Libertatem Magazine

Cornwallis Code

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Judicial plan of 1793:

The primary purpose of the Judicial Plan of 1793 was to remove the defects existing in the administration of civil justice, which had suffered a significant setback due to the over-centralization of powers in a single authority of the Collector in each district in each district. As a result of the fusion of judicial and revenue administration in a single person, namely the Collector of the district, who was also the Magistrate for criminal adjudication under the Plan of 1787, there were chances of miscarriage of justice and abuse of power. Experience had shown that Collectors always gave priority to revenue collection and considered the administration of civil justice as their secondary function. This adversely affected the efficiency of judicial administration. There was a specific reason for the Collectors to give more importance to revenue collection, as they were to get an extra commission on the amount of revenue collected by them. To remove the shortcomings of the scheme of 1787, Lord Cornwallis brought about essential changes in the administration of civil justice through his Judicial Plan of 1793. He introduced a Code called the ‘Cornwallis Code’ consisting of 48 Regulations. The reforms were introduced to endure the separation of the executive from the judiciary and retain judicial control on the executive actions of the Government

Provisions of the Cornwallis Code:

The provisions of the Cornwallis Code are explained in the following points:

  • Separation of civil and revenue jurisdiction: After six years’ experience with the combination of revenue and judicial functions in the Collector, Cornwallis realized that it was in the interest of the administration of civil justice to revert to the separation between the judicial and revenue functions as it existed before his plan of 1787. Under the Judicial Plan of 1793, the Collector was only to collect the revenue, and his power to decide revenue and civil cases was withdrawn and transferred to the Mofussil Diwani Adalat. The Mal- Adalats were abolished from May 1, 1793, and the Collector was now to collect revenue under the supervision of the Board of Revenue, which the Governor-General and Council controlled at Calcutta. The civil, as well as the revenue cases, were now to be tried by the Mofussil Diwani Adalats. An appeal from the revenue cases decided by the Mofussil Diwani Adalat could be preferred to the Board of Revenue, and a second appeal lay to Governor-General and Council.
  • Re-organization of Diwani Adalats: Regulation III of the Cornwallis Code reorganized the working of civil courts to make them more independent and efficient. A Mofussil Diwani Adalat was established in each district of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, and a civil servant of the Company was appointed as Judge of the Adalat in place of Collector. The English Judge appointed in the Diwani Adalat was to take a prescribed oath. The court was held in the open, and the Judge was assisted by the Hindu and Mohammedan native law officers. This Adalat was to decide civil and revenue cases. In revenue matters, an appeal from the Mofussil Diwani Adalat lay to the board of revenue, and a further appeal from the decision of the Mofussil Diwani Adalat could be preferred to the Governor-General and Council at Calcutta. In civil matters, an appeal from the decision of the Mofussil Diwani Adalat lay to the Provisional Court of Appeal in all cases irrespective of their monetary value. The jurisdiction of the Mofussil Diwani-Adalat was extended to the Collector and other executive officers of the Government. Thus, the principle of Judicial control over executive actions of the Government was introduced in India for the first time through the Judicial Plan of 1793.
  • Appeals from the Diwani Adalats: The appeals in all civil cases, irrespective of the value of the subject matter, could be preferred to the Provisional Court of Appeal, which was created in each of the four Divisions Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, namely, Patna, Calcutta, Dacca, and Murshidabad. This court consisted of three English judges of the Company, and it was an appellate Court for the division. However, the court could also decide civil cases sent to it by the Sadar Diwani Adalat or the Company’s Government
  • Abolition of Court-Fees: Another significant change introduced by Lord Cornwallis through his Judicial Plan of 1793 was abolishing Court-fees. The litigants were not required to pay any fees except the pleader’s fee and actual charges incurred summoning the witnesses.
  • Reforms in the Police System: The Judicial Plan of 1793 restructured the entire Police system of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, Hitherto; landlords and farmers of the land held the police establishments. This system was abolished, and now each district was divided into police jurisdictions of twenty miles each. Further, each area was guarded by a Darogah with an armed constabulary. The Darogahs were to be appointed by the Magistrate. The cities of Dacca, Patna, and Murshidabad were divided into wards, each of which was guarded by a Darogah under the direct control of the Kotwal. The police officials, namely, Darogah and Kotwal, were to apprehend the criminals and prevent crime. They were also responsible for the maintenance of peace and order with the area under their guard.
  • Permanent Settlement of Land Revenue: To do away with the uncertainty about the collection of revenue, Cornwallis persuaded the Directors of the Company for the permanent settlement of land revenue. The zamindars were made the landowners were required to pay 9/10th of the revenue collection to the Government. This was a positive step in the right direction which ended the uncertainty of zamindar’s position concerning their zamindari lands and their earnings from revenue collection.

Critical Appreciation of the Judicial Plan of 1793:

It was seen that Hastings had assumed full responsibility for the administration of civil justice through his Judicial Plan of 1772, but he had not introduced any reforms in the criminal justice system. However, supervisory control over criminal justice was affected in 1781 through the Court of Remembrancer, which was moved further by Cornwallis, who did what Hastings had done in the Civil administration of justice in the Criminal field.

Secondly, through the Scheme of 1780, Hastings tried to separate revenue administration from civil jurisdiction, but Cornwallis adopted the principle of complete separation of the executive from judiciary. He did not stop at that but also subordinated the principle of sovereignty of law in India. As rightly pointed out by Cowell, the year 1793 marks the beginning of the era of independence of administration of civil justice in India.

It must be stated that Lord Cornwallis, as an able and efficient administrator. He was genuinely interested in rooting out corruption and mal-practices prevalent in the Indian judicial system at that time. He Introduced his judicial reforms at the risk of incurring an extra expenditure to the tune of rupees four lakhs for which he had no sanction from the Company. However, he justified it that the people who paid large sums towards revenue payments to the Company were at least entitled to be relieved from tyranny and oppression of law courts and the executive officers of the Company.

The most significant feature of the Judicial Plan of 1793 was based on the sound principle of checks and balances by distinctly demarcating powers, jurisdiction, and functions of the different categories of law courts. The Scheme of 1793 was founded o humanitarian considerations of public welfare. Therefore, it found support from the masses and proved so successful that soon after, it was extended to Bombay, Madras, and Banaras.

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