History of appeals to Privy Council from India


The jurisdiction of Privy Council to hear appeals was based on the inherent prerogative right of Sovereign, as to ensure due justice. The King of England was regarded as fountain of administration of justice and to preserve the due course of procedure. Formerly, the right of appeal from the Dominion’s Courts to the King-in-Council was a matter of grace. But the subsequent statutes conferred it as a matter of right and could not be regarded as a matter of grace. But there were certain appeals for preferring for which the specific permission was necessary from the Privy Council. These appeals came to be known as “Appeals by Special Leave.” Thus, there were two kinds of appeals which could be preferred to Privy Council from India –

(i) Appeals as a matter of rights,

(ii) Appeals by way of Special leave of Privy Council

Appeals from India

The following appeals were made from different Indian courts to Privy Council –

(i) From the Mayor’s Court – The Charter of 1726 introduced Mayor’s Courts in all the three Presidency Towns of the Company’s settlement. The Mayor’s Court were Crown’s Courts as they were established by British King. Under a provision the Charter of 1726, granted for the first time a right of appeal from the judgments of the Mayor’s Court, first to the Governors in Council and thence to the Privy Council, where the amount in dispute exceeded 1,000 pagodas or Rs. 4,000.

(ii) From the Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta – The Regulating Act of 1773 and the subsequent Charter of 1774, which established the Supreme Court at Calcutta give the right of appeal from its decisions to the King-in-Council. An appeal also could lie from the decisions of the Recorder’s Court, where the value of the suit was over 1,000 pagodas in the King-in-Council. The Council was empowered to refuse or admit the appeal and to reform, correct or vary such decision, according to the Royal pleasure. The person, who wanted to appeal was required to move the Supreme Court within six months of the pronouncing of the judgment. The Supreme Court was given full discretion in the matter of acceptance or rejection of appeals. Provision was also made for moving an application for special leave to appeal in the Privy Council.

(iii) From Madras Supreme Court – The Charter of 1801 which established the Supreme Court at Madras, provided for a right of appeal to the Privy Council. An Appeal could be taken only if the value of suit was more than 1,000 pagodas.

(iv) From Bombay Supreme Court-A Supreme Court was established in Bombay in 1823 and provision was made for the taking of appeals to the Privy Council. The conditions of appeals were the same as in the case of Madras and Calcutta except the appeal was to be taken only if the amount of the suit was more than 3,000 Bombay rupees.

(v) From Sadar Diwani Adalat in Bengal

(i) The Act of Settlement of 1781 provided for the taking appeals from the decisions of
the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta to the King-in-Council in cases where the amount involved in the dispute exceeded £ 5,000. No rules,however, were prescribed to regulate such appeals by the Act.

(ii) By the Regulation of 1797, the Privy Council was empowered to hear appeals in civil suit from the decisions of the Sadar Diwani Adalat, where the amount of the suit exceeded Rs. 50,000 inclusive of the cost. The appeal was to lie within six months after the decisions of Sadar Diwani Adalat

(vi) From Sadar Diwani Adalat at Madras and Bombay in 1818 – In 1818 the appeals from the decisions of the Sadar Diwani Adalat established at Madras in 1802, could lie to the Privy Council, on the same conditions as in the case of Bengal. No pecuniary limit was fixed. Appeals could lie even in those cases where the amount involved was less than Rs. 50,000.

În 1818, appeals could lie to the Privy Council from the decisions of the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Bombay. The value of the suit must not be less than Rs. 5,000. But in the same year this pecuniary limit was removed. The Elphinstone Code of 1872 made fresh provisions to make appeals to the Privy Council.

These provisions continued upto 1862 when High Courts superseded the Supreme Courts, Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat.

Besides the above appeals, and aggreived person had a right to appeal to the Privy Council from different Acts, i.e., –

Right of appeal under Civil Procedure Code, 1908

The following were the provisions provided in the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, to appeal to the Privy Council –

S. 109 provided that an appeal would lie to His Majesty in Council from any decree or final order passed on appeal by a High Court or by any other court of final appellate jurisdiction from any decree or final order passed by a High Court in the exercise of original civil jurisdiction, and from any decree or order when the case was certified to be a fit one for appeal to His Majesty in Council.

S. 110 provided that in all cases of appeal the value of the suit must be Rs. 10,000 or upwards, or the decree or final order must involve, directly or indirectly, some claim or question or respecting to property of like value, and where the decree or final order appealed from affirms the decision of the Court immediately below the Court passing such decree or final order, the appeal must involve some substantial questions of law.

S. 111 provided that no appeal would lie to the King-in-Council from the decree or order of one Judge of a High Court, or one Judge of a Division Court, or of two or more Judges of such High Court, where such Judges were equally divided in opinion, etc. The provision of S. 112′ and various rules or Order 48, C.P.C. provided for a right of appeal to the King-in-Council.

Right of Appeal in Criminal Cases (a) General

In criminal cases, an appeal could lie to the King-in-Council from the decision of the High Court where it was shown that injustice of a serious and substantial character has occurred and it was not a mere mistake on the part of the Court below. Nor did the Judicial Committee interfere merely because they themselves would have taken a different view of evidence admitted. Procedural errors so grave which warrant interference, e.g, wherein deprived the accused of a constitutional or statutory right to be tried by a jury, or by some particular tribunal, or it might have been carried to such an extent as to cause the outcome of the proceedings to be deemed as contrary to fundamental principle of justice. Appeals would lie only from a judgment of the High Court in its original criminal jurisdiction, or on a point of law reserved for the High Court where the High Court declared it fit for appeal.

