Judicial Reforms of Lord Cornwallis

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Lord Cornwallis assumed the role of Governor-General of the Company in 1786 and continued till 1793. He was directed to take up three specific matters, one of them being reforms of the judicial system. The other tasks were resolving the problem of land revenue and improvement in the administrative machinery. During his tenure, he made significant and far-reaching reforms in the judicial administration, some of which constitute the foundation of the present legal system. The reforms were primarily made in three stages: first in 1787, then in 1790 and, finally in 1793. REFORMS UPTO 1793

Prior to the reforms initiated by Cornwallis in 1787, the judicial plan of 1780 brought about by Warren Hastings was in force. The Company was dissatisfied with the plan of 1780 because it had separated the revenue and judicial functions, thus proving to be costly. Accordingly, the Directors advocated a merger of the two functions on the grounds of simplicity, efficiency and economy. Cornwallis faithfully effectuated the Directors’ directive which led to the birth of Cornwallis’s plan of 1787.

Judicial Plan of 1787
The main feature of this plan, as previously stated, was that the revenue, judicial and magisterial functions would vest in one person, the Collector. The Collector was responsible for the collection of land revenue and to decide all cases relating to revenue. His revenue functions were confined to the revenue court known as the mal adalat. He was to act as the judge in the Moffussil Diwani Adalat of the district. As the sole judge, he had full powers to decide all types of disputes. Appeals lay to the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta and further to the King-in-Council depending on the value of the suit. In order to assist the Collector in deciding civil cases, a Registrar was appointed in each adalat. The Collector was also given some magisterial powers. As a Magistrate, he was empowered to arrest, try and punish criminals in petty offences. In the case of graver offences, accused was sent to the nearest Moffussil Nizamat Adalat for trial and punishment.

In view of the progressive policy effecting separation between judicial and executive functions in 1781, the scheme of 1787 was a retrograde step in the administration of civil justice. The judicial system of 1787 was inherently weak as power was concentrated in the hands of the Collector and there was no effective method to check cases of oppression and injustice.

Judicial Plan of 1790
In 1787 when Cornwallis introduced reforms in the civil and revenue courts, he purposely avoided introduction of any major reforms in the criminal courts. It seems that he wanted more time to examine the functioning of the criminal judicature and its role in suppressing crimes. In his assessment, he realized that system of administration of criminal justice was extremely defective and futile. The administration of criminal justice was entirely concentrated with the Muslim officers who were not supervised. The Nawab controlled the entire criminal judicature and was not answerable to anybody. The Moffussil Faujdari Adalats had wide powers to inflict punishment which made them tyrannical. The proceedings in these courts were extremely dilatory and there was absence of any connection between the severity of the crime and its punishment. The judges were paid meagre salaries and lacked security of tenure, contributing to corruption. With the view of curing these defects, Cornwallis introduced the reforms of 1790 to radically change the administration of criminal justice.

The most outstanding feature of this plan was the elimination of the authority of the Nawab from the criminal judicature. The responsibility of administration of criminal justice was given to English servants of the Company, yet the Muslim law officers were to be retained as advisers to the courts. There were three levels of courts in this system. At the lowest rung were the Magistrates in districts who had the same...
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