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Charter of 1774 constitut

ing supreme court at Calcutta.


If any governor-general, governor, member of council, judge of the supreme court, or any other person for the time being employed in the service of the Company, committed any offence against the Act, or was guilty of any crime, misdemeanour, or offence against any of His Majesty's subjects, or any of the inhabitants of India, he might be tried and punished by the Court of King's Bench in England.

The charter of justice authorized by the Regulating Act was dated March 26, 1774, and remained the foundation of the jurisdiction exercised by the supreme court at Calcutta until the establishment of the present high court under the Act of 18611. The first chief justice was Sir Elijah Impey. His three colleagues were Chambers, Lemaistre, and Hyde. Warren Hastings retained the office of governor-general arising out until 1785, when he was succeeded temporarily by Sir John of Regu- Macpherson, and, eventually, by Lord Cornwallis. His appointlating Act. ment, which was originally for a term of five years, was continued by successive Acts of Parliament. His administration was distracted by conflicts between himself and his colleagues on the supreme council, and between the supreme council and the supreme court, conflicts traceable to the defective provisions of the Regulating Act.

Difficulties in the council.

Of Hastings' four colleagues, one, Barwell, was an experienced servant of the Company, and was in India at the time of his appointment. The other three, Clavering, Monson, and Francis, were sent out from England, and arrived in Calcutta with the judges of the new supreme court.

Barwell usually supported Hastings. Francis, Clavering, and Monson usually opposed him. Whilst they acted together, Hastings was in a minority, and found his policy thwarted and his decisions overruled. In 1776 he was reduced to such depression that he gave his agents in England a conditional authority to tender his resignation. The Court of Directors accepted his resignation on this authority, and took steps to supply his place. But in the meantime Clavering died Copy printed in Morley's Digest, ii. 549.


(November, 1776) and Hastings was able, by means of his casting vote, to maintain his supremacy in the council. He withdrew his authority to his English agent, and obtained from the judges of the supreme court an opinion that his resignation was invalid. These proceedings possibly occasioned the provision which was contained in the Charter Act of 1793, was repeated in the Act of 1833, and is still law, that the resignation of a governor-general is not valid unless signified by a formal deed 1.




The provisions of the Act of 1773 are obscure and defec- Diffitive as to the nature and extent of the authority exerciseable between by the governor-general and his council, as to the jurisdic- supreme tion of the supreme court, and as to the relation between and the Bengal Government and the court. The ambiguities court. of the Act arose partly from the necessities of the case, partly from a deliberate avoidance of new and difficult questions on constitutional law. The situation created in Bengal by the grant of the Diwani in 1765, and recognized by the legislation of 1773, resembled what in the language of modern international law is called a protectorate. The country had not been definitely annexed 2; the authority of the Delhi emperor and of his native vicegerent was still formally recognized; and the attributes of sovereignty had been divided between them and the Company in such proportions that whilst the substance had passed to the latter, a shadow only remained with the former. But it was a shadow with which potent conjuring tricks could be performed. Whenever the Company found it convenient, they could play off the authority derived from the Mogul against the authority derived from the British law, and justify under the one proceedings which 1 See 3 & 4 Will. IV, c. 85, s. 79. Digest, s. 82. 2 On May 10, 1773, the House of Commons, on the motion of General Burgoyne, passed two resolutions, (1) that all acquisitions made by military force or by treaty with foreign powers do of right belong to the State; (2) that to appropriate such acquisitions to private use is illegal. But the nature and extent of the sovereignty exercised by the Company was for a long time doubtful. See Mayor of Lyons v. East India Company, 3 State Trials, new series, 647, 707; 1 Moore P. C. 176.

