The judicial reforms introduced by Cornwallis and Lord William Bentick were crucial in shaping the modern Indian judiciary. Both these Governors-General made significant contributions towards the judicial system during their respective tenures, which helped to lay the foundation for an efficient and independent judicial system in India.
Cornwallis, who was appointed Governor-General in 1786, introduced a series of judicial reforms aimed at making the Indian judiciary more efficient and impartial. One of the most significant changes he introduced was the establishment of district courts, which were presided over by a district judge. This was a departure from the previous system, where judges were appointed on an ad-hoc basis, leading to inconsistency in the application of the law. Cornwallis also established a hierarchy of courts, with the district courts being the lowest level and the Supreme Court of Calcutta being the highest.
Another major reform introduced by Cornwallis was the separation of the executive and judicial functions of the East India Company. Prior to this, the Governor-General was responsible for both the executive and judicial functions, leading to a conflict of interest. The establishment of a separate judiciary helped to ensure that justice was delivered impartially, without any influence from the executive.
Cornwallis also introduced a number of procedural reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of the courts. For example, he introduced the concept of cross-examination, which allowed witnesses to be questioned by both the prosecution and the defense. This helped to ensure that all evidence was thoroughly examined and that the truth was revealed in court.
Lord William Bentick, who was Governor-General from 1828 to 1835, continued the work started by Cornwallis and introduced a number of additional reforms aimed at improving the efficiency and impartiality of the Indian judiciary.
One of the most significant reforms introduced by Bentick was the abolition of the practice of sati. Sati was a traditional Hindu practice where a widow would throw herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband. This practice was deeply ingrained in Indian society and was seen as a way for the widow to show her devotion to her husband. However, it was also a practice that was open to abuse, with some widows being forced to commit sati against their will. Bentick recognized the need to abolish this practice and introduced a law banning sati.
Bentick also introduced a number of reforms aimed at making the legal system more accessible to ordinary Indians. One of the most significant of these was the introduction of the Vernacular Press Act, which allowed for the publication of newspapers in local languages. This made it easier for ordinary Indians to access information about the legal system and to stay informed about their rights.
Another significant reform introduced by Bentick was the establishment of the Sadar Diwani Adalat and the Sadar Nizamat Adalat. These were high courts that were responsible for hearing appeals from the lower courts. This helped to ensure that justice was delivered more efficiently and that the lower courts were held accountable for their decisions.
Bentick also introduced a number of procedural reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of the courts. For example, he introduced the concept of plea bargaining, which allowed defendants to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. This helped to reduce the burden on the courts and to ensure that cases were resolved more quickly.
Overall, the judicial reforms introduced by Cornwallis and Lord William Bentick were crucial in shaping the modern Indian judiciary. These reforms helped to establish an efficient and independent judicial system in India and laid the foundation for the development of the legal system that we have today. The contributions of these two Governors-General towards the Indian judiciary are still recognized and celebrated today, and they serve as a testament to the importance of judicial reform in promoting the rule of law and protecting the rights of citizens.