The Judicial Plan of 1787 of Lord Cornwallis

The Judicial Plan 1787 of Lord Cornwallis

General Charles Cornwallis was a British army officer and a diplomat. He was  appointed as the Commander-in-Chief and governor of Bengal Presidency in 1786. He was an excellent administrator and played a vital role in consolidating the British control in peninsular India which helped in setting the stage for the British Raj. The standards set by him in areas of service, courts and land revenue collection remained remarkably unaltered almost till the end of the British era in India. Various administrative, judicial and land reforms were brought by him that altered the civil administration and land management practices there.

After becoming the Governor General of Bengal, Cornwallis brought the judicial and revenue administration in three phases of his judicial plan- 1787, 1790, 1793.

Judicial plan of 1787

Warren Hastings, 1st Governor General of Bengal brought a policy which separated the Revenue administration from the Judicial administration. This system happened to be too costly and even led to conflict between the two powers. In regard to this situation, Lord Cornwallis brought a new judicial plan in 1787 which combined the revenue and judicial administration into a single authority  and this authority was named “Collector”. The Collector was vested with the power to collect the land revenue as well as decide the revenue disputes. This step was taken with the intention to avoid the conflict of jurisdiction and to save expenses of the Company.

For reorganizing the revenue administration, the number of  districts in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa was decreased from 36 to 23. The revenue cases in each districts were settled by an English servant, Collector. The Collector was also the Magistrate of the district. As a Magistrate the Collector had the power to arrest criminals and could even hear evidence against them. He could then commit the case to the Criminal court to be tried by it. In petty matters, he was given a power to arrest a criminal for a maximum period of 15 days.

Mal adalats were established in districts, where the revenue cases were handled by the Collector. The Collector was also the judge of the Muffasil Diwani Adalat, which meant that the Collector, apart from revenue cases, was also empowered to deal with civil cases. There was a provision of two appeals in revenue cases. Appeals from Mal Adalats, in case of revenue cases layed to the Board of Revenue at Calcutta and further appeal from Board of Revenue layed to the Governor General’s Council. In civil cases, appeal from Muffasil Diwani Adalats layed to Sadar Diwani Adalat in case of matter exceeding more than Rs 1000. The Sadar Diwani Adalat comprised of the Governor General and all the members of his Council which included the chief Qazi, the Chief Maulvi and two Maulvis for Muslim Law and Hindu Pandit for Hindu Law. An appeal from the Sadar Adalat was referred to King in Council in case of the amount exceeding Rs 5000.

A new office of Registrar was created which was subordinate to the Collector in case of Civil cases. This office had jurisdiction of cases not exceeding more than Rs 200.

Lord Cornwallis made efforts to improve justice administration. His intention was to increase the revenue, but certain steps like ending discrimination that gave privilege to Britishers, abolishing of court fees were laudable. By taking these steps, Lord Cornwallis was successful in uprooting the evil of corruption. Cornwallis’s experiment improved the administration of civil administration but could not solve the problems faced by the Criminal Justice System of that time. This plan also led to over centraliazation of power in the hands of a single person i.e. The Collector. The Collectors were over powered and  over burdened with work as they had to look after the civil, revenue as well as magisterial work.

Author: Yatharth Tripathi,
1st year, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi/ Student

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