Courts and Judicial institutions under East India company

Judicial system during British India

The East India Company created Mayor’s Courts in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta in 1726, which marked the commencement of Indian common law. In this way, Corporation began its metamorphosis from a commercial company to a ruling authority with the addition of Judiciary components.

Till 1726, there was a very inadequate administrative structure in place in the early Indian colonies of the business. Eventually, however, a legal and judicial system was required for the management of their enterprises and communities. As a result, each of the three presidential towns grew at a different pace, and there was no consistency in the expansion of the legal system. From the outset of their administrative careers, the English realised the necessity of establishing a strong legal system in the regions they controlled. There are issues and traps that administrators had to deal with in the past, as well as corrective actions they made to improve the courts.

After the British rule was overthrown, the legal system as we know it today did not arise out of anywhere after independence. They were developed in great part owing to the initiative and hard work of the British, whose motivations in setting up the basis for our legal system were admittedly not for our own management but their own convenience when it came to justice, law, and order. The British authorities were concerned that there were linguistic and cultural distinctions in this nation that they could not comprehend. For the same offences, each religion has a different approach, ranging from harsh to forgiving.

The Court Structure

Both the court system and the laws themselves owe a great deal to the British government’s efforts. They may not have had the most altruistic motivations for building such a vast legal system that has endured long after independence, but their influence on our legal system today cannot be denied. It was a largely unorganised territory before British intervention, with judgments that were neither fair nor subject to examination. The British legislature in India is responsible for the establishment of a distinct judicial system.

Indian courts did not follow correct processes or have a suitable structure from ancient India to Mughal India. Muslim Qazi supervises the legal procedure in Hinduism. For any discrepancies that arose, justice was administered by the Raja and Badshah.

The East India Company created Mayor’s Courts in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta in 1726, which marked the beginning of codified common law in India. In this way, Corporation began its metamorphosis from a commercial company to a ruling authority with the addition of Judiciary components. British India’s court system was described in chronological order as follows:

1. Reforms under Warren Hastings (1772-1785 AD)

Warren Hasting created civil and criminal courts for the districts of Diwani and Fauzdari, respectively.

A district Diwani Adalat was formed to settle civil issues that were placed within the collector’s jurisdiction in a certain district. It was decided at this court that Hindu Law applied to Hindus and Muslim Law applied to Muslims. The Sadar Diwani Adalat was headed by a president and two Supreme Council members.

Assisting Indian authorities and muftis, the district of Fauzdari Adalats was created to handle criminal matters. The collector was in charge of the whole operation of this court. In this court, the Muslim law was administered. Death penalty and acquisition clearance was issued by the Sadar Nizamat Adalat, led by the deputy Nizam, who was accompanied by the Qazi chief and Mufti.

Original and appellate jurisdiction was granted to the newly formed Supreme Court of Calcutta under the Regulating Act of 1773 AD.

Upon his arrival, Warren Hastings found the judicial institutions and the administration of justice in upheaval and confusion. Many corrupt and ineffective institutions existed. Furthermore, they were inaccessible to the people, who were obliged to spend a lot of money and travel long distances to seek justice for their grievances. Warren Hastings was tasked with reversing this scenario. His efforts to improve the judiciary were divided into two categories:

Under Hastings’ leadership, the Committee of Circuits created the first judicial plan. It proposed a district-level division of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa among the three provinces. Revenue was collected directly by a collector in each district. Also, the collector was vested with legal responsibilities. The district served as the plan’s primary administrative entity.

In addition, it had 37 rules that dealt with both civil and criminal issues. They were created in line with the subcontinent’s dominant system and culture. Most of the local laws and magistracy were to be preserved as much as feasible.

England’s court of directors advised that the collector’s position be abolished in 1773. The result was the need for further changes, which Hastings introduced in 1774 through a new judicial scheme. Bengal, Orissa and Bihar’s mofussil region was divided into six divisions with Calcutta, Dacca, Burdwan and Patna as its headquarters.

Upon seeing that Calcutta’s court system was inefficient, Hastings set out to improve the system. Corruption developed as a result of the law officers’ near-total authority to resolve court issues as they pleased. Sadar Diwani Adalat was to be improved under Sir Impey, who was also Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He left the courts more autonomous and with a deeper understanding of the challenges facing litigants.

2. Reforms under Cornwallis (1786-1793 AD)

Cornwallis dissolved the District Fauzadari Court, and Circuit Courts were established at Calcutta, Decca, Murshidabad and Patna during his rule When it was run by European judges, it served as an appeals court for both civil and criminal proceedings. Governor-General and Supreme Council members, aided by Chief Qazi and Chief Mufti, were in charge of Sadar Nizamat Adalat, which was relocated to Calcutta. Diwani Adalat was renamed District, City or Zila Court and functioned under a district judge’s supervision.

Sadar Diwani Adalat, Sadar Diwani Adalat and King-in-Council were some of his other creations. He is most renowned for establishing the supremacy of the law in his country.

3. Reforms under William Bentinck

A circuit court was abolished by William Bentinck, who moved the responsibilities of that court to collectors, who are overseen by a revenue commissioner. It was founded in Allahabad that Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat, respectively. For lower court proceedings, the designated Persian and a Vernacular language as official languages, while English became the official language for Supreme Court proceedings. Macaulay established a Law Commission during his rule, which codified Indian laws. They produced a civil procedure code (in 1859) as well as a criminal procedure code (1861) per the recommendations made by this panel.

4. Government of India Act 1935 

As a result of the Government of India Act, 1935, the Indian Government’s structure shifted from “unitary” to “federal.” There had to be a balance in how powers were distributed between centres and Provinces, or there would have been conflicts between the component entities and the Federation as a result. 1937 saw the creation of a Federal Court, with appellate and advisory authority. Civil and criminal matters were included under its appellate authority.


Indian law was influenced by custom and religious texts at first but evolved through time into secular legal systems and the common law. The ruling classes had a significant impact on the whole history of the Indian judiciary. Examples include ancient legal literature, Delhi Sultanate arbitration, and eventually tyrannical English (British) arbitration. Final thoughts

In the years of the British administration, India underwent a tremendous deal of experimenting and learning via empirical observation. To resolve conflicts, several courts were formed, then disbanded and replaced with other procedures.

Author: Shreyas Nair,
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur / First Year / Law

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