Administration of Justice in India from 1639 to 1726

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This article will focus on the administration of justice in India from 1639 to 1726 can be in the presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta mainly. The justice administration was mainly developed in 3 stages.


In 1639, Francis day acquired a piece of land from a Hindu Raja for the East India Company, which came to be known as Madraspatnam. Madraspatnam had a fort called the white town in which an agent and council were authorized to decide both civil and criminal cases of English people residing at Fort St George.

The Choultry Court presided by the native judicial officer called Adikari tried cases except for serious offences like murder. By the Charter of 1661 the company was empowered to appoint Governor and Council to decide civil and criminal cases of all persons of the company. While the cases of Englishmen were referred to England, the cases of the company people were governed under the English law. The judicial system was reorganized by the Governor in 1678. 12 juries sat twice a week to try civil and criminal cases. They also took appeals from the Choultry Court. The Old Choultry Court was reconstituted to replace the Adikari with three English Officers. These officers sat twice a week and tried all civil cases up to the value of 50 pagodas. These cases were appealable before the governor in council.

In 1686, an admiralty court was established under the Charter of 1683 headed by the Judge Advocate. The Admiralty Court consisted of one person learned in civil law and two men appointed by the company who decided on all cases of mercantile or maritime nature, trespass, injuries and wrongs committed on high seas, forfeiture and seizure of ships or goods. This court functioned as a general court for the city for all civil and criminal cases applying the rules of equity, good conscience and the laws and customs of merchants.

The Charter of 1687 established a Mayor’s Court consisting of a Mayor, twelve Aldermen and sixty or more Burgesses. The Mayor holds office for oner, the Aldermen were elected by the Mayor annually and the Mayor and the Aldermen selected the Burgesses. The Mayor and at least 3 Aldermen were to be servant of the company. The Mayor Court tried all civil cases up to the value of 3 pagodas and all criminal cases with the help of jury and punished the offenders by fine or imprisonment. Appeals from Mayor Court went to the Admiralty Court. Appeals from Admiralty Court were heard by the Governor and the Council.

The Charter of 1726 established the Mayor’s Court at Madras, Bombay and Calcutta consisting of a Mayor and 9 Aldermen. The Mayor and 7 Aldermen were to be of English native. The Mayor holds the office for a year while the Aldermen hold the office for lifelong. The Governor could dismiss the Aldermen on reasonable grounds. This court only tried civil matters. Governor in Council heard appeals from the Mayor’s Court up to the value of 1000 pagodas. If the value of the suit was more than 1000 pagodas, a second appeal was permitted to the privy council. The Governor and 5 senior members of the Council were the Justice of Peace, having criminal jurisdiction.


Bombay which was under the control of the Portuguese from 1534, was given as a dowry to Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese King’s sister in 1661. Here also the administration of justice developed in 3 stages. Gerald Aungier classified all laws into six sections; • Freedom of worship and religious believes • Impartial administration of justice • Court of judicature to decide all criminal cases • Appointment of justice of peace and order to arrest criminals • Registration of transactions concerning sale of land and houses • Miscellaneous provisions dealt with penalties for different crimes military discipline and prevention of disorder and revolt.

Bombay was divided into two divisions, each division containing a court of 5 judges. The customs officer of each division presided this court. A quorum of this court sat once a week and tried petty civil and criminal cases up to the value of two xerophins. Under the New Judicial Plan of 1672, all cases were tried according to English Law. Central Court of Judicature was established and was presided by a single Judge who sat once a week and tried all civil, criminal and testamentary cases. Justice of Peace was divided into four divisions each headed by an Englishman who acted as committing magistrate and sent the accused to Court of Judicature for trial. The appellate authority was Deputy Governor Council. The Court of Conscience sat once a week to decide petty cases summarily without charging fees from the litigants. An Admiralty Court similar to that of Madras was established in 1684. The Court of Judicature established in 1718 consisting of a Chief Justice and nine judges. The Chief Justice and five judges were to be English. The court sat once a week and tried all civil, criminal, testamentary cases as per law, equity, good conscience and rules and ordinance of the company from time to time. Appeal from this court was head by the Governor and Council.


English Merchants found a settlement at Sutanati in 1690 where Calcutta was developed. Calcutta became a presidency with the Governor and Council to manage its affairs. A member of the Council was appointed as Collector to act as Zamindar on behalf of the company in 1700. The Collector decided criminal cases of the natives of the villages Sutanati, Gobindpur and Calcutta. The criminals were punished by whipping, imposing fines, imprisonment, banishment or work on roads. A capital punishment was given only after confirmation by the Governor in Council. Each Collector held a Cutcherry or Adalat and decided all civil cases according to the customs of the country. Appeals from this Court went before the Nawab Court at Murshidabad. A death sentence had to be confirmed by the Nawab who is a native governor during the time of the Mughal Empire