Act of 1800 and Establishment of Supreme Court of Madras & Bombay

The Act of 1800 or Government of India Act 1800 was passed by British Parliament to establish a Supreme Court at Madras.


A rudimentary system of judiciary was established in the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay via the Charter Act of 1753. This system needed changes and there was an urgent need of new lawyers and judges to deal with the increasing cases. The Madras Council had brought this matter to Court of Directors in East India Company in 1791 which in turn brought in notice of the parliament. Via the Act of 1797, the British Parliament authorized the Crown to issue charters for the purpose of establishing a Recorder’s Court at Madras and Bombay. On February 1, 1798, the King issued charter and two Recorder’s Courts were established in Madras and Bombay by the end of that year. Each Recorder’s court was made of one Recorder, one Mayor and three Aldermen of the Corporation. The Recorder, who used to be a barrister with at least five years standing, was appointed by the Crown and was the President of the Recorder’s Court.

The jurisdiction of the Recorder’s Court was almost same as that of Supreme Court of Calcutta. They were able to entertain all civil, criminal, admiralty, maritime, ecclesiastical and equity cases. Like the Supreme Court of Calcutta, this court was also subject to few restrictions such as:

  • It could not entertain the matters related to Governor-General and Council in their official capacity.
  • The matters relating to Hindus and Muslims were to be decided by their own laws.

Appeals against the judgments of the Recorder’s Court could be filed before the Privy Council under the same conditions as they could be filed against the judgment of the Supreme Court. In this way, except the composition, the Recorder’s courts at Madras and Bombay were replica of the Supreme Court of Fort Williams at Calcutta.

The recorders court had hardly functioned for two years that the British Parliament decided to change them into Supreme Courts. As per this, the Parliament Passed Act of 1800 to authorize the Crown to establish a Supreme Court at Madras. On 26th December,1800 King George III issued a Charter which established the Supreme Court at Madras. This court came into existence on  4th September, 1801. However, in Bombay, the Recorder’s Court functioned till 1824. In 1823, the Parliament had authorized the Crown to establish the Supreme Court by a Charter and accordingly, the King issued a Charter on 8th December, 1823 establishing a Supreme Court at Bombay which came into being on 8th May, 1824.

Powers and Functions of Supreme Courts at Madras and Bombay

The Constitutional powers, function, limitations and jurisdiction of the two courts established at Madras and Bombay were the same as that of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The Act of 1823 had specifically mentioned in section 17 that the Supreme Court at Madras and Bombay, shall have the power to do, execute, perform and fulfil all such acts, authority, duties, matters and things whatsoever as the Supreme Court at Fort William might be authorised or empowered to do, execute, perform and fulfil within the Territory of Fort William in Bengal or places subject to or dependent upon its Government. This provision placed the three Supreme Courts in the same position.

These Supreme Courts functioned until 1862 when they were replaced by the High Courts at all the three places.

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