Constitution and Recommendations of Third Law Commission

Constitution of Third Law Commission

On 14th December, 1861 a Third Law Commission was constituted authorising the Commissioners to frame for India ‘a body of substantive law, in preparing of which the law of England should be used as a basis, but which once enacted should itself be the law of India, on the subject it embraced; and also for the purpose of considering and reporting on such other matters relating to the reforms of the laws of India as might be referred to them by the Secretary of State.’ The Third Law Commission was expressly based on the second Report of the Second Law Commission, and the Government had accepted the policy laid down in that Report.

The original members of this Commission were Sir John Romilly M. R. Sir W. Erle, Sir Edward Ryan, Mr. Robert Lowe (LordSherbrook), Mr. Justice Wills, and Mr. J. M. Macleod. Later on Sir W. M. James, John Henderson and Justice Lush respectively succeeded Sir W. Erle, Justice Wills and John Henderson. The Secretary of State for India requested the Commissioners that unless there was any objection to such a course, the result of their labours on one branch of civil ļaw might be reported before they entered on the consideration of another branch, as the plan of successive reports on the various departments of law would greatly facilitate the necessary measures which must be taken in India, for giving effect to the recommendations of the Commissioners.

Recommendations of Third Law Commission

The Third Law Commission submitted the following reports-

(i) Report on Law of Succession and Inheritance – From the Lex Loci Report of 1840 and the discussions which had ensued, it appeared plain that for persons other than the Hindus and Mohammedans the law most urgently required was a law to regulate the devolution of property on death. This was the topic to which the Third Commission in the first instance directed their attention. They submitted in their First Report a draft of the rules, they recommended on the law of inheritance and succession generally applicable to all classes other than Hindus and Mohammedans. These rules were introduced into the Legislative Council of the Governor-General of India on the 25th November, 1864, by Sir H. S. Maine as the ‘Indian Civil Code.’ On 3rd March, 1865 this title of the Bill was changed to ‘The Indian Succession Act of 1865.’

(ii) Other Reports – Second Report contained a Draft Contract Bill submitted on 28th July, 1866. Third Report contained Draft Negotiable Instruments Bill submitted on 24th July, 1867. Fourth Report did not contain any draft. Fifth Report contained Draft Evidence Bill submitted on 3rd August, 1868. Sixth Report contained Draft Transfer of Property Bill submitted on 28th May, 1870. Seventh Report and last dated 11th June, 1870 contained Revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It may be noted here that on 18th December, 1867 an additional Report on the Draft for a Law of Contract was made in view of the Government of India’s objections against the inclusion of sections dealing with Specific Performance. Besides these Drafts, a Draft Code of the law of Insurance was also prepared by the Commission.

Resignation of the Commission

The Government of India after considering the provisions of these various Drafts thought it desirable to introduce certain material changes in their provisions. This strained the relations between the Commissioners and the Government of India, and ultimately the Commissioners resigned in 1870. They complained of the continued inaction of the Indian Legislation which, they put it, defeats the hope which we entertained that we were laying the foundation of a system which when completed would be alike honourable to the English Government and beneficial to the people of India. Thus, according to Ilbert ‘ended in a huff, the Third Law Commission.’

Other Legislative Acts

Apart from the work of the Third Law Commission, the Legislative Department of the Government of India under the guidance of Sir H. S. Maine and Sir James Stephen was busy in its legislative activities. The Indian Companies Bill was introduced by Maine, the law Member, on 2nd December, 1865, and was finally passed on the 9th March 1866. This was a transcript of the English Companies Act, 1862, with certain alterations, omissions and additions considered essential to adapt that measure to India. The first General Clauses Act was passed in 1868. The Indian Divorce Act was passed in 1869 and in that year Sir James Stephen became the Law Member of the Council. Stephen drafted and carried through the Legislative Council the Code of Criminal Procedure (Act X of 1872), which was re-enacted by Act X of 1882 which in its turn was repealed by Act V of 1898. During the tenure of Sir Henry Maine and Sir Stephen, the following, amongst other Acts, were passed by the Council of the Governor-General of India-

(a) The Religious Endowments Act, XX of 1863.

(b) The Official Trustees Act, XVII of 1864 (Repealed by Act II of 1913).

(c) The Carriers Act, II of 1865.

(d) The Indian Succession Act, X of 1865.

(e) The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, XV of 1865.

(f) The Parsi Intestate Succession Act, XXI of 1865.

(g) The Native Convert’s Marriage Dissolution Act, XXI of 1866.

(h) The Indian Trustees Act, XXVII of 1866.

(i) The Trustees and Mortgagees Powers Act, XXVIII of 1866.

(j) The Public Gambling Act, III of 1867.

(k) The Prress and Registration of Books Act, XXV of 1867.

(l) The Indian Divorce Act, IV of 1860.

(m) The Court Fees Act, VII of 1870.

(n) The Female Infanticide Prevention Act, VIII of 1870.

(o) The Hindu Wills Act, XXI of 1870.

(p) The Indian Evidence Act, I of 1872.

(q) The Special Marriage Act, III of 1872.

(r) The Punjab Laws Act, IV of 1872.

(s) The Indian Contract Act, IX of 1872.


Thus, we see that this period was full of various enactments and is rightly known as ‘the Golden Age of Codification in British India.



Explain the Constitution and recommendations of Third Law Commission.


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