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Governor General Lord Cornwallis’s Impact on Administrative

Info: 3875 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 31st May 2019

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Prior to the earl’s arrival, judicial and police powers in territories controlled by the company were a confusion of differing standards that were also either inconsistently or arbitrarily applied. Part of Cornwallis’s work was the introduction of criminal and judicial regulations that to a significant degree still underpin the Indian judicial system.

Indian cities, much like British cities of the time, were poorly policed, and crime was widespread. Different penal and civil codes were applied to Hindus and Muslims, and the codification of these codes in different languages meant that it was virtually impossible for justice to be properly and consistently applied. Much of the criminal justice system in Bengal remained in the hands of the nawab, the nominal local ruler of the company’s territory. Furthermore, individuals with powerful political connections in their community often were able to act with impunity, since no one suffering at their hands was likely to press charges for fear of retribution. Hastings had several times made changes to policing and the administration of justice, but none of these had had a significant impact on the problem.

Cornwallis received critical assistance from others in his effort to introduce legal reforms. William Jones, an expert on languages, translated existing Hindu and Muslim penal codes into English so that they could be evaluated and applied by English-speaking judges. Cornwallis began in 1787 by giving limited criminal judicial powers to the company’s revenue collectors, who already also served as civil magistrates. He also required them to report regularly on detention times and sentences given. In 1790 the company took over the administration of justice from the nawab, and Cornwallis introduced a system of circuit courts with a superior court that met in Calcutta and had the power of review over circuit court decisions. Judges were drawn from the company’s European employees. These reforms also included changes to the penal codes to begin harmonizing the different codes then in use. By the time of his departure in 1793 his work on the penal code, known in India as the Cornwallis Code, was substantially complete.

One consequence of the Cornwallis Code was that it, in effect, institutionalized racism in the legal system. Cornwallis, in a manner not uncommon at the time, believed that well-bred gentlemen of European extraction were superior to others, including those that were the product of mixed relationships in India. Of the latter, he wrote “as on account of their colour & extraction they are considered in this country as inferior to Europeans, I am of opinion that those of them who possess the best abilities could not command that authority and respect which is necessary in the due discharge of the duty of an officer.” In 1791 he issued an order that “No person, the son of a Native Indian, shall henceforward be appointed by this Court to Employment in the Civil, Military, or Marine Service of the Company.” Cornwallis’s biographers, the Wickwires, also observe that this institutionalization of the British as an elite class simply added another layer on top of the complex status hierarchy of caste and religion that existed in India at the time. Cornwallis could not have formalized these policies without the (tacit or explicit) agreement of the company’s directors and employees.

Cornwallis’s attituted toward the lower classes did, however, include a benevolent and somewhat paternalistic desire to improve their condition. He introduced legislation to protect native weavers who were sometimes forced into working at starvation wages by unscrupulous company employees, outlawed child slavery, and established in 1791 a Sanskrit college for Hindus that is now the Government Sanskrit College in Benares. He also established a mint in Calcutta that, in addition to benefiting the poor by providing a reliable standard currency, was a forerunner India’s modern currency.


The court of directors on 12th April 1786 directed the Cornwallis to vest in one person the revenue, judicial, and magisterial functions. Cornwallis followed the ordered and introduced plan of 1787. In this plan Cornwallis increased the salaries of collectors.

2nd He reduced the number of Diwani districts from 36 to 23 and this made it possible to increase the salaries of collectors. The scheme was introduced through 2 Regulations.

First Regulation dealt with Revenue Administration and it was introduced on 8th June 1787. Second Regulation dealt with administration of justice and it was enacted on 27 June 1787. In each district a company’s English covenanted servant was appointed as collector who will collect revenue as well as will decide the all cases relating to revenue. Collector also worked as Judge in the district Mofussil Diwani Adalat to decide civil cases, succession cases and land related cases like boundaries etc.

Revenue Court was known as mal Adalat .Appeals from mal Adalat went to the Board of Revenue at Calcutta. And it finally went to the Governor General.

In Diwani Adalat appeals in the cases where matters involving more than one thousand rupees went to the Sadar Diwani Adalat, where Governor General and council handled the cases.

Appeal from Sadar Diwani Adalat went to the King in Council.

In each Adalat registrar was appointed as a subordinate officer to help collectors.

Registrar was given power to handle decide cases up to rupees 200 and orders passed by him became valid when it were signed by the judge of Mofussil Adalat.

