Judicial Reforms of John Shore



Unfortunately, Lord Cornwallis did not stay in India to see the outcome of his judicial reforms which he had introduced in 1793. He was succeeded by Sir John Shore, a member of the Indian service, as Governor-General in 1793. John Shore greatly admired the scheme of judicial reforms introduced by Lord Cornwallis and considered it most beneficial to the people of India particularly, the separation of executive from judicial functions and the permanent settlement of revenue proved highly advantageous for the British Government as also to the Indian-natives.


The actual operation of the Judicial Plan under Cornwallis Code showed that the scheme was wise but it created a serious problem of large arrears of cases awaiting disposal in the courts. The constantly mounting arrears of work in the law courts caused delay in disposal of cases which defeated the main purpose of the judicial scheme. Keith rightly observed, Cornwallis judicial system was based on the permanent settlement of the revenue, the separation of revenue administration from the judiciary, and the employment of Europeans in the higher offices, subjecting them to the control of a complex system of regulations to check any misdemeanors. Unquestionably, his motives were excellent but the weakness of his Plan lay in the fact that recourse to courts was wholly ineffective as a means to protect the riots against the zamindars. The permanent Settlement worked badly; litigation choked the courts and sales of estates became very common Therefore, many representations were made to the Government to mend the matters and to initiate adequate measures for resolving these difficulties.


  • Sir John Shore soon realized that some immediate steps were necessary to relieve the courts from congestion. 
  • In his opinion, inadequacy of courts, limited powers of the Registrar and Munsifs and abolition of court fee were the main causes of overburdening the courts with arrears of work. Therefore, he introduced certain, minor changes in the Cornwallis Plan of 1793 in order to remove these defects. 
  • He also reached a conclusion that mismanagement by Zamindars in the collection of land revenue was yet another cause of increase in the volume of litigation in Diwani Adalat, however, he was not in favour of simplifying the procedure because it was necessary to follow the forms of procedure for proper administration of justice, nor did he favour the idea of increasing the number of courts meant additional burden the Government Exchequer.
  •  John Shore declared the in-disposal cases past years was only temporary phase during of scheme cases would expeditiously different tribunals were established started functioning in the full moderate changes introduced earlier Cornwallis Scheme were


  • Under the Judicial Plan of 1793, The Registrar’s Court was empowered to decide suits up to Rs 200 but the decrees passed them had been countersigned by the Judges of the Diwani Adalat. 
  • The process mentioned above was time consuming therefore John Shore changed this procedure and empowered the Registrar to try and decide cases without any reference to, or countersignature of the Judge of Diwani Adalat. 
  • The decision of the Registrar court in all civil matters suits not exceeding Rs 25 in value was final.
  • However, if the judgement delivered by the Registrar court appeared to be apparently erroneous or unjust and amount exceeded Rs 25 an appeal could be moved in Provincial court of appeal and not to the Mofussil Diwani Adalat as mentioned in Lord Cornwallis plan
  • This change in plan resulted in reducing the workload of Mofussil Diwani Adalat as it avoided countersigning the decrees of registrar court.
  • An additional court for deciding petty cases was established in each of the district and three cities of Patna, Dacca and Murshidabad. 
  • By Regulation of 1794, Sir John Shore allowed partial judicial powers to the Collectors.
  • The judge of Diwani Adalat was empowered to refer to the Collector, the revenue cases involving adjustment accounts for scrutiny and report. 
  • The Collector’s report was not binding on the Judges and they had full authority to confirm, set-aside or alter the report. This provision saved considerable time of the Diwani Adalat and enabled Collectors to collect land revenue without any difficulty.


