JUDICIAL REFORMS BY WARREN HASTINGS IN 1772,1774 & 1780

BACKGROUND OF THE ACTS

The East India Company was recognized and accepted as the political power in Bengal in 1757 after the battle of Plassey. In order to avoid the interference by the British Parliament and jealousy of the French and the Portuguese, the company refrained from declaring itself a de jure political power and continued to recognize the nominal “Nawabs” as political heads. In 1765, the Company obtained the Diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa from the Mughal Emperor.

Even after becoming the Diwan, the company did not take any responsibility for the administration of justice and facilitate the collection of land revenue. This continued until 1769 when the Company appointed English supervisors for each district. The basic job assigned to the supervisors was to supervise the collection of revenue and to protect the ryots from the oppressions of Zamindars and collectors. But it was observed, that the office of supervisors could not function effectively in checking the injustice done to ryots. The judicial and the administrative framework in this period was not very efficient and the situation was further aggravated by the famine of 1769-70. This famine sapped the economic life of Bengal and forced the ryots to lead a life of crime or sanyasi.

As a result of the calamity, the Directors of the Company realized that the system of double government had failed. Eventually, in their dispatch of 28th August 1771, they declared their determination to stand forth as Diwan of the Subah and administer Subahs directly.

In pursuance of the aforementioned determination, the Company authorized the then Governor Warren Hastings to come up with such measures & regulations which shall at once ensure the protection of ryots from the oppression of petty tyrants.

JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1772

The Committee of Circuit under the chairmanship of Warren Hastings carved out the first judicial plan in 1772.

The three provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa were organized into districts under this plan. Each district was placed under the jurisdiction of a “Collector”, who was in charge of revenue collection. Also, to revamp the Judicial Administration System, the following courts were established:

Courts of Original Jurisdiction

Mofussil Faujdari Adalat

It was the criminal court that was formed in each district. A Qazi and a Mufti presided over the court and were assisted by two Maulvies who analyzed the law. The court was under the general supervision of the Collector. All criminal cases were decided and punished by the court. In capital cases, however, the court’s proceedings had to be confirmed by the Sadar Nizamat Adalat before being referred to the Nawab for sentence.

Mofussil Diwani Adalat

It was the court of civil jurisdiction established in each district. The Collector was the Judge of this court. The court dealt with suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste, and other religious usages and institutions. It applied the religious laws in these cases i.e., laws of the Koran with regard to Mohammedans and those of shastras with respect to Hindus. In matters of Hindus and Muslims, the court took help from the pandits and Kazis respectively, who expounded the law to be applied by the judge.

Small Cause Adalat

This was the civil court of the purganah’s Head Farmer which decided the issues up to the value of Rs.10.

Appellate Courts

The following two appellate courts were established-

Sadar Nizamat Adalat

It was the criminal court of appeals, presided over by the Daroga-i-Adalat and assisted by Chief Kazi, Chief Mufti, and three Maulvies. The court was overseen by the Governor and Council in general.

Sadar Diwani Adalat

This court was composed of the Governor and Council and heard appeals from the Mofussil Diwani Adalat where the value of the suit exceeded Rs.500.

With the view of maintaining impartiality and transparency, these adalats were required to act as a “Court of records” i.e., they were required to maintain proper registers and records. The district adalats were also required to send an abstract of their records to the Sadar Adalats.

The plan of 1772 was a boon to the people of that time in many ways. Before this plan the people had no security of their life or liberty; they were subjected to oppression and harassment from two sides i.e., from Company’s servants and zamindars. This change in the judicial system brought back the confidence of the people in the government and the administration of justice. It is said that this plan was a great achievement for Warren Hastings.

The scheme, however, suffered from two weaknesses:

  1. The court for small cases was very less in number and had very small jurisdiction i.e., only up to a small amount of Rs. 10. Most of the time, people had to travel to the district headquarters, in the times when the communications were difficult.
  2. There was a concentration of power with the Collector due to which he could easily misuse his authority.

JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1774

Warren Hastings and the Board of Directors were aware of the Collector’s powers. To solve this limitation the Directors directed the Governor-General and Council to withdraw the Collectors as they were monopolizing the trade in the districts.

Accordingly, on 23rd November 1773, a new plan was laid down which came into force in January 1774. Under the Judicial Plan of 1774, an Indian officer, called Diwan or Amil was appointed in place of the Collectors recalled from the districts. The Diwan/ Amil acted as the judge of the Mofussil Diwani Adalat and collected the land revenue.

In the judicial reforms of 1774 the entire Mofussil area of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa was divided into 6 divisions (Calcutta, Burdwan, Murshidabad, Dinajpore, Dacca, Patna). Each division had its own Provincial Council which consisted of four or five British servants of the Company. The Council had general supervision over the land revenue and heard appeals against the decisions of Mofussil Diwani Adalat and also practiced original jurisdiction at the place of its seat.

The provincial councils did not replace the Sadar Diwani Adalat, instead, they were added to the hierarchy of courts and the appeals against the decisions of the Provincial council were allowed in the Sadar Diwani Adalat if the suit was valued at more than R. 1000.

Although the new system was an improvement over the previous one, the change did not give good results for long. The Council took the place of Collector in creating difficulties and monopolizing trade within its jurisdiction.

JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1780

The defects of the system set up in 1774 were seen in the Patna Case. The Provincial Councils, which were constituted under the 1774 plan, were deemed to be ineffective. Members of the Councils had more essential things to do than sit as judges, such as managing the collection of revenue and do other executive tasks. They were uninterested in judicial work and delegated it to law enforcement agents. As a result, the law enforcement officials were free to make their own decisions. When Warren Hastings took cognizance of these flaws, he instituted a new judicial plan on April 11, 1780, to improve them and make the judicial administration system healthy in all aspects.

The separation of revenue and judicial affairs was a key aspect of this plan. As a result, separate agencies were established to deal with the collection of land revenue and the resolution of revenue issues. Under this system, Provincial Councils were limited to collecting land revenue and resolving revenue disputes. Other responsibilities were taken away from them.

Diwani Adalat

In each of the six divisions of Calcutta, Murshidabad, Burdwan, Dacca, Dinajpore, and Patna, a Diwani Adalat was established to execute judicial tasks. An English Judge, who was a Company servant, presided over this court. Superintendent of Diwani Adalat was the name given to the judge. In a disagreement between a Hindu or a Mohammedan, the Superintendent was assisted by native law officers. The Superintendent was required to take an oath of office, promising to work without fear or favor. He was completely free of the Provincial Council’s supervision. In each of the six divisions, an autonomous civil judiciary was established.

This court had authority over all civil cases, regardless of their nature or value. Cases with a value of less than Rs.100 could be referred to the local zamindar or any other local public officer to avoid the parties having to go to the Division Headquarter. In matters with a value of less than Rs.100, Diwani Adalat’s verdicts were final. Appeals against this court’s decisions moved to the Sadar Diwani Adalat in cases of greater valuation.

REFERENCES

Books:

  1. Landmarks in Indian Legal & Constitutional History – V.D Kulshreshtha
  2. Outlines of Indian Legal & Constitutional History- M.P. Singh
  3. Outlines of Indian Legal & Constitutional History- MP. Jain

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