Lord Cornwallis was the famous British General, who was sent to India in 1786 with the charge of the land settlement policy of the Government. The Court of Directors entrusted him to carry out the strategy of peace outlined by the Pitt`s India Act. To reorganize the administrative system in the country Cornwallis was specially charged with the duty of finding out a solution of the land revenue problem. At the same time he had to look after the development strong judiciary yet with the growth of the commercial department of the Company. Cornwallis followed the footsteps of Lord Warren Hastings and built up the administrative superstructure in India, which remained substantially in force till 1858.
Being a shrewd diplomat Cornwallis at the beginning of his career in India emphasized on strengthening the judicial administration of the British Government in India. Hence he concentrated the authority of the districts entirely in the hands of the Collector according to the instruction of the Court of Directors. In 1787 the Collectors in Charge of districts were made judges of Diwani Adalats. As a judge they were given more magisterial powers. Moreover the Collectors in Charge also were empowered to try the criminal cases with certain limits.
Cornwallis in the due course made further changes in the field of criminal administration during the 1790-92. Due to such changes and alterations the District Faujdari Adalats presided over by Indian Judges were abolished. In these places four circuit Courts were established, three of which were in Bengal and one in Bihar. The Circuit Courts developed by the new changes made by Cornwallis were presided by the European Servants. Those European Servants decided cases with the help of Qazis and Muftis. But the Qazis and Muftis were subordinate to the European officers. These Circuit Courts toured the districts twice a year and tried persons committed by the city magistrates. The Sadr Nizamat Adalat at Murshidabad so far presided by a Mohammedan Judge. A similar court set up at Calcutta comprising the governor general and member of the Supreme Council replaced the Sadr Nizamat Adalat.
The judicial reforms undertook by Lord Cornwallis laid its strong foundation in the British Indian administrative system in the year 1793. The judicial reforms of Cornwallis were documented in the famous Cornwallis Code. However the new judicial reforms approached by Lord Cornwallis were based on the principle of Separation of Power. Cornwallis at first sought to separate the revenue administration from the administration of justice. The collector used to be the head of the Revenue Department in a district and also enjoyed the extensive judicial and magisterial powers. However Cornwallis promoted the Separation of Power and the Cornwallis Code divested the collector of all the judicial and the magisterial powers. Thus the Collectors were given only the power of the Revenue administration according to the Cornwallis Code. A new class of officer called the District Judge was created to preside over the District Civil Court. The district judge was also given the magisterial and the Police function.
A gradation of Civil Court was set up. The distinction between the revenue and the civil cases was abolished and the new Diwani courts were entrusted to try all the civil cases. Munsiffs became the lower court, which was presided by the Indian Officers and competent to decide cases involving disputes upto 50 rupees. Registrars became the court next to the Munsiffs presided over by the European officers and tried upto the case worth rupees 200 crores. Appeals from both these courts were laid to the District or the City Courts. District Judges presided over the City Courts and decided the civil suits with the help of the Indian law officers. Above the district Court were the Provincial courts of Appeal at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Decca and Patna. These Courts had also to supervise the working of the District Court. Moreover on the basis of the reports provided by the District Courts, the Provincial courts had to look after the Sadr Diwani Adalat. The Sadr Diwani Adalat at Calcutta presided over by the Governor and his Council. Through the Cornwallis Code, regulations are also laid down regarding the procedures to be followed in these courts. Cornwallis administered the Hindu laws according to the Hindus and the Mohammedan law according to the Mohammedans.
Under the judicial administration promoted by Cornwallis, the European subjects in the districts were made subjects under the jurisdiction of the local civil courts. No special license was given to the Europeans unless he submitted himself to the law of the land. Further the Government servants were made answerable before the civil courts for any acts done even in the official capacity. Thus Cornwallis proclaimed the principle of sovereignty of Law in India.
Important changes were also introduced in the field of the criminal administration. The District Faujdari Adalats presided over by the Indian Officers were abolished completely. The District Judges were given the absolute power to arrest the criminals. The provincial circuit Courts, which worked for the civil cases primarily also worked as the criminal courts. These courts could pass the death sentence and the life imprisonment to the imprisoned subjects according to the confirmation of the Sadr Nizamat Adalat. The Sadr Nizamat Adalat was the highest court of Appeal in the criminal cases. The governor General enjoyed the general power of pardon or communication of punishment.
