Working of the Court

By | September 24, 2016
Lok Adalats at a Glance

Last Updated :

THE PATNA CASE

In the words of Dr. M. P. Jain, the Patna case exposed the judicial administration of the Company. In fact the Patna case is an illustration of various defects and weaknesses in the adalat system in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The facts of the case were as given below,

One Shahbaz Beg, a soldier in the Company’s army, had no son and so he called his nephew Bahadur Beg from Kabul to live with him. He expressed a desire to adopt Bahadur Beg and to hand over his property to him. But before he could do so, he died in 1776. Thereafter, a struggle ensued for property between Bahadur Beg and Shabhaz’s widow Nadira Begum. The Begum claimed entire property on the basis of gift said to have been executed in her favour by her late husband. Bahadur Beg claimed the entire property as the adopted son of the deceased, he filed a suit against the Begum in the Patna Provincial Council which also functioned as a Diwani Court for the town.

The Patna Council remitted the entire case to its law officers Kazis and Muftis md required them to make an inventory of property of the deceased, to collect the property and seal it, and according to “ascertained facts and legal justice” to transmit to the Council a written report specifying the shares of parties. Under the Regulations then prevailing, the law officers were neither to perform any executive functions nor were they to concern themselves with deciding the questions of fact, their only function was to expound the law applicable to the facts of the case.

The law officers locked and sealed the house of the deceased. The widow of the deceased was insulted and humiliated to such an extent that she left the house and took refuge in a mosque. They rejected her claim holding that ^itt deeds were forged. As Muslim law does not recognise adoption, Bahadur Beg’s claim was also rejected. The deceased’s property was thus to be divided according to the Muslim law of intestate succession.

The widow approached the Supreme Court and filed an action against Bahadur Beg, the Kazis and Muftis for assault breaking and entering her house and taking away her property, and claimed damages amounting to Rupees 6 lakhs. Bahdur Beg, Kazi and Mutis were arrested and brought from Patna to Calcutta and were lodged in prison.

The legal issues raised in trial, which started in November 1078, were, (1) Whether Bahadur Beg, who lived outside Calcutta was subject 10 the jurisdiction of Supreme court, and (2) Whether the law officers could be prosecuted for acts done in their judicial capacity?

On the first issue, the court said that Bahadur Beg was a farmer of land revenue and he was not different from the revenue Collector and therefore was ‘directly or indirectly in the services of the Company’. On the second issue, the court held that although the Patna council was a legally constituted court having jurisdiction to decide the civil disputes between the Indians, it had no jurisdiction to delegate its functions to the law officers, the Kazi and Muftis.

The court criticised the manner in which the Kazi and Muftis had acted for ascertaining facts. All the proceedings in the Council were ex parte without any I notice being given to the Begum. No regular trial was held and witnesses had not been examined on oath. Thus, the law officers were tried not for what they had done in the discharge of their regular functions, but for something outside thereto  the court had an undoubted jurisdiction over the Company’s servants.

The Supreme Court awarded damages of Rupees 3 lakhs to the widow which was quite inproportionate. The Patna case brought to light the inherent defects in the Dmpany’s judicial system (that is Adalats and Councils). Also, the case involved he question of the Supreme Court jurisdiction and its relationship with the officials Of the Adalats. A lesson was perhaps learnt, which became the basis of further reforms in administration of justice carried out later.

COSSIJURAH CASE

The Cossijurah Case illustrates another aspect of the administration of the Company in India. This case is known for the fact that it brought out the defects in the Charter which created the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The Charter did not demarcate either the jurisdiction of the Court or the position of the Governor-General-in-Council. As a result of this confusion, there were occasions, when the Supreme Court issued writ of capias against the directions of the Council. In the Cossijurah case the confrontation between Supreme Court and the Council became evident to the highest degree. This case in brief as follows,

One Zamindar, the Rajah of Cossijurah was heavily indebted to Cossinaut Baboo. When Cossinaut requested for the return of his money, the Zamindar showed reluctance by making one excuse or the other. The Baboo therefore approached the Revenue Board where also his efforts brought no result. Finally he sued the Rajah in the Supreme Court at Calcutta. In his affidavit, he stated that the Rajah was in the service of the Company having been employed in the collection of the revenues. The affidavit also stated that the Rajah was subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Cc art. The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Rajah directing him to appear before the Court. In the meantime the matter was referred to the Council at Calcutta which referred the matter to the Advocate-General for his advice on the point whether the Zamindar was amenable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Advocate-General advised that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over the Zamindar. Thereupon the Governor-General-in-Council issued instructions to all the farmers and landholders that they were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and that they could ignore the process of the Court.

