Timeline of Indian Legal History, By Dr. Richa Sharma and Nikhil Varshney

Timeline of Indian Legal History




1. 3500B.C.-2500B.C. Indus-Saraswati Civilization (Harappan Civilization) provides glimpses of Municipal Government to maintain law and order of the state.
2. 1500B.C.-600 B.C. Vedic Age; Vedas were composed which provided basis for the origin of law. They are the original scriptures of Hindu teachings, and contain spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of our life.
3. 600B.C.-400 B.C. Dharmasutras, the manuals of human conduct formed the earliest source of Hindu which consisted chiefly of sutras (threads) of terse rules providing the essentials of law concerning relationship between people and the state and the interpersonal relations.
4. 400B.C.-200B.C. Arthashastras (authored by Kautilya) were brought in which were a treatise on statescraft, military strategy and economic policy. It specified fines and punishments to support strict enforcement of laws (dandaniti).
5. 200B.C.-100B.C. Dharmasastras, a classification of Sanskrit texts was related to Hindu dharma, religious and legal duty. It acts as a source of law for Hindus and was law of the land for Hindus for early British regime.
6. 1350-1390 Fiqh-e-Firoz Shahi came during the regime of Firoz Shah Tughluq which gave guidance to Quadis and Muftis and made an attempt to organize the relationship of Muslim rulers and non-Muslim subjects. It provided the systematic judicial procedure to be followed by courts during the Muslim period.
7. 1550-1600 Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl which is an extensive document on administration by Akbar coupled with statistical return of Akbar’s government.
8. 1600 Under Charter of 1600, the legislative authority was given to the Company in order to enable it to regulate its own business and maintain discipline amongst its servants.
9. 1609 Under Charter of 1609,James I continued the Company’s privileges in perpetuity subject to the proviso that they could be withdrawn after three years’ notice.
10. 1618 The English Company entered into a treaty with the Mughal Emperor as per which the Mughal Emperor granted the right of self-government to the English by issuing a Firman (Order).
11. 1623 Charter was issued to the East India Company which marked the introduction of English law into India.
12. 1660-1710 Fatwa-e-Alamgiri was compiled at behest of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb which was based upon Islam’s Sharia law and was used for administration of justice. It laid down duties of Vakil. The unique feature of it was non-Muslims were not subject to Islamic laws but their affairs were to be regulated by principles of their own religion.
13. 1661 The Charter of Charles II for the first time specified about the exercise of judicial powers by the East India Company. It empowered the Company to appoint a Governor and Council in each of its settlements and they were authorized to judge all persons belonging to the Company or living under them in all civil and criminal cases, according to laws of England.
14. 1666 Madras was raised to the status of Presidency.
15. 1669 Bombay was given to the Company by Charles II.
16. 1670 Under Bombay Settlement, the first judicial reforms took place. The old judicial setup of Bombay was reorganized.
17. 1672 New Judicial Plan came in and the introduction of English Law into Bombay was declared. New Court of Judicature was established in Bombay along with a Court of Conscience.
18. 1678 Court of Governor and Council in Madras was designated as High Court of Judicature
19. 1683 The Charter empowered the East India Company to establish Admiralty Courts at places of its own choice which was empowered to hear and determine all cases concerning maritime and mercantile transactions.
20. 1686 The Charter renewed the earlier powers and authorised the Company to appoint admirals and other sea officers with power for naval officers to exercise martial law over naval forces and to establish Admiralty Courts. Also, on 10th July 1686, the Court of Admiralty was established at Madras.
21. 1687 The East India Company was authorized by Charter to create a Corporation of Madras and a Mayor’s Court at Madras.
22. 1693 Company’s Charter was reissued by the King of England.
23. 1698 Under Charter of 1698, Court of Directors was created and authority and control over the affairs of the United Company was entrusted to the Court of Proprietors.
24. 1699 In Calcutta, the status of Calcutta was raised to that of a Presidency and its Governor and Council were entrusted with all the necessary administrative and judicial powers
25. 1718 In Bombay, Court of Judicature was revived and inaugurated
26. 1726 The Charter of George I established the Corporation and Mayor’s Courts at three Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay as King’s Courts. It provided that from the decisions of the Mayor’s Courts first appeal will lie to the Governor-in-Council and the second appeal would lie to the Privy Council in England.
27. 1753 The Charter re-established the Mayor’s Court at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Court of Requests, the Mayor’s Court, the Courts of the President and Council and the King-in-Council were established. The appeal procedure was same to the one as was under Charter of 1726.
28. 1765 Mughal Emperor granted the ‘rights of Diwani’ of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the Company.
29. 1772 Warren Hastings prepared the First Judicial Plan.
30. 1773 The Regulating Act was passed which permitted the Company to retain its Indian possessions but the management was brought under the partial control of Crown and Parliament. Section 13 of the Act empowered the Crown to establish by Charter a Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta.
31. 1774 The New Plan of 1774 came in. Also by the Charter of 1774, the Supreme Court of Judicature was established at Fort William.
32. 1775 Trial and execution of Raja Nand Kumar: The Judicial Murder. Raja Nand Kumar was tried under the English Statute of 1729 for forgery; the great controversy arose regarding the year in which English statutes were made applicable to India.
33. 1776 Plan of Mahomed Reza Khan was introduced to improve the administration of justice which worked till 1781.
34. 1780 Reorganization of Adalats Plan by Warren Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey was formally appointed as Chief Justice of Sadar Diwani Adalat.
35. 1781 The first Civil Code was introduced after unswerving efforts of Hastings and Impey. Also, Act of Settlement was passed in order to remedy the ruinous mistake of Regulating Act,1773.
36. 1784 Pitt’s India Act was passed in order to strengthen the power of the controlling machinery of the Company’s government in England; the Act introduced vital changes by setting up a Board of Control and recognised the Court of Directors.
37. 1787 Judicial Plan by Lord Cornwallis as per which Collector, an Englishman was vested with powers to collect revenue, to decide cases and matters relating to revenue.
38. 1790 Reforms in criminal administration of justice by Lord Cornwallis. Authority of nawab over criminal judicature was abolished alongwith the abolition of Moffussil Faujdari Adalats. Each circuit was divided into various districts and in each district, Collector was to act as Magistrate.

