Mayor’s Court under the Charter of 1687 and 1726

Mayor’s Court under the Charter of 1687

A Corporation was set up by the Company at Madras on 29 Sep., 1688, under the Charter of 1687. It was created with the purpose of associating natives with the Englishmen. In order to fulfill this purpose, the Company wanted to undertake certain public welfare activities for which funds were needed. The Corporation collected taxes and raised funds from the inhabitants of Madras.

Composition– The Madras Corporation consisted of an English Mayor, twelve Aldermen and sixty or more Burgesses. Out of the twelve Aldermen, three were to be the covenanted English servants of the Company while the rest could be of any nationality. The Mayor was to hold office for one year and he was elected by the Aldermen from amongst themselves. The Aldermen held office for life or till, their residence in Madras. The vacancy of an Alderman was to be filled up by election from amongst the Burgesses. The Burgesses were to be elected by the Mayor and Aldermen while few of them were nominated by the Company from the heads of the various castes.

Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction– The Mayor and Aldermen constituted a civil court, while the Mayor and three senior Aldermen were Justices of Peace having criminal jurisdiction. The Mayor and two Aldermen formed the quorum. The Court held its sitting only once in a fortnight and decided criminal cases with the help of jury, The Court could award the sentence of imprisonment or fine, Appeals from the decisions of the Mayor’s Court lay to the Admiralty Court in case the value of the civil case. exceeded three pagodas, and in criminal cases,
where the offender was sentenced to death or loss of limb.

Court of Record– The Mayor’s court constituted a Court of Records since a Recorder was also attached to the Court. As all the members of the Mayor’s Court were lay persons without expertise in law, it dispensed justice “in a summary manner according to equity, justice
and good conscience” and law enacted by the Company. Obviously, this was bound to result into uncertainty and lack of uniformity in laws.

For the purpose of providing the services of a person having legal knowledge, the Company appointed Sir John Biggs, the Judge-Advocate of the Admiralty Court, as the Recorder of Mayor’s Court in 1688. This appointment of Sir John Biggs as a Recorder of the Mayor’s court
created an anomaly because as a Judge-Advocate of the Admiralty Court, he was also heard appeals from the Mayor’s Court, with which he was associated as a Judge. However, this anomaly did not last long since Sir John Biggs died in 1689 and thereafter the Company did not appoint any Recorder in the Mayor’s Court.

Mayor’s Court under the Charter of 1726

The Mayor and nine Aldermen of each Corporation formed a Court of Record which was called the Mayor’s Court’. It was empowered to decide all the civil cases within the Presidency town and the factories subordinate thereto. The Mayor together with two other English Aldermen formed the quorum. The Court also exercised testamentary jurisdiction. It could grant probates of will and Letters of Administration in case of intestacy. The Court was to hold its sitting not more than three times a week. An appeal from the decision of the Mayor’s Court lay to the Governor and Council. But in cases involving the value of subject-matter above 1,000 pagodas, a further appeal lay to the King in Council.

Being a Court of Record, the Mayor’s Court could punish persons for its contempt. The process of the Court was to be executed by the Sheriffs, the junior members of the court who were initially nominated but subsequently chosen annually by the Governor and Council. There was no specific mention in the Charter of 1726 as to the law which was to be applicable in the Mayor’s Court but since the earlier Charter of 1661provided that justice was to be administered in accordance with the English law, it was presumed that the same law was to be followed by the Mayor’s Court in deciding the cases.

Working of the Mayor’s Court of 1726- The Charter of 1726 adopted the principle of independence of judiciary to a considerable extend which was a fortunate development in the legal history of India.  But the constant assertion of judicial independence by the judges of the Mayor’s court proved irksome to the Governor and Council which resulted into constant conflict and hostility between the two. As rightly observed by Kaye, this made the Corporations, and consequently the Courts, largely autonomous but the Council at times sought to interfere · with the functioning of the Mayor’s Court and tried to dictate its terms which the Courts did not like. The strained relations between the Mayor’s Court and the Governor and Council also led to serious differences between the Government and the Corporation which are reflected in the following cases:–

The Bombay Case of 1730- A Hindu woman of shimpi caste converted herself to Christianity and became a Roman Catholic. On account of this, her son aged twelve years left her and went to live with his Hindu relatives at Bombay. The woman filed a suit against the Hindu relative in the Mayor’s Court charging him for illegal detention of her son and some jewels. The Court ordered the relative to hand over the boy to his mother. Thereupon, the heads of the caste complained to the Governor Cowan who brought the matter before the Council. The Governor and Council held that the Mayor’s Court had no authority to
decide cases involving disputes relating to caste or religion of natives and warned the Mayor’s Court not to interfere in such cases.

The Case of Arab Merchant- In 1930 a dispute arose between the Court and the Council. An Arab merchant brought a suit in the Mayor’s Court for recovery of the valuable pearls which were alleged to have been extorted from him by the men who saved him from a burning boat from the coast of Gujarat. The defendants had already been tried earlier for piracy and acquitted. The Council made suggestion to the Mayor’s Court against the validity of merchant’s claim. But the Mayor’s Court ignored the suggestion and decreed the suit. On appeal, this decision was reversed by the Governor and Council by the casting vote of the Governor.

