed to the office of the choultry court since kanappa misused his power.

Governor and council:

By the charter of 1661,the company was empowered to appoint governor and council to decide both the civil and criminal cases of all the persons of company.

While the cases of Englishmen referred to the England , the cases of the English east India company was decided by the English law.

Stage II:1665-1683

High court of Judicature:

In 1665, the reorganized the whole judicial system and with the help of 12 juries they sat twice a week and decided both the civil and criminal cases. The also empowered to decide the appeals from the choultry court.

Choultry court :

The old choultry court was reconstituted and the three Englishmen were appointed in the place of adikari to decide the cases. They sat twice a week and empowered to decide only civil cases up to the value of 50 pagodas. The appeals from this court was also heard by the Governor in council.

Stage III: 1665-1726

During this stage two important courts were established i.e. In 1686,Admiralty court was established with the headship of judge advocate under the charter of 1683 and Mayors court under the charter of 1687 which was issued by East India company.

Admiralty court:

Reason behind need of this court:

In Asia , Arica and America the company was given a monopoly trade and if any British subjects wanted to do trading, they supposed to get a license from the East India company. But the rights of the company were being infringes b the other British traders and on account of it a court having jurisdiction to punish such traders was felt.

To deal with the increase in Crime of piracy on the high seas they required a court of admiralty.

Functions of the Admiralty court:

In 1686, this court was established in madras by the charter of 1683 headed by the judge advocate. It consisted of one person learned in civil law and two merchants appointed by the company. The court decided,

  • All cases of merchantile or maritime nature
  • Trespass, injuries and wrongs committed on the high seas
  • Forfeiture and seizure of ships or goods.

This court applied the rules of equity, good conscience and the laws and customs of merchants. When it was established , John grey was appointed as judge of the court.

In 1687, Sir John Biggs, a professional lawyer was appointed as judge advocate( chief justice). This court becomes the general court of the city for all practical purposes in setting all civil and criminal cases.

In certain cases, the appeals from Mayors court were also heard by the admiralty court. This court functioned till 1704.


Here, the executive functions were carried out by the governor in council and judicial functions by the court of Admiralty. So, the separation of executive and judiciary was maintained.

Before the establishment of this court the judges were mostly laymen and decided cases based on their common sense but after the establishment of admiralty court, the judges and lawyers were mostly professionals.

But the above features didn’t continued in Madras for a long time because of the death of Sir John Biggs.

Mayor’s court:

In Madras, mayors court was established under the charter of 1687 by the English East India company.

Composition :

  • The mayor’s court consisted of a Mayor, 12 alderman and sixty or more burgesses.
  • The first mayor and aldermen were nominated by the charter and the mayor holds the office for 1 year and he was by the aldermen every year.
  • The burgesses were chosen by the mayor and aldermen which should not exceed more than 120.
  • Among them, the mayor and the three aldermen were to be English servants of the company and others were to be from an nation.
  • John Viges, a Judge advocate of admiralty court became the recorder of this court. A man who learnt law was appointed as the recorder and attached to the mayors court i.e. court of record.

The Mayors court tried,

  • All the civil cases upto the value of 3 pagodas
  • Also dealt the criminal cases with the help of jury and punished the offenders by imprisonment or fine.


  • The appeals from this court were decided by the court of Admiralty.
  • In civil matters, the admiralty court had decided more than the value of 3 pagodas and in criminal cases they decided only when the punishment is lose of life or limbs.
  • But , the governor in council decided both the appeals from admiralty court and mayors court.

Demerits :

  • There was no separation of power between executive and judiciary.
  • The judges of the mayor court were laymen and they didn’t have even a piece of knowledge of English law. The judges were mostly impartial and dishonest.
  • There was no uniformity and consistency in the decisions of the court.
  • Though the recorder was expert in the course of law they were given less importance and his opinion was not considered much.

Choultry court:

The choultry could hear the petty civil cases upto the value of 2 pagodas. But , subsequently its power also declined in 1800.

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

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