Also, Cornwallis introduced reforms in the Mohammedan criminal law and all Nizamat Adalats were instructed to decide cases according to the modified rules of Mohammedan law.

39. 1793 Cornwallis Code and Judicial Plan were introduced in Bengal. Judicial functions from Collector were divested and Diwani adalats were now to decide upon cases. Also, the Charter Act was granted to the Company.
40. 1797 Recorder’s Courts were established at Bombay and Madras thereby abolishing the Mayor’s Courts which were re-established by Charter of 1753.
41. 1798 Judicial reforms by Lord Wellesley as per which judicial functions were separated from executive. Sadar ameens were appointed to expedite disposal of pending judicial work. Also, the Adalat system was extended to ceded and conquered territories.
42. 1800 The Supreme Court was established at Madras in place of the Recorder’s Court.
43. 1805 An important reform in the constitution of the Adalats by Lord Cornwallis when he came back to India succeeding Lord Wellesley; it was specifically provided that Chief Judge will not be a member of the Council. A covenanted civil servant of the company was to be appointed as Chief Judge.
44. 1807 Judicial reforms  by Lord Minto  as number of judges were increased, judicial functions were mixed with executive, powers of Magistrate were increased  and Governor general was to appoint Chief Judge.
45. 1813 The Charter Act was granted to the Company which extended the legislative powers conferred on the Provincial Councils. The sovereignty of the Crown over the Company’s territorial acquisitions of India was clearly proclaimed. Court fees was increased by Lord Hastings.
46. 1818 For criminal administration of justice, the jurisdiction of Magistrates and Joint Magistrates was enlarged.
47. 1823 The Supreme Court was established by the Crown’s Charter at Bombay in place of the Recorder’s Court. It became functional in May, 1824.
48. 1828 Circuits courts were abolished and the powers of Sadar Ameens, District  and City Judges were increased, also Sadar Nizamat Adalat and Sadar Diwani Adalat were established at Allahabad and Indians were appointed as judicial officers under regime of Lord Bentinck.
49. 1833 The Constitution of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was modified.

