Lord Cornwallis’ Governor-Generalship (1786-1793) is a unique and innovative period in Indian legal history. He was the first governor-general of India to be subjected to Pitt’s India Act. He was a nobleman of high status with an aristocratic demeanour. He was successful in India because he followed Warren Hastings’ policy. He completely overhauled the legal system. He introduced the concept of legal administration for the first time. He implemented major and far-reaching court reforms, some of which are still in use today. Cornwallis implemented the reforms in three stages, in 1787, 1790, and 1793.


Lord Cornwallis submitted his first idea in the year 1787, on the orders of the Court of Directors, to consolidate revenue and judicial powers under a single body known as the Collector. As a result, the Collector was in charge of both collecting income and resolving revenue disputes. As a judge, he presided over the mofussil diwani adalat (district civil court). He would decide civil and zamindar cases in mofussil diwani adalat. When disputes between the mofussil diwani adalat and the Sadr Diwani Adalat surpassed Rs.1000/-, the mofussil diwani adalat appealed to the Sadr Diwani Adalat. The Governor General presided over the Sadr Diwani Adalat and also the Magistrate’s court  This was done to prevent a jurisdictional disagreement and to save money. 

The revenue court’s provided title was Mal Adalat. The Board of Revenue in Calcutta overturned the Collector’s decisions, and a second appeal was filed to the Governor-General and Council. In the case of revenue, there were two options for appeal. Calcutta’s number of districts was reduced from 36 to 23.

To settle civil disputes, Diwani Adalat was established, with the Collector as the sole judge. A certain amount of magisterial jurisdiction was also given to the Collector. As a Magistrate, he had the power to detain criminals, hear evidence against them, and refer the matter to a criminal court for trial. For small transgressions, he was given the ability to sentence anyone to 15 days in prison. 

In terms of justice administration, the approach was a step backward. Warren Hastings’ feat of separating revenue and judicial functions is reversed with this method. In civil cases, a Mofussil Diwani appeal may be made with the Sardar Diwani Adlent if the sum in issue exceeds Rupees one thousand, followed by a second appeal to the Kings’ Council if the amount in dispute reaches 5000 euros. The Governor General and his entire council, as well as the Chief Kazi, Chief Mufti, and two Moulvis for Muslim law and two Moulvis for Hindu law, make up the Sadar Adalat.



(1) The criminal justice system was handed over entirely to Muslim cops. They exploited their powers because they lacked control over them, such as accepting bribes. (2) The Moffussil Faujdari Adalats had unrestrained power, and they became autocratic in the lack of efficient monitoring. (3) There was no link between the seriousness of the crime and the severity of the punishment. The courts were allowed complete discretion in imposing punishment. As a result, even in the case of murder, the perpetrator went unpunished. (4) In many cases the protection was afforded to the criminal by Zamindars and by their influence over the Muslim judges, they could get the criminals escape from the clutches of the judiciary. In this way, crimes were encouraged (5) The Nawab, who held control over the criminal court system, was a callous man.

All magistrates were issued a questionnaire by Lord Cornwallis, asking for their thoughts and information on the criminal justice system. The comments of the magistrates painted a very poor picture of the current system. After the 1790 reforms, the Nawab’s name was removed from the criminal judicial system. The administration was turned over to the Company’s servants, who were to oversee everything. The administration was committed to the Company’s personnel, who would be aided by Muslim law enforcement officers. Murshidabad, Calcutta, Dacca, and Patna were the four divisions that made up the districts. To combat the widespread corruption in the contemporary judicial system, the wages of all judges in all courts were fixed and increased. Court fees was introduced to reduce the burden on courts. Court fees was only charged for pleaders of the court and for calling the witnesses of the case.

The was  ordered Collector to prepare a report on the workings of the courts he was in charge of, namely the Magistrate, Mal Adalat, and Mofussil Diwani Adalat, and transmit it to the British Parliament of England twice a year.

