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JUDICIAL REFORMS OF LORD WILLIAM BENTINCK

Author: Sarvesh Kasaudhan, II Year of B.A.,LL.B from Lloyd Law College.


Lord William Bentinck was known as the first official governor-general of British India who served India between 1828 to 1835. In 1828, Lord William Bentinck became the governor of Bengal, and as per the Charter of 1833, he became the official governor of British India. Among the other officers, the contribution of Lord William Bentinck was known to be most valuable.


He was known as the man of peace, discipline, and economy and he was a liberal reformist who took an active part in the reform moments in England, and he wanted to make some important reforms in India too. His immediate directive was to recover India from its financial crisis or somewhat financial difficulties, and he soon succeeded in revering the deficit in a surplus amount due to which the deteriorating condition of the East India Company was again balanced.


He was a great reformer and was considered the first governor that had sympathy towards the Indians, so he introduced several reforms of great importance in various fields such as administrative reforms, judicial reforms, educational reforms, financial reforms, and social reforms. As per the title of the article, I will focus only on the judicial reforms of Lord William Bentinck.


Since Lord Cornwallis divided the courts into Provincial courts and Session courts, but these courts were abolished by Lord William Bentinck by passing a regulation in 1829. He realized some defects in administrative justice of civil as well as criminal cases, and both were to be decided in the Provincial Court, and thus many times prisoners suffered in jails for a long time without even the trial proceeding.


All the judicial procedures must be followed by the English courts, that often results in delays and uncertainties, due to the delay in the process of justice, Lord William Bentick took this step forward.


Then after the Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit were appointed in the place of Provincial Courts, and for the same, the Bengal Presidency was divided into twenty divisions that were under the control of separate governors. The commissioner has headed the small territories to enable him to visit frequently different places that come under his/her jurisdiction. At Allahabad, separate Sadar Nizamat Adalat and Diwani were established to hear the criminal cases and for the revenue cases, the commissioners directly worked under the Board of Revenue. The appointment of Muslim Law Officers was optional under it.


Another important judicial reform was that the District Magistrate was empowered to punish the victim for up to two years. As we studied in the time of Lord Cornwallis, there was the decentralization of the powers of the District Magistrate, but Lord Bentinck examined a different way and made that judicial reform again give that power to the District Magistrate.


Usually, at that time both in the High court and lower courts the Persian language was necessary to be used, but Lord Bentinck ordered to use the vernacular language instead of the Persian language in the courts. The Sadar Amins or the Principal Sadar Amins were authorized under the Magistrate to investigate any of the criminal cases but can’t make any decision over the case, so the expected results of speedy trial of criminal cases were not forthcoming.


Since the Governor-General-in-council was authorized to empower any Zila and City Judge to try the major commitments in their jurisdictions, and hence it gave rise to the creation of District and Sessions Courts in each district which decided the civil as well as criminal cases.


One of the most important reforms took place during the tenure of Lord William Bentinck was the abolition of Sati. It was a kind of an evil, inhuman rite according to which a Hindu widow was forced to burn herself in the burning pyre of her husband. Later it was declared as culpable homicide and a punishable offense, any kind of assistance for this offense was also punishable.


Lord Bentinck also took an initiative towards the abolition of unwanted children’s murder, especially in the case of the girl child. In that era, there were some oaths and rituals that believe in murdering people or any animals in the name of goddess Kali, the same custom also banned by Lord Bentinck. But as we know India is a country of custom and rituals, so at many places, these rituals were still carried. As like giving an open decision in every sector, Lord William Bentinck adopted an unprejudiced policy against the Indian Press. He gave a free hand to the Indian Press, or we can say that he allowed its free functioning with the thinking that he didn’t permit the government officials to misemploy the power of the Press against the government.


Lord Bentinck disliked the old policy of Lord Cornwallis because he excluded Indians from judicial officers and, as per the suggestion of Directors, Indians were appointed in the civil and criminal courts.


The power of Sadar Amins, Principal Sadar Amins, and other Indian Law officers was increased up to the passing of the sentence. Since Indians began to be appointed at the judicial level, Indians became more confident and loyal towards Lord William Bentinck.


In 1831 the power of Indian judges was extended more as the claim amount or pecuniary jurisdiction of the Munsiffs was increased to Rs. 300, also the Sadar Amins were authorized to decide on any suit that was referred by Zila or City Judge, but that must be up to the valuation of Rs. 1000. Principal Sadar Amins were also started to decide original suits that come under the Courts of Registrars up to Rs. 5000. In 1831 all the functions of the Provincial Courts of Appeal were transferred to the District Diwani Adalat, so its jurisdiction became unlimited.


Regulation 8 of 1833 gave the power to the Governor-General that he can appoint any number of additional judges in a district on the recommendation of Sadar Diwani Adalat. The rent-related suits were transferred under the jurisdiction of the Collectors of Revenue, and they were further empowered to summarize the same. The fact held that over judging these cases it will be further easier to collect the revenue.


The Charter Act of 1833 was considered one of the most important charters at that time as it played an important role in shaping the future course of the legislative and judicial developments in India. The charter also gave the territorial possession to the East India Company for the next twenty years and to legislate with general powers it established and All India Legislature. The Governor-General of Bengal was declared as the first Governor-General of India who was Lord William Bentinck. Somehow, the charter tried to provide an opportunity towards the centralization of law by adding a law minister to the Governor-General’s Council to preside over the Law Commission, by regulating the Provinces, and also by abolishing the right to legislate.


Reference

[1] S. Priyadarshini, Reforms made by Lord William Bentinck, historydiscussion.in

[2] Lord William Bentinck and his reforms, studyandscore.com, November, 2018

[3] Balakumar Rajendran, Judicial Reforms in Ancient India, journal.lex-warrier.in, June, 2015

[4] Philip Mason, Lord William Bentinck, Britannica.com

[5] Sudhish Prahara, Social Reforms in India During Lord William Bentinck’s Era in 1828, shareyouressay.com