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February 29 2004 

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Administration of justice in Bombay

The Legal history of Bombay may be said to have begun in 1661, when it became a British possession. The Town and Island of Bombay was received by the British as a part of the dowry of the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, sister of Alphonso VI, the then Portuguese Monarch, when she married King Charles II. Bombay then was little more than a small fishing village consisting of a few straggling huts of Kolis, its indigenous inhabitants; and its harbour, destined in the course of years to develop into the greatest and most important commercial seaport in the East, sheltered only a few fishing boats. Charles II transferred it to the East India Company in 1668 for an insignificant annual rent of 10 Pounds.

The judicial history of Bombay commences with the Charter of 1668 accompanying the transfer of Bombay from the Crown to the East India Company. In 1670, the administration of Justice was in the hands of Justices who held their sittings in the Custom Houses of Bombay and Mahim. The system of 1670 was very elementary and suffered from several drawbacks and the judicial system was too much identified with the executive government of the Island.

The main architect of the Judicial system during this period was Gerald Aungier, the Governor of Surat Factory. He has been described as the "true founder" of Bombay. He was a man with liberal ideas and believed in a impartial administration of justice without fear or favour. But he was conscious of these defects and he was himself dissatisfied with the judicial machinery. Aungier was advised by the Company to select someone knowing something of law from amongst the Company's servants in India. Aungier chose George Wilcox as the Judge and the First British Court of Justice was inaugurated in Bombay in 1672 with due pomp and ceremony.

Admiralty Court
The setting up of an Admiralty Court in 1684 under the Charter of 1683 opened the second phase in development of the Bombay Judiciary. Dr. St. John, an expert in Civil Law was sent by the Company to preside the Court as Judge - advocate. But there were continuos clashes between the Governor and the Court, and he was dismissed for his refusal to subordinate his own judgement to the wishes and directions of the Governor and Council. After Dr. St. John's exit, justice continued to be administered by lay person till late in the eighteenth Century.

Mayor's Court
In 1726, the issue of the charter by King George I to the Company turned over a new leaf in the evolution of the judicial institutions. The Charter of 1726 introduced a uniformity of approach and established similar judicial institutions. Thus in 1726."The Mayor's Court" was established under direct authority of the King. The Mayor and the nine alderman were to constitution the Mayor's Court. The Court was to have authority to hear and try all Civil Suits arising within the town and its subordinate factories. For the first time, a right of appeal to the King-in-Council from the decision of the Courts in India was granted. The Mayor's Court was to be a Court of record and thus had power to punish persons who might be guilty of its contempt.

Recorder's Court
In 1798 the Mayor's Court was abolished and in its place was established the Recorder's Court, as per the Charter of 1798. Judicial administration in Bombay was completely changed for the better by the establishment of this Court. It consisted of a Mayor, three Aldermen and a Recorder appointed by the Crown, who was to be a Barrister of not less then 5 years standing. The first Recorder was Sir William Syer. The official association of Indians in the administration of law started with the establishment of this Court.

The Supreme Court
In 1823, an Act of Parliament authorised the Crown to establish a Supreme Court in place of the Recorder's Court at Bombay by Royal Charter. The power vested in the Recorder's Court were to be transferred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court at Bombay was to be invested with the same powers and authority and was to be subject to the same limitations & restrictions as the Supreme Court at Calcutta by the 17th Section of the Act of 1823. The Court was formally inaugurated at Bombay on 8th May, 1824.

The Supreme Court functioned from 1824 to 1862. English barristers began to practice in Bombay and some of them achieved distinction in the High Court later. Several notable judgements were given in the Supreme Court, which made an important contributions to the development of Law in India. The main inspiration of the Supreme Court and even the High Court in its early years, was the Law of England: and apart from Hindu and Mahommedan Laws, it was the principle of the Common Laws and Equity which were embodied with slight modification in the judgements of the Courts. In the first century of British Justice in Bombay , there is no record of any Indian judge or lawyer. It was only after the establishment of the High Court that Indian Barrister began to make their solitary appearances in the High Court.

The Bombay High Court
The 'Indian High Court Act' of 1861, vested in Her Majesty the Queen of England to issue letters patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom to erect and establish High Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Indian High Courts Act, 1861 did not by itself create and establish the High Courts in India. The express and avowed aim of the Act was to effect a fusion of the Supreme Courts and the Sudder Adalats in the three Presidencies and this was to be consummated by issuing Letter Patent. The Charter of High Court of Bombay was issued on June 26, 1862.

The Bombay High Court was inaugurated on 14th August ,1862. The High Court had an Original as well as an Appellate Jurisdiction the former derived from the Supreme Court, and the latter from the Sudder Diwani and Sudder Foujdari Adalats, which were merged in the High Court. With the establishment of the High Court the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and Code of Civil Procedure were enacted into law. The Letter Patent of the Bombay High Court authorised 15 Judges, but it started with only 7.


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