The trial of Raja Nand Kumar gives a description of the political situation in the country under the reign of East India Company –
Fact of the case
1. Nand Kumar was an influential Brahmin of Bengal. He brought certain charges of corruption and bribery against Warren Hastings, the then Governor General, before the Supreme Council.
2. Warren Hastings never appeared before the Council but charges against him were found to be correct. At this Warren Hastings became annoyed with Nand Kumar.
3. Later on Nand Kumar was tried by the Supreme Court of Judicature on a charge of forgery brought against him by an Indian, Mohan Prasad who was a bitter enemy of Nand Kumar.
4. Prior to this Hastings asked Kamaluddin to make a petition for conspiracy against Nand Kumar in the Supreme Council. But petition failed as the charge could not successfully be proved.
5. Nand Kumar was tried by a jury of twelve Englishmen of the Supreme Court and it was found that he was guilty of the offence of forgery and was sentenced to death under an Act of the British Parliament enacted in the year 1728.
6. The sentence of death was duly executed and he was hanged on 5th August, 1775.
It appears from the above facts that Warren Hastings fulfilled his desire through the instrumentality of his friend, Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Burke has aptly remarked, “Hastings had murdered Nand Kumar by the hands of Sir Elijah Impey.”
Legality of the case
The Trial of Raja Nand Kumar has been looked upon with suspicion for a long time. Macaulay, Mill and other historians have accused justice Impay for committing a judicial murder. Legality of trial has been questioned. This case was so important that later on it became a ground for impeachment, both for Warren. Hastings and Impay.
Arguments against the Legality of the Trial
Critics put forth the following grounds against the conviction of Nand Kumar-
1. The statute of 1728 under which Nand Kumar was convicted, could not be held to be in force in India unless and until it was especially extended to India which was never expressly done. This Act was not promulgated in Calcutta. But Supreme Court was of the opinion that Act was in force in Calcutta.
2. The offence for which Nand Kumar was hanged was not a crime according to Hindu and Mohammedan law, nor native law provided capital sentence for forgery.
3. The offence for which Nand Kumar was convicted was committed long before the establishment of Supreme Court. The statute under which Nand Kumar was. punished, was passed in peculiar circumstances, which did not exist in India.
4. Nand Kumar was not under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court. The suit was brought by a native and not by an Englishman therefore he was not subject of the Supreme Court.
5. The whole law which was in force in England, was not extended to India. Further no English statute included any colony or conquered territory unless it is specifically stated in that statute.
6. The way the trial was conducted also raise doubts about the impartiality of the court on the following grounds –
(a) Defence witnesses were severally cross-examined by the judges themselves which resulted in the collapse of defence.
(b) Court rejected the application of Nand Kumar for granting leave to appeal to Privy Council.
(c) Under the charter of the court, it had power to reprieve, and suspend the execution of a capital sentence and recommend the case for mercy to His Majesty. But the court did not exercise this power in favour of Nand Kumar.
On the above mentioned grounds Beveridge asserts, that there is strong circumstantial evidence that Hastings was the real prosecutor. The trial was unfairly conducted; the judges examination of defence witnesses is inquisitorial and minute and the chief justice Hanged Nand Kumar in order to serve a political purpose when the forgery was not conclusively proved.
According to Keith, “Supreme Court committed ‘Odious crime’ in convicting Nand Kumar. The sentence in any event should as a matter of plain duty, have been respited by the court, by Hastings private secretary intervened to prevent such action and the councillors did nothing.”
Arguments for the Legality of the trial
Sir Elijah Impay speaking in the Bar of House of Commons explained that native inhabitants of province are not subject to the jurisdiction of the English court, not the English law is applicable to them, but a native inhabitant of the English town of Calcutta which was an English property and territory was for a long period governed by the English men and English law, was subject of English tribunals and justly he made his voluntary choice to live under their protection and that it was in this capacity that Nand Kumar suffered the penalties of law.”
It was also argued for the conviction that charter of 1753 did not expressly mention that natives were not to be tried under English law.
To quote again Impey “I had dignity, integrity, independence and utility of that court to maintain.” This shows the attitude of the judges to prove that they could not be influenced or dictated by the hostile executive. Sir James Stephen said that the conviction of Nand Kumar was legal. According to him the English law as introduced in India in 1661 and through later charters of 1726, 1753 and 1774. Therefore he said,“had this criminal escaped, no force of argument, no future experience would have prevailed on a single native to believe that the judges had not weighed gold against justice.”
The Nand Kumar’s Case decided that English law was applicable in presidency town of Calcutta in the year of 1726. The English law was not introduced only by the charter of 1726. The English law was not introduced only by the charter of 1726 but also by the charter of 1758 also. The Act of 1728 had been applied in the case of Radha Charan Mitter before Nand Kumar’s case came to the court. But Keith is of the opinion that “English law was introduced in the presidency town finally in 1726 and that subsequently charters could not be regarded as substantive reintroduction of English law upto their date.” According to this when the Act of 1728 was not applicable in Calcutta, therefore, Nand Kumar’s trial was illegal.
The trial of Raja Nand Kumar has been looked upon with suspicion over the time. How far do you agree with this statement of the historians that the courts in this case were guilty of committing judicial murder ?
Do you agree with the statement that “the trial of Raja Nand Kumar was nothing but Judicial murder.”