Judicial Plan of 1790 of Lord Cornwallis

Judicial Plan of 1790 of Lord Cornwallis

Lord Cornwallis

Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis took charge as the Governor General of Fort William Bengal and as the Commander-in-chief of British India on September 12, 1786. He was a British Army officer, diplomat and administrator who had previously served his country during the American War Of Independence. The Governor General ship of Lord Cornwallis extended from 1786 to 1793.

Before assuming the office of Governor-General, he laid down 2 conditions-

a) That, he would also be appointed as Commander-in-chief

b) That, the Governor-General would be empowered to over-rule the decision of his council whenever it was deemed necessary.

He reorganized the judicial system and introduced for the first time the principle of administration according to the law. He made reforms in three stages i.e. in the year 1787, 1790 and 1793. He made very crucial and important far-reaching reaching reforms in the judicial administration and some of the basic principles of which exists even now.

Judicial Plan of 1790

Through the Judicial Plan of 1790, Lord Cornwallis focused his attention on the reorganization of criminal justice. When he took over as the Governor-General the administration of justice in the territories of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa were carried on in accordance of the Muslim Law (of crimes) which suffered a lot of defects and deficiencies. The judges of criminal courts were paid poorly and hence they tend to be corrupt and dishonest. The evidence law under the Mohammedan criminal law was also very irrational and unsatisfactory.

Governor-General Lord Cornwallis himself observed that, “the administration of justice is oppressive, unjust, and beyond measure to corrupt. The law administering criminal justice was also very uncertain and inadequate to bring the culprits to books.”

Reasons behind the introduction of 1790 reform

  • Corrupt officers administering justice in criminal court.
  • Defective system of Mohammedan Criminal Law.
  • The entire criminal administration of justice was in the hands of Nawab.
  • Weak administration of Nawab.
  • Mofussil courts taking too much time to dispose cases.
  • Low salary to the judges.
  • Provisions contrary to the principles of natural justice.
  • Severe punishments for petty cases.
  • British citizens outside the jurisdiction of Mofussil Courts.
  • Fozdari adalats did not give fast justice.
  • Everything was controlled by Naib Nawab Raza Khan who was not answerable to anyone.

Features of the plan of 1790

  • In order to improve the working of criminal courts Lord Cornwallis organized them in order to make justice speedy and accessible to a common man.
  • The existing Mofussil Fouzdari Adalat were abolished and in place of it 3 distinct courts were established , namely,-
    • a) Courts of District Magistrate
    • b) Circuit Courts
    • c) Sadar Niamat Adalat
  • Cornwallis introduced criminal reforms in 1790.
  • The districts were divided into 4 divisions namely-
    • a) Murshidabad
    • b) Calcutta
    • c) Decca
    • d) Patna
  • Cruel punishments were abolished.
  • Salaries and the allowances of the judges and officers were increased in order to check dishonesty and corruption.
  • Court of circuit was a moving court and it travelled from district to district in the direction provided to them.
  • Sadar Niamat Adalat was shifted from Murshidabad to Calcutta.
  • Criminal justice system transferred to English servants from Muslim law officers.
  • Muslim law officers became advisors to the court.
  • In Sadar Niamat Adalat the Governor General and the council members sat as judges and Muslim officers helped them to understand the Muslim Law.
  • Blood Money was abolished.
  • The District Magistrate could now arrest the criminals, take evidence against them and then commit them to the Circuit Court for trial.
  • He could however punish the criminal up to 15 rattans or 15 days of imprisonment in small crimes.
  • The post of Nawab who used to preside over Sadar Niamat Adalat was abolished as the criminal justice carried out by him was not proper and was now presided Governor General-in-council.
  • Governor General took the complete control of criminal justice system of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
  • Court fees was introduced to reduce the burden on the courts. It was only charged for pleaders of the court and for calling the witnesses of the case.
  • The criminals who completed the punishment, when came out of the jail were paid an amount to maintain themselves for a month.
  • A questionnaire was sent to the magistrate, asking for their opinions on the prevailing criminal justice system.
  • The Law of Evidence was also modified and discriminatory provisions relating to religion and se were abolished and now all the witnesses were to be treated alike, whether male or female, hindu or muslim.
  • The punishment of mutilation was abolished in the 1791 and in its place imprisonment with hard labor for 4 years and 7 years was substituted for the loss of 2 limbs and 1 limb respectively.
  • The capital sentence could only be passed by the Sadar Niamat Adalat.
  • The judicial plan of 1790 introduced significant changes in the administration of criminal justice in British territories of Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa.
  • It was modeled on Anglo-Mohammedan law of crimes which sought to remove the absurdities and uncertainty of Muslim criminal law.
  • There was remarkable decrease in number of crimes and life and property of people was fairly secured.

Defects of the Judicial Plan of 1790

Despite strenuous efforts on the part of Cornwallis to rationalize criminal law, certain defects came into light in the working of criminal justice system envisaged by the Judicial Plan of 1790.

With the time the work load of court of circuits increased and there was no provision as such to supervise the collectors who got unlimited powers. There was lot of collective power of administration and judiciary vested with the collector which made him abuse his power.

The judges of the criminal courts of District Magistrate , court of Circuit and Sadar Niamat Adalat were Englishmen, this is indicative of Lord Cornwalli’s distrust for Indians. He did not consider the natives competent enough to be appointed as the judges of the criminal courts.

Lord Cornwallis completely understood the defects of the scheme of 1790 and hence, he introduced the plan of 1793.

Author: Naina Pathak,
Amity University Madhya Pradesh, 2nd Year

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