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JUDICIAL REFORMS OF LORD CORNWALLIS

• In the year 1786, Lord Cornwallis became the Governor-General of the Company at Calcutta.
During his tenure he made several reforms in Judicial Administration. These reforms were made
in 3 stages in 1787, 1790 and 1793.

THE JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1787

Reasons:

 The company was dissatisfied with the existing judicial system of Warren Hastings as it had
separate revenue and judicial functions.

 This separation was expensive.

 It also created conflicting and overlapping jurisdictions.

 The Directors directed Cornwallis to vest in one person the revenue, judicial and magisterial
functions to promote “simplicity, energy, justice and economy "and as John Shore put it the
habit of submission of the natives to an arbitrary and despotic government..

So via 2 regulations on 8th and 27th June respectively, the First Judicial Plan of Cornwallis was introduced.

Features:

 All revenue and judicial functions were vested with the Collector.

 The Collector would collect the revenue and decide all disputes relating to collection of land
revenue in his district.

 The ‘Mal Adalat’ or ‘revenue court’ was his office for revenue matters.

 An appeal against the decisions of the Collector went to the Board of Revenue, and a second
appeal lay with the Governor-General and Council.

 ‘Diwani Adalat’ was established for deciding civil disputes in each district, and the Collector was
its sole judge.

 Appeals from the Diwani Adalat went to the Sadar Diwani Adalat in matters worth Rs.1000 or
more, and a further second appeal was allowed to the King-in-Council in matters exceeding
£5000 in value.

 A Registrar was appointed for the assistance of the Collector and heard cases up to Rs. 200 in
value upon being referred to by the Collector.

 All his decrees needed to be countersigned by the Collector to be enforced.


 The Collector as Magistrate, could arrest criminals, hear evidence against them, charge-sheet
them and commit the case to the criminal court to have it tried.

 In petty matters, he had the power to decide and inflict punishment of upto 15 lashes or 15 days
imprisonment. The rest needed to be referred to the Criminal Court.

 The Collector was also authorised to arrest even British subjects but with sufficient evidence and
then commit them to the Supreme Court.

EVALUATION OF THE PLAN OF 1787

 The Plan of 1787, although in consonance with the wishes of the Directors, was a retrograde
step in the administration of justice.

 Primary importance was attached to revenue collection, as justice was made subservient to the
needs of revenue collection.

 People lost confidence in the impartial role of the Collector as a Civil judge.

 The provisions for appeal in all the cases from the decisions of the Collector were intended to
keep him in bounds and prevent the misuse of his authority, but the scarce means of
communication to exercise such control from Calcutta made this difficult.

THE JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1790

Reasons:

 The Administration of criminal justice was completely left in control of the Muslim officers
without any control or supervision.

 The Nawab did not care any longer about the functioning of the Criminal Courts.

 The Judges appointed had no legal education, character and integrity. They were paid very little
and working conditions were unhealthy.

 The Mofussil Faujdari Adalats had become autocratic and tyrannical in the absence of proper
control.

 There was an absence of any connection between the severity of a crime and its punishment.
The courts were given freedom to award punishments of their choice.

 Justice administration was often delayed, instances of accused staying in jail for 10 years waiting
for trial exist.

 The jails were also in a bad condition and the inmates lived an inhumane life.

 Criminals went under protection of the Zamindars, due to their influence over the Muslim
judges.
 The judges were paid low salaries and therefore there was every possibility of accepting illegal
gratifications.

Cornwallis as a result decided to introduce reforms in criminal administration of justice so as to overhaul


it, and came up with a scheme on 3rd December 1790.

Features:

 Three types of courts in decreasing order of hierarchy were established in the Mofussil area :
the Sadar Nizamat Adalat, the Circuit Court and the Court of the District Magistrate.

 The District Magistrate could arrest criminals, took evidence against them and then committed
them to the Circuit Court for trial.

 He could however punish the criminal upto 15 Rattans or 15 days of imprisonment in small
crimes.

 He had to maintain all records and charts to be examined by the Circuit Courts about the work
done and people awaiting trial.

 The entire Mofussil area was divided into 4Patna,Calcutta,Murshidabad and Dacca divisions,
with each division with a Circuit Court of its own.

 2 servants of the Company administered criminal justice on all matters presented to them by
the District Magistrate.

 The court visited every district twice a year.

 It was assisted by a Kazi and a Mufti for expounding the law and proposing Fatwa.

 The court gave its punishment on these Fatwas.

 Appeal would lie to the Sadar Nizamat Adalat in case of death sentence or life imprisonment, or
if the Fatwa wasn’t accepted.

 The Muslim officers were given security of tenure and could be removed by the Governor-
General and Council for incapacity and misconduct.

 The office of the Remembrancer was abolished.

 The salaries of the officers of the courts were increased to prevent bribery.

 In 1792, Cornwallis gave more powers to the Magistrate to enable him to punish upto 30 strips
or one month’s imprisonment.

 The provision for the attachment of the property of an accused during the trial was abolished.
A provision was made for the payment of an amount not exceeding Rs. 5 to the convicts on their release
from jail for his rehabilitation

 Punishment for murder was now to be given on the basis of intention rather than the
instrument employed.

 Evidence of non-muslims was allowed and given equal value.

 Blood Money was abolished.

 Cruel punishments were abolished.

 Salaries and allowances of the judges and native officers was increased in order to check
corruption.

EVALUATION OF THE PLAN OF 1790

 The plan sought to remove the irrationality and uncertainty of the Muslim criminal law.

 There was a remarkable decrease in the number of crimes and life and property of people was
fairly secured.