Right of Appeal under Criminal Procedure Code, 1898

S. 411-A 4. of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, contained the necessary provisions for appeal to the Privy Council. The provisions which regulated appeals to the Privy Council from the High Court were “as a matter of right”. They did not any way bar, abrogate or curtail the full and unqualified exercise of His Majesty’s pleasure in receiving or rejecting appeals to His Majesty-in-Council, both in Civil and Criminal case. The King-in-Council could grant special leave to appeal in case not falling within the above provisions. It was King’s prerogative which was left untouched by various Acts and Charters.

Right of Appeal under the Government of India Act, 1935

Appeals from the Federal Court to the Privy Council lay under the following circumstances-

(a) From the judgment of the Federal Court exercising its original jurisdiction.

(b) any other cases, by leave of the Federal Court to His Majesty-in-Council.

Abolition of the Privy Council’s jurisdiction in 1949

On 24th September, 1949 the Abolition of Privy Council Jurisdiction Act, 1949, was passed to abolish the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council. The Privy Council decided the appeals which were pending before it: The Federal Court was, as an interim measure, invested with the same jurisdiction to entertain and dispose of appeals and petitions from the judgments, decrees or ‘order of all High Courts in India as His Majesty-in-Council had at present.

Contribution of the Privy Council

The Privy Council made unique contribution to the development of law in India. It consisted of Judges having legal learning and judicial experience. The Privy Council always insisted and maintained the highest standards of justice and judicial procedure, administered an efficient and impartial justice, and recognised the noble spirit of law. It formed a strong link between India and England so far as the Common Law was concerned. It gave to this country the English principles of law which are the basis of many Indian enactments. In the words of Prof. M.R Jain, “In the days when the confusion in the field of substantive law was great, and the legislative activity practically negligible, the Privy Council ascertained the law, settled them, moulded and shaped them. The Judicial Committee came to be looked upon by the Indians with great respect.”

It may be noted that its decisions were always masterly and they form even today the fountain source of law in India. Its decisions enriched the Indian Jurisprudence in many respects, Privy Council rendered notable judgments in the field of the statute law and personal laws. It contributed much to the evolution of the commercial law in India. Its interference in the criminal sphere was every benevolent. Though it interfered very rarely and only under special circumstance, yet whenever it did, it upheld the principle of natural justice and fostered the administration of impartial justice.

Dr. Tek Chand admired the role of Privy Council in a very befitting and illustrous manner as – The privy Council unravelled the mystries of Hindu Law, it enunciated the principles of Mohammedan Law, and formulated with clarity the customs which were prevalent in this country. Their Lordships of the Privy Council have, from time to time, elucidated the various Indian laws with absolutely detached mind. They have laid down the principles on which the judicial administration of the country was based. No doubt there have been lapses and mistakes occasionally, but, on the whole, the Privy Council has been a great unifying facior and on many occasions has reminded the Courts of the country of those fundamental principles of law on which the administration of justice in criminal matters is based.

Privy Council deserves all the praise and we have every right to feel grateful to this historic institution which has helped in establishing a sound legal system in India.


We can conclude the contribution of Privy Council in the words of Dr. K.M. Munshi that, “Privy Council has been a great unifying force and for us (Indians) it became the instrument and embodiment of the rule of law, a concept on which alone we have based the democratic institutions which we have set up in our Constitution.”



Q.:- Trace briefly the history of appeals to the Privy Council in civil matters.

Q.:- Trace the history of appeals to Privy Council from India and estimate its contribution to the growth of law in India.


Also Read History of British settlement of Bombay and development of its administration of justice before 1726
Also Read Charter of 1726
Also Read Mayor’s Court under the Charter of 1687 and 1726
Also Read Charter of 1753
Also Read Regulating Act, 1773
Also Read Trial of Raja Nand Kumar
Also Read Warren Hastings Judicial Plan of 1772 and 1774
Also Read Judicial plan of 1790 and 1793
Also Read Judicial Reforms of Lord William Bentinck
Also Read Patna Case
Also Read Kamaluddin Ali Khan Case
Also Read The Act of Settlement 1781
Also Read Salient features of Mohammedan Criminal Law
Also Read Development of Criminal Law in India before the codification of I.P.C., 1860
Also Read History of writ jurisdiction in India
Also Read History of appeals to Privy Council from India
Also Read Recommendations made by First Law Commission in India
Also Read Main provisions of Indian High Court Act 1861
Also Read Federal Court: Its Constitution and Jurisdiction
Also Read Supreme Court of India: Establishment, Constitution and Jurisdiction
Also Read Main provisions of Government of India Act 1919
Also Read Main Provisions of Government of India Act 1935
Also Read Main Provisions of the Indian Independence Act 1947
Also Read Recorder’s Court
Also Read Simon Commission
Also Read East India Company Act or Pitt’s India Act 1784
Also Read Grant of Diwani
Also Read Second Law Commission
Also Read Choultry Courts
Also Read Main Provisions of Indian Council Act 1861
Also Read System of Administration and Justice at Surat before 1726
Also Read History of British Settlement of Madras and its Judicial Institutions Development
Also Read Cossijurah Case
Also Read Constitution and Recommendations of Third Law Commission
Also Read Supreme Court established in 1774 under the Regulating Act 1773
Also Read Constitutional History of India
Also Read Codification of Law in India
Also Read Introduction of English Law in India
Also Read Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts before the commencement of the Constitution
Also Read Judicial System in British India after the Abolition of the Presidency Supreme Court and the Adalat System
Also Read Supreme Court at Calcutta
Also Read Administration of Justice in British India

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