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The rule of law and emergency in colonial India: The conflict between the King’s Court and the government in Bombay in the 1820s

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis argues that the jurisdictional conflicts between the King’s Court and the government in Bombay in the 1820s led to the construction of a more despotic political structure of colonial India, in which the government retained the power of political intervention in judicial affairs in cases of emergency. The background was the political, economic and social crisis in the newly acquired territories in the Bombay presidency in the mid -1820s. The main concern of the government was the raids of the ‘wild tribes’ in the hills and their alliance with the princes in the plains. The government tried to deal with it by a form of indirect rule relying on Indian chiefs and aristocrats and implemented conciliation policies, among which their exemption from the Company’s judiciary was the most important . But the King’s Court obstructed this policy by issuing warrants and writs to the chiefs, which weakened their authority and respectability in local society. In addition, by overturning the decisions of the Company’s Court and trying and punishing governors and other officials, the King’s Court endangered the Company’s sovereignty in the mofussil. The government believed that the unitary judicial structure should be devised in India and the King’s Court should be subordinated to the government. This tension exploded in a case of habeas corpus in 1828. The King’s Court’s jurisdiction was disputed in Bombay, Calcutta, and London. As the result, the British parliament established a legislative council in India in the Company’s new charter in 1834, by which the King’s Court was subjugated to the governor general’s legislative authority. I contend that the driving force of the making of British despotism in early nineteenth -century India was Indian use of the King’s Court and the government’s anxiety of sovereignty in the aftermath of the conquest.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2016

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