As a magistrate collector was authorized to try and arrest criminals in petty offences.

The magistrate got power to hear the cases against the Englishmen who committed crimes against Indians, in this case magistrate made inquiry and he felt that there is ground for trial, he would send the Englishman accused to the Calcutta for trial and if Indian complainant was poor, the government paid all the expenses of travelling to Calcutta.

Cornwallis began in 1787 by giving limited criminal judicial powers to the company’s revenue collectors, who already also served as civil magistrates? He also required them to report regularly on detention times and sentences given.


Criminal Justice system –

In 1790 Cornwallis tried to reform the criminal justice system which was following Muslim criminal law system and Mofussil Fauzdari Adalats were controlled by Qazis, muftis and moulvies.

Everything was controlled by Naib Nawab Raza khan and who was not answerable to anyone including Remembrancer. The salaries of the criminal court judges were very low which encouraged them to get involved in the corruption.

Low salaried kept honest and educated people away from this job and every corrupt man wanted to become the criminal court judge.

Fozdari adalats did not give fast justice, it delayed the justice.

Delayed justice encourages criminals to do more crimes. As they do not fear the law.

Cornwallis wanted to reform all this and introduced the new scheme on 3rd December 1790.

Main Featured of the scheme of 1790

Criminal justice system – transferred to English servants from Muslim law officers.

Muslim law officers became advisors to the court.

And criminal cases should be decided quickly.

Districts got the magistrates, above them were Courts of Circuit and above them was Sadar Nizamat Adalat.

Sadar Nizamat Adalat was shifted to Calcutta from Murshidabad and Nawab was divested of his control over the adalat.

In Sadar Adalat Governor General and council members sat as judges and Muslim law officers helped them to understand the Muslim law.

Mofussil Fozdari adalats were abolished and on their place four court of circuits were established.

All districts in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were arranged into four divisions of Patna, Calcutta, Murshidabad and Dacca.

Court of circuit was a moving court and it travelled from district to district in the given division.

Court of Circuit consisted of 2 companies covenanted servants and Muslim law officers help them.

The new criminal judicial system was inaugurated on January 1, 1791 and office of remembrance was abolished which was created in the time of Warren Hastings.

The salaries of the criminal court judges were increased and first time Governor General took the complete control of criminal justice system Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

In 1792, company government sanctioned small sum as a payment to the prosecutors and witnesses who spent the days in court of circuit for their journey to attend the trials.

The criminals who completed the punishment, when came out of jail they were paid money to maintain themselves for a month.

Defects of Scheme –

Lot of work for court of circuits

No provision to supervise the collectors, who got unlimited powers

Cornwallis understood the defects of the above schemes and He introduced the plan of 1793


In May 1793, the Cornwallis code emerged as a legal code, representing a compilation of fort eight regulations. Drafter by Sir George Barlow (1762- 1864), it included measures covering both civil and criminal law. In Bengal, the code provided for the Governor-in Council to form both the Sadar Diwani Adalat (civil) and Sadar Nizamat Adalat (Criminal). In 1801, these appellate duties were transferred from the executive to the Supreme Court of Calcutta. The Cornwallis code further established four Provincial Courts of Appeal located in Calcutta, Murshidabad, Dacca and Patna. Provincial courts were further developed in 1795 at Benares and in 1803 at Bareilly. These courts handled cases on appeal from the District Courts of Bengal to prevent overloading the Sadar Diwani Adalat in Calcutta. Each Provincial court accepted appeals from six to nine District courts. They consisted of three English judges which were later raised to 4. They provided original justice in the case of criminal trials. Within the district, the zilla court system provided primary civil justice and the Nizamat Adalat for criminal cases of the first instance. With these systematic developments, the collector gave up his judicial duties.

Cornwallis code of 1793 further removed the judicial duties formerly held by the collector and passed them to the Diwani Adalat established in each district it included guidelines for the appropriate for Hindu or Mohammedan laws.

In order to reduce the case loads at the district level, commissions consisting of Indian officials were developed to hear cases not exceeding 50 rupees in value.

The regulation further enacted that judges could commute the sentences of mutilation and amputation awarded by the jutwa of Mohammedan law to hard labour for 7 years.

The Cornwallis code provided for the appointment of vakils or Indian pleaders to serve in the courts of civil judicature in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Sadar Diwani Adalat licensed the Hindu and Mohammedan pleaders. When required, ‘Public Pleaders’ could be employed to represent the government when it was a party. This measure empowered the Governor General to appoint covenanted servants of the company as justice of peace.