The Rajah of Cossijurah had gone into hiding to avoid the process of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued another notice to the Rajah who did I not pay any attention to the notice in view of the instructions from the Governor-General-in-Council. In fact the men of the Zamindar drove away the Sheriff and other officers who had come to arrest the Zamindar on a writ of capias. Thereupon the Supreme Court issued another writ for the confiscation of the property of the Rajah. The Court sent the Sheriff along with some armed constables.

The Council also came into motion, it decided to protect the Zamindar. Accordingly it despatched a much larger armed force to prevent the arrest of the Zamindar. In the meantime the Sheriff and officers caught hold of the Zamindar physically, assaulted him, insulted the ladies, and did many acts of sacrilege in respect of the idols of the gods placed in a room. By that time the Commander of the army which had been despatched already reached the spot under the orders of the Governor-General-in-Council. He arrested the Sheriff and his men and took them to Calcutta, where they were released. Thereafter the Supreme Court issued a writ for the arrest of the Commander. This writ was also prevented by a similar show of armed force.

When all efforts to recover his money failed, Cossijurah decided to file a suit against the members of the Council. Accordingly he brought an action against the Governor-Gerieral and the other members of the Council in the Supreme Court. The Governor- General and his Councillors appeared in the Court in the first ‘instance. Soon they discovered that the plaintiff had brought an action against them in their official capacity. Then they decided not to appear before the Court.

The Council issued instructions to all the Zamindars, landholders and the persons residing outside Calcutta not to pay any attention to the process of the Court and that in the case the Supreme Court persisted in issuing writs against them, the Council would protect them.

The show down between the Supreme Court and the Council brought out the inherent weaknesses and defects in the Regulating Act which did not specify the areas and the persons which were under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The language of the Act was vague enough for various interpretations. These defects, however, were removed to a great extent by the passing of the Act of Settlement 1781.

ACT OF SETTLEMENT 1781

The Act of Settlement 1781 was intended to remove some of the most obvious defects in the working of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. These defects came to light soon after the court started functioning and the situation was precipitated, by the famous Patna and Cosijurah cases (ap per next chapter). The following were its provisions,

(1) The Governor-General and the members of his council were made completely immune from the jurisdiction of the Court,

(2) Revenue matters were taken out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court,

(3) the Act clarified that no person was subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by being a landowner, landholder, fanner, or engaged in the collection of revenue.

(4) no person employed by the Governor-General or the members of his Council or by any servant of the Company was under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court merely for his being so, except where he submitted in writing to its jurisdiction. The only cases where the Court could assume jurisdiction in case of such persons were of trespass or other wrongs,

(5) The Act also made provision for the release of the various officers of the jail by the orders of the Supreme Court in connection with the Patna Case (ap per next Chapter). The Act further provided that no action was to be entertained by the Supreme Court against the judicial officers of the Company. Even in the case of corruption, a notice was to be served on the person concerned, but no such person could be arrested until the person refused to appear before the Court after the notice was duly served. This provision gave much relief to the judicial officers of the Company who were under fear of the Supreme Court and were reluctant to function at the Adalats.

(6) The Act also made it clear that in cases involving the natives, the personal laws of the natives should be applied. Where the dispute arose between natives of two different communities, i.e., the Hindus and the Muslims, then the law of the defendant would be applied.

(7) It was made clear that the officers of the native Courts that is adalats were not liable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for any act done in their judicial capacity. However, if there were charges of corruption levelled against them, then the Supreme Court could proceed against them after giving them one to three month’s notice depending upon the distance where the officials so charged were residing. In that case, the officials were not liable to arrest or detention.

(8) the Sadar Diwani Adalat was declared a Court of Record in Diwani cases and to be a court of final jurisdiction in civil matters of the value of Rupees five thousand beyond which appeals could be taken direct to the Privy Council. Thus the Diwani adalat was not a Court, in any way, subordinate to the Supreme Court.

Thus, it would be clear, the Act of Settlement of 1781 clarified a lot of ambiguities in the Regulating Act of 1773 and also settled once for all the jurisdictional issue which had become a cause of conflict and hostility between Supreme Court and the Governor-General in council as also had created lot of apprehension in the minds of the judicial officers of the natives’ Courts such as the Adalats. Now the Sadar Diwani Adalat was itself a Court of Record, with a final jurisdiction in civil or Diwani matter upto the value of Rupees five thousand and now the appeals from the decisions of the Diwani Adalat could be taken direct to the Privy Council without any reference etc. being made to the Supreme Court.

Author: Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is a student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.

  • Harsh Amrit says:

    Very well written, comprehensible language.