Three types of Courts were created in the Mofiissil area,

  1. Court of District Magistrate remained as mentioned in the 1787 plan 
  2. Circuit Court- The Magistrate’s Court was a traveling court that visited each region twice a year to try persons charged by the Magistrate. Two Company servants, a kazi, and a mufti made up the group. To reduce the incentive to accept bribes, court employees’ pay have been increased.
  3. Sardar Nizamat Adalat: It was transferred to Calcutta, where it was judged by the Governor-General and Council, with Muslim law officers assisting them. The 1790 system functioned admirably; the only flaw found in the system was that the Courts of Circuit were asked to manage enormous amounts of work. As a result, Cornwallis enabled Magistrates in 1792 to impose punishment in situations punishable by up to one month in prison. The pressure on Circuit Courts was relieved as a result of this. Lord Cornwallis also made certain humane measures, such as providing allowances to persecutors and witnesses who appeared in court, abolishing the clause for attachment of property, and allowing offenders to be rehabilitated.


The 1793 system is considered the pinnacle of Indian legal history because it was founded on certain postulates that are considered important and fundamental for any civilized country’s judicial organization. The plan called for a system of justice administration that would ensure and defend people’s liberty while also promoting their overall well-being.

The basic or general features of the scheme are as follows,-

  • Separation of executive and judiciary: Henceforth, the Collector was to be responsible only for collection of revenue. The power of administering civil justice was given to the diwani Adalats.
  • Control of judiciary over executive: For their official acts, the Collectors and all executive officers were made susceptible to the diwani adalats. For violations of the Regulations, they were to be held personally accountable and could be forced to pay damages to the aggrieved party. Thus, for the first time, the people were granted the right to seek redress from the Company’s officers who had wronged them.
  • Governmental liability: Any person could file a suit for damages in the diwani adalat against the Government in the same way as he could file suit against a private person.
  • British subjects and Diwani Adalats Until now, natives could only seek remedy against British subjects in the Supreme Court of Calcutta. Because of their poverty and distance, Indians had a tough time getting to the Supreme Court. To avert this, the diwani adalat was given the authority to refuse to allow any British subject to live more than 10 miles from Calcutta unless he signed a bond agreeing to be subject to the court’s jurisdiction up to the amount of Rs. 500.
  • Establishment of Provincial Courts of Appeal at the four divisions: Previously, the Mofussil Diwani Adalats had appealed to the Sadr Diwani Adalat in Calcutta. However, because this was a time-consuming and costly process, provincial courts of appeal were formed in each division, namely Patna, Calcutta, Murshidabad, and Dacca. Appeals from the Mofussil Adalat were now directed to the provincial court of appeals, which had three months to hear them. Three loyal English servants of the business ruled over these courts. Two servants made up the quorum. It was a public court that could hear tax, civil, and criminal issues. They might also try matters that the Sadr Diwani Adalats recommended to them.
  • Court Fees abolished :Court fees which was imposed in the judicial plan of 1787 was abolished. The court fee was abolished so that the people could easily reach to the court for securing justice. 
  • Reforms in criminal judicature: The circuit court and the provincial court of appeal were amalgamated. The collector’s authority as a magistrate was stripped away and given to the judges of the diwani adalats.
  • Reforms in Muslim Personal Law: To trial and punish criminal crimes, the Sadr Nizamat Adalat was directed to follow Muslim personal law, albeit with notable adjustments. There was no provision for the killer to be pardoned by the family of the victims. The brutal and inhumane punishments of amputation of an offender’s limbs were replaced with a 14-year sentence of incarceration and hard labor.


Lord Cornwallis refined the procedure started by Warren Hastings. The 1793 Plan was well-planned, well-executed, and well-executed. The new system was designed around the concept of checks and balances, with executive officers being held personally responsible for their official actions and a complex system of judicial scrutiny and appeals in place. Cornwallis was effective in uprooting the evil of corruption through his many judicial plans. Though Cornwallis was a reasonable administrator, he was viewed as a racist since he reserved all of the senior judicial positions for Europeans. Even though Cornwallis almost perfected the administration of civil judicature, the problem of criminal law was still prevalent as the criminal law was based on Muslim personal law which already had prevalent defects in it.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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