it would have been difficult to justify under the other. In the one capacity the Company were the all-powerful agents of an irresponsible despot; in the other they were tied and bound by the provisions of charters and Acts of Parliament. It was natural that the Company's servants should prefer to act in the former capacity. It was also natural that their Oriental principles of government should be regarded with dislike and suspicion by English statesmen, and should be found unintelligible and unworkable by English lawyers steeped in the traditions of Westminster Hall.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century we became familiar with situations of this kind, and we have devised appropriate formulae for dealing with them. The modern practice has been to issue an Order in Council under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, establishing consular and other courts of civil and criminal jurisdiction, and providing them with codes of procedure and of substantive law, which are sometimes derived from Anglo-Indian sources. The jurisdiction is to be exercised and the law is to be applied in cases affecting British subjects, and, so far as is consistent with international law and comity, in cases affecting European or American foreigners. But the natives of the country are, so far as is compatible with regard to principles of humanity, left in enjoyment of their own laws. and customs. If a company has been established for carrying on trade or business, its charter is so framed as to reserve the supremacy and prerogatives of the Crown. In this way a rough-and-ready system of government is provided, which would often fail to stand the application of severe legal tests, but which supplies an effectual mode of maintaining some degree of order in uncivilized or semi-civilized countries1.

But in 1773 both the theory and the experience were lacking, which are requisite for adapting English institutions

See the Orders in Council under the successive Foreign Jurisdiction Acts, printed in the Statutory Rules and Orders Revised, and the charters granted to the Imperial British East Africa Company (Hertslet, Map of Africa by Treaty, i. 118), to the Royal British South Africa Company (ibid. i. 274), and to the Royal Niger Company (ibid. i. 446).

to new and foreign circumstances. For want of such experience England was destined to lose her colonies in the Western hemisphere. For want of it mistakes were committed which imperilled the empire she was building up in the East. The Regulating Act provided insufficient guidance as to points on which both the Company and the supreme court were likely to go astray; and the charter by which it was supplemented did not go far to supply its deficiencies. The language of both instruments was vague and inaccurate. They left unsettled questions of the gravest importance. The Company was vested with supreme administrative and military authority. The Court was vested with supreme judicial authority. Which of the two authorities was to be paramount? The court was avowedly established for the purpose of controlling the actions of the Company's servants, and preventing the exercise of oppression against the natives of the country. How far could it extend its controlling power without sapping the foundations of civil authority? The members of the supreme council were personally exempt from the coercive jurisdiction of the court. But how far could the court question and determine the legality of their orders?

Both the omissions from the Act and its express provisions were such as to afford room for unfortunate arguments and differences of opinion.

What law was the supreme court to administer? The Act was silent. Apparently it was the unregenerate English law, insular, technical, formless, tempered in its application to English circumstances by the quibbles of judges and the obstinacy of juries, capable of being an instrument of the most monstrous injustice when administered in an atmosphere different from that in which it had grown up.

To whom was this law to be administered? To British subjects and to persons in the employment of the Company. But whom did the first class include? Probably only the class now known as European British subjects, and probably not the native inhabitants of India' residing in the three

provinces, except such of them as were resident in the town of Calcutta. But the point was by no means clear 1.

What constituted employment by the Company? Was a native landowner farming revenues so employed? And in doubtful cases on whom lay the burden of proving exemption from or subjection to the jurisdiction?

These were a few of the questions raised by the Act and charter, and they inevitably led to serious conflicts between the council and the court.

In the controversies which followed there were, as Sir James Stephen observes 2, three main heads of difference between the supreme council and the supreme court.

These were, first, the claims of the court to exercise jurisdiction over the whole native population, to the extent of making them plead to the jurisdiction if a writ was served on them. The quarrel on this point culminated in what was known as the Cossijurah case, in which the sheriff and his officers, when attempting to execute a writ against a zemindar, were driven off by a company of sepoys acting under the orders of the council. The action of the council was not disapproved by the authorities in England, and thus this contest ended practically in the victory of the council and the defeat of the court.

The second question was as to the jurisdiction of the court over the English and native officers of the Company employed in the collection of revenues for corrupt or oppressive acts done by them in their official capacity. This jurisdiction the Company were compelled by the express provisions of the Regulating Act to admit, though its exercise caused them much dissatisfaction.

The third question was as to the right of the supreme court to try actions against the judicial officers of the Company for acts done in the execution of what they believed, or said they believed, to be their legal duty. This question arose in the

1 See In the matter of Ameer Khan, 6 Bengal Law Reports, 392, 443. 2 Nuncomar and Impey, ii. 237.

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