The Supreme Court in Calcutta

Under Regulating Act of 1773

On March 26, 1774, a Charter of Justice was granted for the establishment of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The Supreme Court was established on the 22nd. October 1774, and began functioning in January 1775.

The Judges of this new court were independent of the authorities at Fort William and appointed by the Crown, and the court was a King’s Court. The court was to consist of a Chief Justice and three small Judges, and, later on, of a Chief Justice and two small Judges. The Judges had to be Barrister-at-Law of England or Ireland of not less than five years’ standing. The court was enabled to exercise all civil, criminal, admiralty, and ecclesiastical Jurisdiction rendering all His Majesty`s subjects liable to its Jurisdiction. The court was empowered to establish rules of practice and process and to do things necessary to discharge its function. It was to be a Court of Record. The civil jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extended overall European and British Subjects resident In Bengal, Behar and Orissa, and every other person who, either at the time of bringing the action or at the time the cause of action accrued, was employed or was directly or indirectly in the service of the company or of any other British Subjects, in criminal jurisdiction, the
Supreme Court was to hold trials by jury. Both the Grand and Petty Jurors were to be British subjects resident in the Town of Calcutta. The Regulating Act, as well as the Charter responsible for the establishment and constitution of the Supreme Court, did not specify any law for the court to administer In suits involving the Indians.

The Regulating Act of 1773 however created one difficulty. The Act while aiding at a better administration of Bengal vested the Company’s administration in the Province with effect from August 1, 1774, in a Governor-General and four Councillors appointed to
serve for five years as the highest executive of the Presidency, at the same time the Act had imposed upon the Supreme Court to be established the task of dealing with oppression in the executive Government.

The Supreme Court in Calcutta was, as we have already seen, constituted, independent of any other power in the land, and was entrusted with wide jurisdiction and undefined authority. All the former conquerors of India had suffered the people to be governed according to the established laws and constitution of the land. The East India Company had, from the very beginning of their operations as a governing body, very wisely adopted the policy of acting as the nominal servants of the Great Mogul under his apparent authority and though the judicial administration of their territories was entrusted to what was called the Mayor’s Courts, before the time of the establishment of the new system of Judicature under the Charter-Act of 1773, yet the show of those Courts acting under the authority of the Mogul sovereign, as well as the fact of their administering justice according to the general principles of equity and with a regard to the established laws of the country, had made them not only popular but revered by the natives.

So that when by virtue of the Regulating Act a Supreme Court of Judicature was established at Fort William on the model of Westminister Hall
to administer English laws to the people of India, the natives felt that their new rulers were subjecting them to an oppression, which they had known under no conqueror before. And well might a people so thoroughly devoted to the ancient laws and customs of their forefathers as the Indians so feel. Hitherto the, English had bowed to the supremacy of the Great Mogul, and governed the natives with all due observance of their customs and prejudices. When a change in their long-established policy came so suddenly, that the very suddenness of the event itself was sufficient to justify the indignant feelings aroused in the hearts of the people at the time. Yet, though great was the cause of the vexation. Being constituted independent of any authority in India and vested with one of the two supreme jurisdictions of political and the judicial—under the new government, the judges actually set up a rivalry with the Governor-general and Council to assert their power over all parts of the country.

They resorted to the most wicked expedients to prove their authority. They refused to adopt the English laws to the circumstances of the strange people upon whom they were so suddenly and erroneously inflicted. On the contrary, they were enforced in all their rigour without being seasoned with that mercy which is due to humanity. Terror seized all over India.

People were arrested and imprisoned without the slightest regard to their rank or position in society. The Court issued -writs which warranted forcible entries into the harems of the Mussulmen and the sacred apartments of the Hindoos. The judges even descended so low as to suffer themselves to be surrounded by crowds of vulgar barrators. By their tyrannical proceedings, they roused the Mussulman and even the submissive Hindoo to fury; and it is said that on some occasions when the natives were forced to open the doors of their harems and of their still more impenetrable rooms which, contained idols of worship, they dared to confront the authority of the Court at the point of the sword.


The King’s Bench headed by a chief justice((now the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales), was the most senior criminal court in England for most of its existence, exercising supervisory jurisdiction over all inferior criminal courts. It was based on the principle of pleas heard regularly and formally within the king’s immediate purview even if not always in his actual presence. The usual mechanism for bringing cases from local inferior courts to the King’s Bench was by means of a writ of certiorari (requiring the record to be sent to King’s Bench for review) obtained by an unsuccessful defendant. In 1873, the King’s Bench was merged into the High Court of Justice by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, after which point the King’s Bench was a division within the High Court. The title ‘King`s’ derives from the fiction that proceedings in the court were held before the king in person.