In 1793 the position of the law officer developed within the judicial system, in Bengal and then later in the other presidencies. If a Hindu, the law officer was termed a Pandit and if a Muslim, a Koran Mullah. The law officer advised judges of Zilla, city courts, and Sadar courts of issues regarding the personal law of Hindu and Muslims.

In 1795, Lord Cornwallis revived a system of fees or stamp duties on cases to discourage the introduction of frivolous cases in Bengal. The fee structure was further enhanced in 1797.


Lord Cornwallis was the famous British General, who was sent to India in 1796 with the charge of the land settlement policy of the Government. The court of directors entrusted him to carry out the strategy of peace outlined by the Pits India act. To reorganize the administrative of the country Cornwallis was specially charged with the duty of finding out a solution of the land revenue problem. At the same time, he had to look after the development of a strong judiciary yet with the growth of the commercial department of the company. Cornwallis followed the footsteps of Lord Warren Hastings and built up the administrative super structure in India, which remained substantially in force till 1858.

Being a shrewd diplomat Cornwallis at the beginning of his career in India emphasized on strengthening the judicial administration of the British Government in India. Hence, he concentrated the authority of the districts entirely in the hands of the collector according to the instructions of the court of directors. In 1787 the collectors in charge also were empowered to try the criminal cases in certain limits.

Cornwallis in the due course made further changes in the field of criminal administration during 1790 -1792. Due to such changes and alterations the district fauzdari Adalats presided over by the judges were abolished. In these places four circuit courts were established, three of which were in Bengal and one in Bihar. The circuit courts developed by the new changes made by Cornwallis were precided by the European servants. Those European servants decided cases with the help of Quazis and Muftis. But the Qazis and Muftis were subordinate to the European officers. These circuit courts toured the districts twice a year and tried the persons commited by the city magistrates. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat at Murshidabad, so far presided by the Mohammedan judge. A similar court set up at Kolkatta comprising of Governor General Member of the supreme council replaced the Southern Nizamat Adalat. The judicial full forms undertook by Lord Cornwallis laid its strong foundation in the British Indian administrative system in the year 1793. The judicial forms of Cornwallis were documented in the famous Lord Cornwallis court. However, the judicial reforms approached by Lord Cornwallis were based on the principal of separation of power. Cornwallis at first sought to separate the revenue administration from the administration of justice. The collector used to be the head of the revenue dept. In a district and also enjoyed the extensive judicial and magisterial powers. However, Cornwallis promoted the separation of power and the Cornwallis code divested the collector of all the judicial and the magisterial powers. Thus, the collectors were given the only power of the revenue administration according to the Cornwallis code. A new class of officer called the district judge was created to preside over the district civil court. The district judge was also given the magisterial and the police function.

A gradation of civil court was set up. The distinction between the revenue and the civil cases was abolished and the new Diwani Courts were entrusted to try all the civil cases. Munsifs became the lower court which was presided by the Indian officer and they were competent to decide cases involving disputes upto 50 rupees. Registrars became the court next to the munsifs proceeded over by the European officers and tried upto the case worth rupees 200 rupees. Appeals from both these courts were laid to the districts or the city courts. District judges presided over the city courts and decided the civil suits with the help of the Indian law officers. Above the district courts were the provincial courts of appeal at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Dacca and Patna. These courts had to also supervise the working of the district court. Moreover, of the basis of the reports provided by the district courts, the provincial courts had to look after the Sadar Diwani Adalat. The Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta presided over by the Governor and his council. Through the Cornwallis Code, regulations are also laid down regarding the procedures to be followed in these courts. Cornwallis administered the Hindu laws according to the Hindus and the Mohammedan laws according to the Muslims.

Under the judicial administration promoted by Cornwallis, the European subjects in the districts were made subjects under the jurisdiction the local civil courts. No special licence was given to the Europeans unless he submitted himself to the law of the land. Further the government servants were made answerable before the civil courts for any acts done even in the official capacity. Thus, Cornwallis proclaimed the principle of sovereignty of law in India.

Important changes were introduced in the field of administration. The district Fauzdari Adalat presided over by the Indian officers were abolished completely. The district judges were given the absolute power to arrest the criminals. The provincial circuit courts, which worked for the civil cases primarily also worked as the criminal courts. These courts could pass the death sentence and the life imprisonment to the imprisoned subjects according to the confirmation of the Sadar Nizamat Adalat. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was the highest court of appeal in the criminal cases. The Governor General enjoyed the general power of pardon or communication of punishment.