During the period between 1790 & 1793, Cornwallis introduced certain changes in the criminal law, which were regularized by the parliamentary Act of 1797. According to the newly framed criminal law the judges were asked to follow the rules of fair justice. They were also asked not to be influenced by the caste, creed or religion. The usual punishment of the amputation of the limbs of body was replaced by temporary hard labor or fine. Regulation IX of 1973 amended the law of evidence. According so this regulation religious persuasion of the prisoner was not to be considered as a bar to the conviction or condemnation of a prisoner.
The judicial administrative reforms by Cornwallis followed the Western conception of Justice, which was based on the principle of equity. Codified secular law replaced the narrow religious law of the ruler or the local agent. The Cornwallis Code proclaimed the sovereignty of the law in unmistakable terms. The administrative reforms of Cornwallis also solicited for the trial of the Government officials, for any wrongs done by them in their official capacities. But the immediate effect of the law reforms made by Cornwallis proved very disastrous initially. This is because the traditional system of the governing bodies was replaced by the European servants, who were ignorant about the Indian customs. The system of law became very expensive and the law courts were insufficient. And at the same time falsehood, deceit and litigation corrupted the system at its root.
To supplement and implement the judicial reforms important changes were introduced in the police administration. In the Regulations of 1791, the powers and jurisdiction of the police Superintendent were defined. To induce the honest operation of the Police system, Cornwallis raised the salaries of all the police officers and offered good rewards for the discovery and arrests of the burglars and murderers. In the districts the zamindars were divested from all the police powers. Thus it was declared that zamindars were ceased to be considered responsible for robberies committed in their estate unless their complicity could be proved. The English magistrates were entrusted with the control of the district police administration. Each district was subdivided into areas of 400 square miles and each area was placed under the charge of a Police Superintendent. An establishment of constables assisted the Police superintendent. In this way Cornwallis strengthened the police administration in order to safeguard the judicial system.
However Cornwallis was primarily entrusted with the charge of the land revenue settlement by the court of directors. Though Cornwallis reformed the judicial and the executive bodies so far functioning in India, his chief motive was to regulate the land revenue policies. Cornwallis reorganized the revenue Department completely. In 1787 the erstwhile province of Bengal was subdivided into the fiscal areas. Each fiscal area was placed under the direct supervision of a Collector. The number of Collectorships was reduced from 36to 23. The old Committee of revenue was reorganized and was renamed as the Board of Revenue. The newly formed Board of Revenue was assigned with the duty of superintending the work of the Collectors. Till the year of 1790, the old system of annual settlement continued. In 1790 Cornwallis, with the approval of the Court of directors declared that the Zamindars would be considered as the owner of the land subject to the annual payment of the land revenue to the state. A ten-year settlement was made with the Zamindars in1790 on the basis of 89% of the rental. In 1793, the decennial settlement was declared permanent and perpetual. Thus Cornwallis built up a strong land revenue system.
Lord Cornwallis, after strengthening the land revenue policies, emphasized to control the rampant corruption in the commercial department of the company. While the company`s goods were not infrequently sold at loss in Europe, the Company`s servants made huge profits in goods they sent to England on their personal accounts. Since the establishment of the Board of Trade at Calcutta in 1774, the Company had procured goods through the European and Indian contractors. The members of the Board of Trade, instead of being controlling the malpractices, themselves participated in the corruption. To stop these corruptions Lord Cornwallis adopted several policies. Cornwallis reduced the strength of the board of Trade from eleven to five. The method of procuring supplies through contracts was restricted. Cornwallis promoted the procurement of supplies from the Commercial residents and the Agents. Thus the Commercial residents made direct advances to the manufacturers and settled prices with them. In this way Cornwallis regulated the Commercial policy. Thus under the new commercial policy, the Company could get ample supplies at cheaper rates.
In spite of being a just and benevolent administrator, he had a very low opinion about the Indian character, ability and integrity. According to him every native of Hindustan was corrupt. Therefore he reserved all the higher services for the Europeans and reduced the status of the Indians. On a whole under the administrative system of Lord Cornwallis the Indians have been excluded from every honor, dignity or office, which the lowest Europeans could be prevailed upon to accept. Cornwallis was very much prejudiced against the Indians. According to the eminent historians Cornwallis proved official seal on the policy of racialism in India.