Charter Act 1833


The Charter Act of 1833 was enacted to remove the confusion and uncertainty prevailing in the Indian Law and to introduce uniformity in the Indian legislations. In 1833 the attention of British Parliament was drawn towards the three leading vices prevailing in the administration of Indian Government –

1. Defects in the nature of the laws and regulations.

2. Defects in the ill-defined authority and power from which these various laws and regulations emanated; and

3. The anomalous and sometimes conflicting judicatures by which the laws were administered.

In other words, the defects were in the laws themselves, in the authority for making them and in the manner of executing them.

Thus, in order to remove the prevailing defects and achieve in object of codification of Indian laws the famous Charter Act of 1833 was passed by the British Parliament in 1833. It was done for an effective arrangement with the East India Company and for the better government of Her Majesty’s Indian territories till April 30, 1854.

Provisions of the Charter Act 1833

The main provisions of the Charter Act, 1833 are as under –

1. Reconstitution of Government of India – The Charter Act reconstituted the Govt. of India on a new model which gave it an All India Charter both in form and in substance. The Governor-General of Bengal was designated as the Governor-General of India and in the Governor General in council was vested the superintendence, direction and control of the whole civil and military Govt. and the revenue of India.

2. Creation of All India Legislative Council – S. 43 of the Act altered the legislative system of India. Hitherto, there functioned three legislative organs because each presidency had powers to make regulations. There was no co-ordination among these legislative bodies and there was variation in the regulations made for Mofussil and Presidency towns. The Act of 1833 changed this system altogether by creating an all India legislature having authority to make laws and regulations for the whole of the territory in the possession and under the control, of the company’s governments in India at the time. Now the new legislature could make laws and regulations for all persons whether the British or Indian or foreigners or other and for all courts of justice whether established by her Majesty’s Charter or otherwise, and for all places and things whatsoever within and throughout the whole and every part of the said territories and for all servants of the company.

Restrictions on making Laws – The Governor-General was not authorised to legislate on the following subjects –

(i) The legislature could not change the provisions of Charter Act, 1833.

(ii) It was not also authorised to change the provisions of Charter Act passed after 1833.

(iii) It was not to change the provisions of Mutiny Acts.

(iv) It was not authorised to make laws effecting authority of Parliament, prerogative of Crown and Constitutions of the

(v) The law so enacted were subject to approval of the court of Directors.

The effect of creation of All India Legislature was that councils of Madras and Bombay ceased to exercise legislative power and henceforth this power vested in Governor-General of India-in-council of India.

3. Appointment of Law member as Councillor – Legislative council consisted of four members, out of whom one was to be designated as the law member. Three ordinary members were to be executive councilors appointed by court of Directors from amongst person who had been the servants of the company for at least 10 years.

Besides these members, one law member entered in the council as a colleague of the Governor General to assist in the process of law making. He was appointed from the persons who had not been the servants of the company. He was also not entitled to vote or sit in the meeting of the council when it is conducting business other than law making. In law making business he acted as full member. The presence and assistance of law member at the time of legislation was treated as a substitute for the sanction of the Supreme Courts which had, till then, been necessary for the validity of Regulation. But the law member had no veto over legislation. He might not agree to law, he might be even absent at the time of making a law, and yet the law would not be bad.

4. Provisions for Codification of Law– Most important feature of the Act of 1833 was that it provided for securing a uniform and simple system of law in India through the process of comprehensive consolidation and modification to advise the newly set up legislative council on matters of law and to integrate and organise the scattered, conflicting and incoherent system of regulations into a general system of code. S. 53 of Act provided for the appointment of law commission in India. S. 53 provided that it was “expedient that, subject to such special arrangements as local circumstances may require, a general system of judicial establishment and police”, applicable to all persons and all classes of inhabitants should be established in British India and that “such laws as may be applicable in common to all classes of the inhabitants”, due regard being had to the rights, feelings and peculiar usage of the people, should be enacted.

In order to get this object it was provided that the Governor General-in-council should as soon as convenient after the passing of the Act shall appoint Indian Law Commission. Their number was not to exceed five at one time.

“A Law Commission should be set up by the Governor-General-in-Council to require fully into the jurisdiction, powers and rules of the existing courts of justice and police establishment in the said territories and into all existing forms of judicial procedure and into the nature and operation of all laws, whether civil or criminal, written or customary prevailing and in force in any part of the said territories to which any inhabitants of the territories are now subject.”

Commenting on S. 53 Rankin in his book, “Background to Indian Law” said, S. 53 of the Charter Act of 1833, was the legislative mainspring of law reform in India so far as regards policy, though principles and ideas were still to seek.”

5. Miscellaneous Provisions

(a) S. 73 vested in the Governor-General-in-Council the power of administering justice through Court Martial.

(b) Legislation to prevent illegal entrance – According to S. 84 the Governor-General-in-Council was to make laws providing for the prevention or punishment of the illicit entrance into a residence in British India of persons not authorised to enter or reside therein.

(c) Lifting of restrictions on Indian’s employment – S. 87 of the Act provided that no Indian or natural born subject of the King shall, by reason of his religion, colour, place of birth, etc., be disabled from holding an employment under the Company. The policy of freely admitting Indians to share in the administration of the country had never been more broadly or emphatically enunciated as under the Charter Act of 1833.

(d) Abolition of Slavery – The Act also empowered to the Governor-General-in-Council to consider the means of abolishing slavery.

(e) Company as trustee of His Majesty – The territorial possessions of the Company were allowed to remain under their Government for another twenty years; but were to be held by the Company “in trust for His Majesty, his heirs and successors for the Government of India.” The number of directors was reduced to 24 from 28 and quorum for the court of directors reduced to 10 from 13. The patronage of the directors was done away with and the covenanted civil service was thrown open to all natural born subjects of His Majesty, subject to the rules made by the Board of Control.

(f) Company to stop trading – The company was required to close its commercial business and wind up the affairs with all convenient speed.

(g) Civil and Military Power vested in Governor-General-in-Council – The superintendence, direction and control of the whole Civil and Military Government of all the territories and revenues were  vested in the Governor-General-in-Council.

Appointment of Law Commission

As a result of this Act, in 1834, a Law Commission was appointed, which prepared the draft of Indian Penal Code. S. 53 of the Charter Act of 1833 provided for the codification and consolidation of Indian Laws. The efforts of this Commission resulted in the codification of various laws prevailing in the British India, upon the principles determined by the Legislature established in India. It ceased to exist before 1853 but the Crown was authorised under the Charter of 1833 to appoint a Law Commission in England to examine and consider the report of that Indian Law Commission.

Importance of Charter Act of 1833

According to Rankin the Charter Act, of 1833 occupies a great place in the Legal History of India. This Charter for the first time established a single legislative council for all India. The Act also made a provision for the appointment of a law member as councillor and the Law Commission for the codification of laws of India. These provisions proved to be helpful in order to avoid the vaguness and uncertainty of law. This Act intended to protect the interest of common inan without any racial, discrimination. The Act lifted the restrictions on Indian’s employment and abolished the slavery system from India. The net effect of the Act was that it created uniformity and certainty in the legal system of British India. In other words it established a centralized system of administration and legislation. Thus, it can rightly be said that the Charter Act, 1833 was the most important constitutional measure of 19th century.



The Charter Act, 1833 laid the foundation of Constitutional system in India. Explain and discuss the main provisions of this Act.


Describe the salient features of the Charter Act of 1833.


“The Charter Act of 1833 was the most important Constitutional measure of 19th Century.” Discuss.


“Charter Act, 1833 enunciated process of codification in India.” Comment.

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