During the period between 1790-93 Cornwallis introduced certain changes in the criminal law, which were regularised by the parliamentary act of 1797. According to the newly framed criminal law the judges were asked to follow the rules of fair justice. They were also asked not to be influenced by the cast, creed or religion. The usual punishment of the amputation of the limbs of the body was replaced by temporary hard labour of fine. Regulation IX of 1793 amended the law of evidence. According to this regulation religious persuasion of the prisoner was not to be considered as a bar to the conviction or condemnation of a prisoner.

The judicial administrative reforms by Cornwallis followed the western conception of justice, which was based on the principal of equity. Codified secular law replaced the narrow religious law of the ruler or the local agent. The Cornwallis code proclaimed that sovergnity of the law in unmistakeable terms. The administrative reforms of Cornwallis also solicited for the trial of the government officials, for any wrongs done by them in their official capacities. But, the immediate effect of the law reforms made by Cornwallis proved very disastrous initially. This is because the traditional system of the governing bodies was replaced by the European servants, who were ignorant about the Indian customs. The system of law became very expensive and the law courts were insufficient. And, at the same time falsehood, deceit and litigation corrupted the systems at its roots.

To supplement and implement the judicial reforms important changes were introduced in the police administration. In the regulations of 1791 the powers and jurisdiction the police superintendent were defined. To induce the honest operation of the police system, Cornwallis raised the salaries of all the police officers and offered good rewards for the discovery and arrests of the burglars and murderers. In the districts the zamindars were divested from all the police powers. Thus it was declared that zamindars were ceased to be considered responsible for robberies committed in their estate unless their complicity could be proved. The English Magistrates were interested with the control of the district police administration. Each district was subdivided into areas of 400 sq. miles and each area was placed under the charge of a police superintendent. An establishment of constables assisted the police superintendent. In this way Cornwallis strengthened the police administration in order to safeguard the judicial system.

However, Cornwallis was primarily interested with the charge the land revenue settlement by the court of directors. Though Cornwallis reformed the judicial and the executive bodies so far functioning in India, his main motive was to regulate the land revenue policies. Cornwallis reorganized the revenue department completely. In 1787 the erstwhile province of Bengal was subdivided into fiscal areas. Each fiscal area was placed under the direct supervision of a collector. The number of collectors was reduced from 36-23. The old committee of revenue was reorganized and was renamed as the Board of Revenue. The newly formed board of revenue with the duty of superintending the work of the collectors. Till the year 1790 the old system of annual settlement continued. In 1790, Cornwallis with the approval of the court of directors declared that the zamindars would be considered as the owner of the lands subject to the annual payment of land revenue to the state. A 10 year settlement was made with the zamindars in 1790 on the basis of 89% of the rental. In 1793, the decennial settlement was declared permanent and perpetual. Thus Cornwallis built up a strong land revenue system.

Lord Cornwallis after strengthening the land revenue policies emphasized to control the rampant corruption in the commercial department of the company. While the company’s goods were infrequently sold at loss in Europe, the company servants made huge profits in the goods which they sent to England on their personal accounts. Since the establishment of board of trade at Calcutta in 1774, the company had procured goods through the European and Indian contractors. The members of the board of trade, instead of being controlling the mal practises, themselves participated in the corruption. To stop these corruptions Lord Cornwallis adopted several policies. Cornwallis reduced the strength of the Board of Trade from 11 to 5. The method of procuring supplies through contractors was restricted. Cornwallis promoted the procurement of supplies from the commercial residence and the agents. Thus, the commercial residents made direct advances to the manufacturers and settled prices with them. In this way, Cornwallis regulated the commercial policy. Thus, under the new commercial policy, the company could get ample supplies at cheaper rates.

In spite of being a just and benevolent administrator, he had a very low opinion about the Indian character, ability and integrity. According to him, every native of this country was corrupt. Therefore he reserved all the higher services for the Europeans and reduced the status of the Indians. On a whole, under the administrative system of lord Cornwallis the Indians have been excluded from every honour, dignity or office, which the lowest Europeans could be prevailed upon to accept. Cornwallis was very much prejudiced against the Indians. According to imminent historians, Cornwallis approved the official seal on the policy of racialism in India.

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