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Mayor’s Court

Mayor's Court a judicial institution of the English east india company for prosecuting the European law-breakers within the limits of its settlements in Bengal, Madras and Bombay. A precursor of the Supreme Court in Calcutta, the Mayor's Court was the product of the original charter that the company' [then called Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies] had obtained from Queen Elizabeth on 31 December 1600. In treating a British ship on a voyage abroad as a part of the British domain theoretically, the charter had authorised the company to hold court for the company and its affairs and make laws and ordinances for the welfare of the company and of its servants.

The Charter Act of 1683 had definitely provided for the establishment of a court of judicature consisting of one person learned in British law and two assistants. The court was to determine cases of trespasses, injuries and wrongs done on the high seas or within the limits of the company's settlements. Thus Mayor's Court, as it was called, was first introduced in Madras and Bombay Presidencies. Until 1700, when fort william in Bengal was made independent of Madras Presidency, the company officials and servants posted in Bengal were under the juridical control of the Madras Presidency. In 1700, Bengal Presidency executive authority, with the title of President and Governor of Fort William in Bengal, was established and with that a Mayor's Court in rudimentary form was also introduced. The territorial limit of the one person-court extended to three villages- Calcutta, Govindpur and Sutanuti and its legal subjects were the Europeans and natives living permanently in 'Calcutta Zamindari'.

The Mayor's Court's constitution and jurisdictions assumed extensive scale in 1727 when a new Royal Charter authorised the company to set up regular court with jurisdiction over all company officials and servants and native employees serving in various factories and company establishments. The said Charter provided for a 'Court of Mayor and Aldermen' consisting of nine royal nominees versed in British laws. Decree of the Mayor's Court was not absolutely final. There was a provision for appeal to the President and Council and from that to the King in Council.

It may be observed here that the imperial farmans under which the Europeans operated in Bengal gave no authority formally to set up such court in their settlement. Under the imperial system all people of the empire, natives and foreigners, were subject to the central government. But in practice, the Mughal judicial authority was seldom applied to the Europeans. As the Hindus of India were governed under Hindu laws mainly though administered by the same adalat (court), the Europeans also were allowed to be governed ipso facto by the European laws but administered by European institutions. In terms of general concepts of justice, the principles of Indian and British laws and legal procedures were so much of contrary nature that the Mughals found it prudent to allow them tacitly to be governed by their own laws and institutions.

But the Mughals were never happy about the company's legal jurisdiction over the natives. Such a practice was a direct violation of Mughal sovereignty, and obviously it was one of the most important factors contributing to the deteriorating relation between the company and the Mughal government. However, despite the protests of the successive nawabs against the Mayor's Court jurisdiction over the native subjects, the practice of trying the native employees of the company and people living within the limits of Calcutta had never been stopped. After the establishment of British colonial state in Bengal, the Mayor's Court was replaced by a more elaborate and comprehensive system under the regulating act of 1773. [Sirajul Islam]