(Last Updated on : 20/10/2011)
Judicial administration in Mauryan Empire
has been described in Arthashastra
. Besides the village tribunals there are the Dharmasthiya and Kantakasodhana set of courts. It had the King as its highest judicial officer. However the king could no longer make himself personally responsible for the entire administration of justice as in the smaller kingdoms of the earlier times. Mauryan administration is known for its judicial system. The legal system was known for idealism. The gram sabha was the lowest judicial unit. The courts at sangrahan, dronamukha and janapada levels were above it.
The Mauryan legal system flowed from: dharma, vyavahara, charitra and rajasasana.
Penalties were imposed on those who break the law. Monetary fines were imposed for ordinary crimes. Capital punishment was practised. As per Arthashastra, penalties in the Mauryan period were based on caste the person belonged to.
The dharmasthiya courts were presided over by three dharmasthas. They are well versed in sacred law and three amatyas. These courts deal with personal disputes. There are courts in all important cities and other convenient centres. The main heads of civil law dealt with marriage and dowry including-divorce, inheritance, houses, house-sites and disputes regarding boundaries and water-rights, and trespass, debt, deposits, serfs, labour and contract, sale, violence, abuse, assault and so on. In many respects Kautilya
is seen to lay down rules that alter and liberalise the precepts of the ancient texts, and in his hands the exposition of the whole subject is more rational and progressive than orthodox and conservative. In the absence of witnesses the ordeal was resorted to. Punishments were graded and executed by royal authority. It includes fines, imprisonment, whipping and death with or without torture. Probably caste panchayats and guild courts existed that regulated the affairs of communities and professions and dealt with disputes. Dharmasthiya are similar to the modern civil courts.
Kantakasodhana courts were presided over by three pradeshtris or amatyas. However, the difference between the two types of courts is not known. The dharma courts dealt with disputes brought before them by the parties and corresponded to civil courts. In the kantakasodhana courts the actions started depending on the initiative of the executive. Assault and hurt were dealt with by the dharma courts; assault that ended in manslaughter was reserved for the Kantakasodhana. Kantakasodhana courts were a new type of court that was introduced to meet the growing needs of complex social economy as well as to implement decisions of a highly organized bureaucracy on matters that were under their control and regulation as well as unknown to the old legal system.
Both these courts were special tribunals which followed a summary procedure than the regular dharma courts that dealt with vyavahara. Their functions were quasi-judicial and their methods were common with those of a modern police force then of a judiciary. It aimed in protecting the state and people from baneful actions of anti-social persons. The merchant who used false weights, the artisan who failed to keep his contract, the physician who caused the death of his patient, the official who took bribes and the conspirator who contemplated treason were all dealt with by these courts. Theft, murder, burglary, rape, defiant violation of caste rules were the offences brought before these courts. These courts safeguard government and society from the possible evils of the new order that was being introduced at that time. Government control and regulation of activities of the people was becoming common and new offices possessing discretionary powers were being introduced, new regulations were being propagated. In order to implement these regulations as well as to see that they were not misused by officials to tyrannize the people or evaded by the people, machinery that would provide the necessary checks and controls was required. The kantakasodhana courts were thus introduced. Law book of later period do refer to Kantakasodhana. These courts are similar to modern criminal courts.