  • Sir John Shore was not satisfied with the changes introduced by him in 1794 as they did not yield the desired results so far quick disposal of the cases was concerned.
  • The provision of appeal from Munsif’s Court to the Provincial Court of Appeal under Regulation VIII of 1794, caused an additional burden on the Provincial Courts and much of its routine work was badly affected. 
  • To solve this problem now John Shore introduced change in matters of appeals. Now appeals from the decisions of the munsif’s court were to be taken to the Mofussil Diwani Adalat instead of the Provincial Court of Appeal and the decision of Diwani Adalat was final.
  • In order to strengthen the control of Sadar Diwani Adalat over the lower court, a provision was made in Regulation XXXVII of 1795 that the Registrar of the Mofussil Diwani Adalat shall maintain a register stating therein the details about the disposal of cases and those pending in arrears. 
  • Another significant change introduced by Regulation XXXVII of 1795 was restoration of court fees to discourage superfluous and vexatious litigation.
  •  It is significant to note that court fees were not only imposed on prospective litigants but it operated retrospectively even on those cases which were pending decisions in lower-courts. The result, as expected, was that many pending suits were dismissed for non-payment of court fees by the parties. However, it was alleged that the litigants living in the interior areas were not adequately informed about the re-imposition of the court fees hence they could not remit the court fees within the prescribed time. The schedule of court fees was subsequently revised in 1797 when the rates of fees were enhanced. Though this change brought about a decrease in the number of suits in lower courts, the measure was criticized on the ground that many genuine litigants were deprived of their right to seek justice on account of their inability to deposit the court fee. While on the other hand, wealthy and well-to-do persons could bring vexatious claims in the court as they could easily afford to pay the requisite court fees.
  • In 1795, Sir John Shore introduced the Adalat System in the Province of Banaras with the consent of Hindu Raja of Banaras. 
  • The system was more or less on the Bengal model. He enacted a set of fifteen Regulations. The Province of Banaras was divided into four districts each having a Diwani Adalat. A. Provincial Courts of Appeal was established at Banaras which was also to act as the Court of Circuit for the trial of criminal offences. The Courts of munsifs and Registrars were also established in the province
  •  An appeal from this Court could be preferred to the Sadar Nizamat Adalat at Calcutta.  
  • The jurisdiction of the Sadar Adalat at Calcutta was extended to Banaras to include it under its jurisdiction.
  • The noteworthy feature of the judicial scheme introduced in Banaras was that it extended certain special favour to Brahmins in matters of application of criminal law on account of their privileged position and respectable status in the society. 
  • The Regulation XVI specially provided that no Brahmin shall be punished with death sentence. In cases where an ordinary person would be sentenced to death, in case of a Brahmin, it shall be commuted to one of transportation for life by the Sadar Nizamat Adalat. The Court of Circuit was not empowered to pass any sentence in such a case, but it had to forward it to the Sadar Nizamat Adalat for final sentencing


  • In 1796, a minor change was introduced whereby the Registrars of the District Diwani Adalat and the city courts were authorized to officiate as the Judge of the Diwani Adalat in absence of the latter.
  • The Regulation also prescribed various punishments for evasion of the process of the District Magistrate and the City Magistrate.
  • The Judges were required to follow the provisions of the Mohammedan law of crimes only in cases where it went in favour of the accused. However, where the Mohammedan law provided for blood money, the Judges were to award imprisonment even for life. 
  • However, the punishment of transportation beyond seas and branding the name of crime on the forehead of the accused was authorized. Persons charged with perjury were severely punished.


  • Sir John Shore tried to modify the Judicial Plan of 1793 by increasing the court fee further. For filing suit in a court of law the parties were required to use special stamped papers.
  • The decisions of the Provincial Court of Appeal relating to personal property up to Rs. 5000/- were final and in cases exceeding this amount an appeal was allowed to the Sadar Diwani Adalat. However, in case of real property, an appeal from the Provincial Court of Appeal could be preferred to the Sadar Diwani Adalat if the value of the suit exceeded Rs. 1,000/- If the value of the suit was £ 5000 or more, an appeal from Sadar Diwani Adalat could be moved to the King-in-Council within a period of six months.
  • In order to implement some changes in the administration of justice in India, the British Parliament issued an Act in 1797.
  • The lending of money by Europeans to the native princes at exorbitant rates brought down the image of the company in the eyes of people. Therefore, this practice was banned by Section 28 of the Act of 1797 and any violation of this law entailed heavy punishment.
  • Another major change introduced by the Act of 1797 was that the number of the Judges of the Supreme Court at Calcutta was reduced to three including the Chief Justice.
  • The Act also authorized the power of local legislation in the Presidency of Bengal.
  • The Act also provided that all regulations enacted by the Governor-General and Council at Calcutta affecting natives, should be registered in the judicial department in the form of systematic codes and the Provincial Courts were bound by these Regulations. The copies of the Regulations so passed were to be sent to the Court of Directors and the Board of Control in England.


In short, the main contribution of Sir John Shore to the development of judicial system in India may be summed up as follows 

  1. In order to lighten the workload of the Diwani Adalat, he limited the power of appeal from lower to higher Courts. 
  2. Reintroducing court fees helped him reduce the number of cases in Diwani Adalat by discouraging pointless and annoying litigation.
  3. By expanding the Adalat system in the newly created Province, he ensured the security of the lives and property of the residents of the Province of Banaras.

Author: Animesh Nagvanshi,
ICFAI, Dehradun and 3rd Year/ Student

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