The Oath Case of Bombay- In Bombay, a dispute arose in 1746 over the issue of form of oath to be prescribed for Hindu witnesses. The Mayor and Aldermen of Bombay were usually the members of the Grand Jury at a Quarter sessions. A conflict arose between the Bombay Council and the Mayor’s Court as to the form of oath for Hindu witnesses. The Grand Jury held up two successive sessions by refusing to find and ‘true bills’, unless the Hindu interpreter and witnesses were sworn upon the ‘Cow instead of the holy ‘Geeta’. This touched the sentiments of the Hindu natives and they felt aggrieved.

The Oath Case of Madras- In Madras also the relation between the Governor and Council and Mayor’s Court were strained as is evident from a dispute that arose over the form of oath in 1736. In this case two Hindu merchants were imprisoned by the Mayor’s Court for refusing to take the Pagoda-oath. The Hindus were opposed to the pagoda oath on the ground that it was contrary to their religion and asserted that they were prepared to take ‘Geeta-oath’. This action of Mayor’s Court annoyed the Hindus and they complained to the Governor who ordered release of the imprisoned Hindus on parole. The Court was directed not to meddle unnecessarily with the religious rites and ceremonies of the natives and keep itself within limits prescribed by the Charter of 1726.

The major causes of constant clashes, between the Council and the Mayor’s Courts were lack of adequate judicial training and discipline among the judges of the Courts, attitude of the Governor and Council to treat Mayor’s Court subordinate to it, and above all, both suffered from superiority complex and considered themselves independent to each other. The uncertainties and ambiguities of the Charter were also responsible for the above noted conflicts.

Comparison of the Mayor’s Court Established Under Charter of 1687 and 1726

Although the Mayor’s Court of 1726 were established on the parallel lines to the Mayor’s Court of 1687 yet the two differed in the following respects–

1. The Charter of 1687 being a Company’s Charter, the Mayor’s Court of Madras established under it was a Company’s Court whereas the new Mayor’s Court under the Royal Charter of 1726 was a Crown’s Court.

2. The earlier Charter of 1687 conferred both, civil and criminal jurisdiction on the Mayor’s Court but the new Charter of 1726  empowered the Courts to try and hear only the civil cases. Thus the Charter of 1687 had a wider scope as compared with the Charter of 1726.

3. Under the Charter of 1687 appeals from the Mayor’s Court lay to the Admiralty Court while the Charter of 1726 provided that appeals from Mayor’s Court lay to the Governor and Council and a second appeal to the Court of King in Council of England. There was, however, no provision for second appeal in the earlier Charter of 1687.

4. The Mayor’s Courts established under the Charter of 1726 possessed testamentary jurisdiction which the Charter of 1687 had not provided for.

5. The Charter of 1687 provided for a ‘Recorder’ in the Mayor’s Court who was to be a professional lawyer to advise the court in legal matters. But the Recorder of the Mayor’s Courts established under the Charter of 1726 was not necessarily to be a legal expert and judges appointed in the Court were mostly lay persons without any legal training or experience. In this sense, the Charter of 1687 was more in tune with the imperatives of justice as compared with the Charter of 1726.

6. The Madras Corporation established under the Charter of 1687 consisted of twelve Aldermen out of which at least three were to be Englishmen. These Aldermen acted as judges of the Mayor Court, But the new Corporations set up under the Charter of 1726 consisted of nine Aldermen, out of which seven were to be Englishmen, Thus the new Mayor’s courts were far more English dominated than the earlier one.

7. No specific procedure and technical rules of law were provided for administration of justice in the old Courts but the Mayor’s Court of 1726 was bound by the laws and procedure of English Courts of the Crown.

8. Under the Charter of 1687, the Executive Government had nothing to do with the administration of justice but the Charter of 1726 invested the Governor and Council with the power to appeals and decide criminal cases,

In what respect the Charter of 1726 was inferior to the Charter of 1687

It may be noted that criminal justice in Madras was administered by the Mayor’s Court and Admiralty Court established under the Charter of 1687 whereas the Charter of 1726 vested criminal judicature in the executive and this was certainly a retrograde step. Having once divested the executive of its judicial powers, it could not be regarded as a progressive step by any test or standard, to re-invest it with judicial powers.

A cardinal principle of good government is to keep judicial and executive powers separate in order to secure liberty and property of the people. Form this point of view the Charter of 1726 was inferior to that of 1687. Besides, similar was the position with respect to the Indian participation. The Madras Corporation of 1687 had a sizable Indian representation whereas the corporation of 1726 was to have only two non-English Aldermen and, in practice, none was ever appointed. The Mayor’s Court of 1726 was thoroughly an English Court with no Indian participation and it compared unfavorably with the old Madras Mayor’s Court in this respect also.



Write a note on the Composition, Jurisdiction and Working of Mayor’s Courts under the Charter of 1726. Whether these are an improvement to the Mayor’s Court of 1687.
Write a note on the Composition, Jurisdiction and Working of the Mayor’s Courts under the Charter of 1687 and 1726.

“The Charter of 1726 was inferior to that of the Charter of 1687.”Do you agree with this statement ?

Compare and contrast between the Mayor’s Court of 1726 with the Mayor’s Court at Madras established in 1687 ?


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