The Charter Act of 1833 established an All-India Legislature with general and wide powers to legislate. The Act established the First Law Commission for India which was to be presided by Law Member.

50. 1853 The Charter Act provided for the appointment of the Second Law Commission which submitted four reports to the Indian government.
51. 1858 The Government of India Act was proclaimed by the Queen and the Indian Government was transferred to the British Crown which became an important landmark in the constitutional history of India.
52. 1860 Based upon the work of first Law Commission established by Charter Act, 1833; the Indian Penal Code was passed into law.
53. 1861 The Indian High Courts Act, 1861 empowered the Crown to establish, by letter patent, High Courts of Judicature at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay abolishing the Supreme Courts and the Courts of Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat (Fauzdari) Adalat. The jurisdiction and powers of the High Courts were to be fixed by letters patent. The Crown was empowered to establish a High Court in the North-Western Provinces.

The Third Law Commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Lord Romilly.

The Indian Councils Act was passed which led to reconstitution of Executive Council, increased the powers of Governor-General along with power to issue ordinances was granted and got Indians associated with law making.

54. 1864 The office of Native Law Officers (Pandits and Maulvies) was abolished by Act XI.
55. 1866 High Court of Judicature at Allahabad was established for North-Western provinces. The Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were both established for after the establishment of the High Court at Allahabad.
56. 1870 Government of India Act was passed which empowered the Governor-General-in-Council to make laws for the less developed areas which were known as non-Regulation areas.
57. 1872 Indian Evidence Act was passed which contained a set of rules and related issues governing admissibility of evidence in the Indian courts of law.
58. 1879 The Fourth Law Commission was appointed.
59. 1892 The Indian Councils Act was passed which was another important landmark as it contributed to the growth of representative institutions in the constitutional history of India.
60. 1898 The Code of Criminal Procedure was passed to regulate the procedure for criminal matters.
61. 1908 Code of Civil Procedure was passed to regulate the procedure for civil suits.
62. 1909 The Indian Councils Act was passed on lines of Morley-Minto Reforms came in and seats were distributed on the basis of castes, communities and interests.
63. 1911 The High Courts Act, 1911 empowered to establish High Courts in any territory within the Indian dominions and also the maximum number of judges in each High Court was raised from sixteen to twenty which included the Chief Justice also.
64. 1915 The Government of India Act, 1915 was passed by the British Parliament in order to consolidate and re-enact the existing statutes concerning the Government of India and the High Courts. The provisions of the High Courts Acts of 1861 and 1911 were re-enacted.
65 1919 The Government of India Act was passed based upon Montague-Chelmsford Reforms which introduced vital changes in the Home government in England, the Executive and Central legislature of the Government of India, the Provincial Government and civil services.
66. 1928 Nehru Report was produced which presented a Constitution that reflected high standard of learning in India.
67. 1930 The First Round Table Conference
68. 1931 The Second Round Table Conference
69. 1932 The Third Round Table Conference
70. 1933 White Paper was issued by the British Government.
71. 1935 The Government of India Act was passed.
72. 1937 The Federal Court of India was inaugurated based upon the principle of federal Constitution as provided under Government of India Act, 1935.
73. 1942 The Cripp’s Mission came to India with a Draft Declaration of the British Government and began constitutional negotiations but returned unsuccessfully in April, 1942.
74. 1946 The Cabinet Mission Plan for United India.
75. 1947 Indian Independence Act was passed as per which there was a geographical reduction in the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to the extent of those areas of the sub-continent which became Pakistan.

Also, the Federal Court (Enlargement of Jurisdiction) Act, 1947 was passed which enlarged the appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court so as to have civil appeals from the Indian High Courts.

76. 1949 The Abolition of Privy Council Jurisdiction Act was passed which severed all connections of the Indian courts with the Privy Council.

Also, the Criminal Law (Removal of Racial Discrimination) Act was passed by which the remnants of racial distinction in the field of criminal justice were abolished.

77. 26th November 1949 The Constituent Assembly passed new Constitution of India.
78. 26th January 1950 The Constitution of India came into force.
79. 27th January 1950 The Supreme Court of India was inaugurated.

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