Lord canning submitted the scheme of reforms to the Secretary of State after which a Bill known as the Indian Council Bill was introduced in the British Parliament by Sir Charles Wood who called it as a “ most important measure”. The Bill was readily passed by the House and finally received Royal assent on August 1, 1861, and came in force at the close of the year.


  • The principle cause of the Indian Revolt of 1857 was the lack of contact and understanding between the rulers and the.
  • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan regarded the non-admission of Indians into the legislative council as a primary cause of the meeting.
  • Sir Bartle Frere an eminent member of the Governor-General-in-council also shared similar views and observed it was dangerous to legislate for millions of people with a few means of knowing except by the rebellion whether the laws suited them or not.
  • The charter act of 1833 deprived the presidencies of their law-making powers and this led to dissatisfaction among them. Charter act of 1853 accepted the principle of representation by including one member from each of the presidencies to the legislative council and this did not satisfy the presidencies and local government.
  • The differences between the supreme Government and the Government of Madras on the income tax paid.
  • Also, the demands of the Indian people for some substantial changes in the government machinery of India also necessary stated modification in the constitutional arrangement led to the passing of the Indian Council Act, 1861.



  • The act of 1861 increased the number of members from three to members in the Executive Council of the governor-general. The persons who had served in India for 10 years either under the company or the crown were entitled to be the members of the Executive Council of the governor-general and one was to be a barrister or advocate of 5 years standing.
  •  The secretary of state for India retains the power to appoint commander-in-chief as an extraordinary member of the Executive Council.
  • The act of 1861 marks the beginning of the portfolio system in which every member of the Council was made responsible to his department and the acts done in the Council were reckoned as the acts of the governor-general in Council.
  • The governor-general was all-powerful. He had the power to overrule the majority in the council in matters of safety, tranquility, and interest of British possessions in India. He was also empowered to create new provinces for legislative purposes and appoint a lieutenant governor for them, and to divide or alter the limits of any presidency or province.
  • The governor-general in Council could authorize the governor-general alone to exercise all or any of the powers of the governor-general in Council except those of making the law and regulations.


  •  Significant changes were made in the central legislature. The governor-general Council was enlarged into a central legislative Council consisting of not less than 6 and not more than 12 additional members. Nominated by the governor-general and holding office for two years. Not less than one-half of the additional members were to be non-official. The lieutenant governor of a province was also to be an additional member whenever the council held a legislative within the Province.
  • The functions of the Legislative Council Were confined strictly to legislation.
  •  The previous sanction of the Governor-general was necessary before introducing measures relating to public revenue, army, navy, foreign relations. Also, the assent of Governor-General was required for every Act passed by the council, and such Act would be disallowed by Her Majesty, acting through the Secretary of State.
  •  The Governor-General-in-Council was empowered to make laws and regulations for repealing, amending, or altering any laws and regulations for the time being in force in British India.
  •  The governor-general in council was the supreme body to make laws and regulations for all persons( British or natives or foreigners), for all Courts of Justice, and for all places within the said territories.
  • The Indian Council Act, 1861 empowered the Governor General to issue ordinances on his own authority without his council, in cases of emergency. But such ordinances were not to remain in force fir more than six months.


  •  Charter Act of 1833 deprived the presidencies of their law-making power. This act restored the power of making and amending laws to the government of Madras and Bombay.
  •  The council of governors of Madras and Bombay was expanded for legislative purposes by the inclusion of the Advocate General and certain other members nominated by the governor. These members could sit and vote in the meetings of the Governor’s council held for the purpose of making laws.
  • No line of demarcation was drawn between the central and local legislature but the assent of governor-general was necessary for the laws enacted by the local legislature.
  • The Provincial legislature could not make laws related to the army, foreign and political affairs, customs, coinage and currency, patents, copyrights, Penal code, religion or post, and Telegraphs, etc. without prior sanction of the Governor-General.
  • The Act did not establish new local legislature except those of Madras and Bombay. But the Governor-General in Council was empowered to establish, by proclamation, a legislative council for Bengal and was further empowered to establish similar councils for North-Western Provinces and Punjab.
  • Further Governor-General was empowered to appoint Lieutenant Governors and to alter the boundaries of existing Provinces.


  • The inclusion of Indians in the legislative council provided opportunities to the government to know the views of the natives and helped in removing their misunderstanding regarding the intentions of the government.
  •  The representation system in Indian began with the Act of 1861.
  •  The framework of the Indian council’s act 1861 furnished a guideline upon which the future Government of India was carried on till the end of British rule in India in 1947. The legislative Council with non-official members, the portfolio system, the power of promulgating ordinance, etc. are the significant features of the Indian government which have their origin in the act of 1861.


• The legislative council established by this Act at the Centre as well as at the Provinces were mere committees to make laws. They could not debate or discuss over the conduct of the executive nor could discuss the budget. They could also not enquiry into the grievances of the public and call for any information on a public matter. Thus, the powers of the legislative councils created by the act of 1861 were extremely limited.

• No statutory provisions were made for the nomination of Indians. The non-official members were nominated rather than elected. These members were either the native princes or their Diwans or Zamindars having little interest in the legislative business of the Council. They were reluctant even to attend the meetings of the council’s. Many of the members did not know English and were therefore unable to understand the proceedings of the councils. As they were nominated by the governor-general they thought that they could not oppose the Government policy. Hence, while making law, the will of Britishers used to prevail rather than the native citizens.


Indian Council Act of 1861 laid down the foundation of the current constitutional system. It brought many significant changes in the Executive and Legislative functions of the governor-general in Council. Also, this Act bought to end the period of Centralized legislation and laid the foundation of the policy of legislative decentralization in the Indian Constitutional History.


  • Indian Legal and Constitutional History by Dr. N.V. Paranjape

Author: Sunidhi Singh,
Amity University, Madhya Pradesh 2nd year, Student

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