Supreme court of Judicature at Fort William was established on October 22, 1774
in Calcutta, Bengal. It was authorized by the Regulating act of 1773. This
court replaced the Mayor's Court, which was functioning in Calcutta since
1753. In 1862, When the High Court of Calcutta got established by the Indian
High Courts Act of 1861, until then, the supreme court of judicature was
British India's highest court.
Under the regulating act of 1773, Supreme Council of Bengal was also formed in
Calcutta in 1773. It was known as the highest level of executive government in
British India until 1833. This council was headed by the Governor General and
consisted of 5 members including the Governor General himself. The council was
also known as Governor-General-in-council. The council was formally subordinate
to the British crown and Court of Directors, a board of East India Company.
History Of Conflicts:
The first 6-8 years after the establishment of Supreme Court of Judicature in
Calcutta, is known for the conflicts between the Governor-General-in-council and
the Supreme Court. Some of those conflicts are mentioned here:
Conflicts over Court's Jurisdiction:
The jurisdiction of the supreme court was defined in the Regulating Act of 1773
but certain issues were not clear in the act and those issues were creating
doubts. This became the cause of a bitter conflict between the court and the
council. According to the Regulating act of 1773, the supreme court's official
penned jurisdiction was All British subjects
in Bengal and anyone
employed under the said United company, directly or indirectly
the term Directly or Indirectly
could be applied to almost everyone who worked under
the company, the conflict between the court and the Governor-General-in-Council
was inevitable in nature.
Supreme court, after its establishment in
1774, claimed its jurisdiction over any person residing in Bengal, Orissa and
Bihar, from 1774 to 1782.This became the reason of a bitter conflict between the
supreme court and the Governor-General-in-Council for eight long years. When the
Bengal Judicature act of 1781 was passed in June 1782, the conflict finally came
to an end in 1782. Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was restricted to either
those, who lived in Calcutta or to any British subject residing in Bengal,
Orissa and Bihar, by the Bengal Judicature act of 1781. The act removed the
controversial jurisdiction of Supreme Court over any person residing in Bengal,
Odisha and Bihar.
From 1775 to 1780, there were several disputed cases, which created conflicts
between the Governor-General-in-council and the Supreme Court. These cases
became the source of conflicts between the court and council over jurisdiction
of various subjects. Some of those cases have been mentioned here.
Case Of Kamaluddin (1775):
The case of Kamaluddin was the first case to display an open conflict between
the Governor-General-in-Council and the Supreme court regarding the jurisdiction
of various subjects. According to the facts of this case, Kamaluddin was
holding a salt farm in Hugli (Bengal) which originally belonged to another
person named Kanta Babu. Kamaluddin was just an ostensible holder of the farm
and was holding the farm on the behalf of Kanta Babu. Kamaluddin was imprisoned
because he was issued a writ to his committal to the prison without bail by the
Revenue Council. He was in the prison without bail because arrears of revenue
was due from his side in 1775.
In such cases at that time, it was according to
the custom to release the imprisoned persons on bail. Later, the defendant,
i.e., Kamaluddin appealed in the supreme court for a writ of Habeas Corpus.
Supreme court headed by chief justice Elijah Impey gave its decision in the
favour of the defendant and Kamaluddin was set free by the court on bail after
he obtained the writ of Habeas Corpus. The court, in its judgement, held that
the defendant, in the cases of disputed accounts, should be granted bail till
the inquiry regarding his obligation to pay is completed and he is found
As expected, Supreme council headed by
Warren Hastings, the Governor General expressed its dissatisfaction on the
judgement of Supreme court. The Council stated that the supreme council had its
jurisdiction over the officers of Calcutta Revenue Council as the company was
Diwan of the territories of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar and the court was not
empowered to judge a matter related to the revenue. Therefore, according to the
council, the court had no power to issue a writ of Habeas corpus to the
defendant and grant him bail.
However, Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of
the Court, opposed the view of the council. He stated that the revenue officers
were also the servant of the company and therefore, on this ground, the
jurisdiction over the revenue officers can be claimed by the supreme court.
Again, the council expressed its dissatisfaction on the view of supreme court
and 4 out of 5 members of the supreme council decided to order the provincial
Council to put the defendant again in the prison without paying attention to any
of the orders of the Supreme Court. But, Warren Hastings, the Governor General
didn't pay any heed to these decisions and hence, they couldn't be implemented.
Cossijurah (Kasijurah) Case (1779):
The Cossijurah Case was one of most contentious cases in the history of supreme
court of Bengal. This is the case after which the conflicts between the Council
and the supreme court reached to its Climax. The Act of Settlement, 1781, also
known as, The Bengal Judicature Act of 1781, was one of the consequences of this
case, which played a key role in settling the conflicts between the court and
the council regarding jurisdiction.
According to the facts of this case,
Raja Sundernarain was a Zamindar of Kasijurah (Cossijurah), Orissa. He was under
a very heavy debt to Kashinath, a principal merchant of Calcutta. After trying
several unsuccessful ways to recover the money from Raja, Kashinath, On
13th August, 1779, filed a debt suit against Raja in the Supreme Court of Bengal
on the ground that Raja, a Zamindar of Cossijurah, was collecting revenue, in
the service of the company and therefore, comes under the jurisdiction of the
Supreme Court. As a decision, The Supreme Court issued a writ of capias for
Raja, by hiding himself, avoided
the service of the writ. Meanwhile, the Supreme council headed by Warren
Hastings, the Governor General, after doing consultation with its Advocate
General, informed all the Zamindars of Kasijurah including Raja to not pay any
heed to the Court's orders. Also, the Supreme Council directed the collector of
Midanpur (a district in Orissa) to refuse any kind of assistance to the Sheriff
and his men. So, when the sheriff went to Cossijurah to arrest Raja for the
purpose of serving the writ, the sheriff was drove away by Raja and his people.
The Collector also didn't provide any assistance to them. After some days, the
Supreme Court issued the writ of sequestration to seize the effects of the
Raja's house. When the sheriff went to Cossijurah to serve the writ, Colonel
Ahmity (Commanding Officer at Midanpur) was directed by the council to send his
troops to arrest sheriff and his men. As a result, Sheriff and his men were
arrested by the troops of Colonel. For the matter of fact, they were later
released by the council. Later, Kashiram brought a suit against the members of
the Council in the Supreme Court. But, when the things reached at a critical
stage, he withdrew his suit.
There were several issues
involved in this case regarding the jurisdiction of the court and the council.
To resolve those issues, a parliamentary committee was appointed, which later
presented a detailed report before the parliament. As a result, The Act of
Settlement, 1781 was passed by the parliament.
Initial years of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal was
very controversial. Several conflicts between the Governor-General-in-Council
and the supreme court was recorded in these years. Most of these conflicts were
in regards to the jurisdiction of various subjects. The disputed cases like the
Case of Kamaluddin, The Patna Case, Cossijurah Case, etc. displayed the
conflicts over jurisdiction between the council and the court at a great extent.
And, this series of conflicts went on like this until the Bengal Judicature act
of 1781 was passed. It defined the jurisdiction of supreme court in relation
with the council and settled the conflicts between the
Governor-General-in-Council and the Supreme Court.
- Habeas Corpus is a recourse in law through which an unlawful detention
and imprisonment can be reported to the court by a person. Also, the person
can request the court to bring him/her before the court so that whether the
detention is lawful or not, can be determined by the court.