 However, the Circuit courts were heavily overburdened due to accumulation of work as the
circuit court was mobile.

 The offenders, as a result of this had to remain in prisons for inordinately long periods of time.

THE JUDICIAL PLAN OF 1793

Reasons:

 The Collector as under the provisions of the first plan soon became an autocrat.

 The future prospects, promotion and remunerations of the Collector depended on the collection
of land revenue making him neglect his judicial responsibilities.

 The Collector being responsible for collection of revenue could not expected to give impartial
justice in his own case, when brought up in the Mal Adalats.

 Arrears and number of cases pending increased very sharply.

Features:

 The judicial powers of the Collector were divested, and he was left only with the power to
collect land revenue.

 By Regulation III, section 10, all executive officers, including the Collector were made amenable
to the jurisdiction of the courts personally.
 The liability of the government for the wrongs committed by itself and its officers during the
course of their duties was for the first time recognised.

 The Diwani Adalat was given the power of not allowing any British subject to live beyond 10
miles from Calcutta, unless he executed a bond to the effect that he shall be liable to the
jurisdiction of that court upto the value of Rs. 500

 The Sadar Diwani Adalat was the highest court in the civil judicial hierarchy and consisted of the
Governor-General and Council. It heard all appeals of the Provincial Court of Appeal in the
matters exceeding Rs. 1000.

 A second appeal also lay to the King-in-Council in matters exceeding £ 5000.

 The court could also receive any original suit to be referred to the Provincial Court of Appeal or
to the Diwani Adalat, if it had been neglected by them.

 It also heard and decided charges of corruption and incompetency against the judges of the
Provincial Court of Appeal and the Diwani Adalat.

 A first court of appeal was established in each of the four divisions of Patna, Dacca, Calcutta and
Murshidabad with the name of Provincial Court of Appeal as the Sadar Diwani Adalat was not
accessible to the people living in the interior.

 It consisted of three British servants of the Company as its judges.

 It had the jurisdiction to try all civil suits referred to it by the Government or the Sadar Diwani
Adalat; to entertain and refer back to the Diwani Adalat those cases which it had refused to
entertain’ to hear appeals in all matters against the decisions of the Diwani Adalat, if filed within
3 months, and lastly, to receive charges of corruption against the judges of the Diwani Adalat,
and send them to the Sadar Diwani Adalat with its report.

 The Diwani Adalat was reorganised by dislodging the collector and appointing of a civil servant
of the Company in his place as its judge.

 The judge was required to take an oath of impartiality, and keep proper records of all the
proceedings and hold the courts in open so that it could be seen by the people that justice was
actually being administered.

 The Diwani Adalat could refer the suits upto the value of Rs. 200 to the Court of Registrar which
was held by a servant of the Company.

 The decrees and the orders of the Court of the Registrar were countersigned by the judge of the
Diwani Adalat.
 Provision was made by regulation XI for issuing Commissions to Zamindars, Tehsildars and other
respectable persons appointing them as Munsifs to try suits upto the value of Rs. 50.

 Munsifs were so appointed that no person had to travel more than 10 miles to file a suit.

 The suits could be filed directly in the Munsif’s Courts but they could be executed only by the
Diwani Adalat.

 The decisions were appealable to the Diwani Adalat and further to the Provincial Court of
Appeal.

 A court of Ameen, junior to the Munsif, was also created, and had the same composition and
powers except it could not entertain a case directly unless referred to it by the Diwani Adalat.

 The Magisterial powers and functions of the Collector were transferred to the judge of the
Diwani Adalat. The powers of the Magistrate were extended to punish petty criminals in petty
offences with 15 days imprisonment or fine of Rs. 100.

 The Circuit Courts created under the scheme of 1790 were replaced by the Provincial Court of
Appeal.

 By Regulation VII of 1793, the Sadar Diwani Adalat was authorised to appoint pleaders and issue
Sunnuds. Only people having legal knowledge, good reputation and character could be If a
pleader was found guilty of corruption, fraud or gross-misconduct, he could be suspended or
even dismissed.

 The Court fee which had been imposed by Warren Hastings was abolished.

 Every Regulation form now onwards, had to have a preamble and a title by which the nature
and purpose of the Regulation could clearly and easily be ascertained.

 The Regulations were to be produced in the form of sections and clauses, to be numbered
serially.

 Regulations of each year were to be recorded properly, printed, published and circulated
regularly to the people, courts and authorities to whom they were concerned.

 Regulation XII of 1793 provided that the law officers shall be appointed by the Governor-
General and Council from amongst people of good character, integrity and skilled in law.

 The Native Law Officers were given security of tenure and could only be dismissed only for
incapacity or misconduct in their duty.

 They were also required to take an oath before they assumed their office.
EVALUATION OF THE PLAN OF 1793

 The actions of the executive authority were subject to judicial review, emphasizing the
separation of revenue and judiciary.

 The judicial machinery was designed with a view to ensure fairness, impartiality and efficiency in
the administration of justice.

 The provisions for 2 or 3 appeals in civil cases increased the arrears of work in the appellate
courts.

 Indians were excluded from the judiciary except at the level of munsif. This showed the distrust
in Indians and led to dissatisfaction amongst them.

 . Cornwallis did everything on the structural and procedural side but he could not do much to
reform the substantive law, particularly the criminal law which was based on the Muslim law
and suffered form a number of defects.

Thus it was the most logical, comprehensive, well planned and foresighted. Many of the
defects that existed in earlier schemes disappeared and the courts functioned with greater
efficiency, independence and judicious outlook as for the first time ‘Rule of Law’ was established
in the Mofussil area. The plan was based on sound principles and the intention was to deliver
justice to the people free from favour or fear.