DISTRICT COURT HISTORY
The Birth and Growth of Rule of Law in Madurai
Mr. R. GANAPATHYRAMAN, Advocate, Madurai.
The last of the Naicks was gone. The Dynasty that gave Madurai an
uninterrupted era of peace and prosperity for two centuries and
recaptured to the City many of its past glories faded into oblivion.
Rani Meenakshi committed suicide. The year was 1736. The pretender
engineered her untimely death and was
a rival for royalty came to an ignominious end poisoned by his
minions in 1743.
The usual chaos in Indian History on the disappearance of a dynasty
followed. There was an era of confused fighting with none to call
himself effectively in power for long. Usuf Khan’s stern but just
governorship (1757-64) raised glimmers of hope and proved
evanescent. The three expeditions in 1755, 1757 and 1764 by the
English were like visitations of locusts though undertaken with the
best of motives by the authorities in Madras.
The troops of the East India Company finally occupied the City never
to leave it. The year 1801 seemed to open with still more lurid
prospects. But the Civilians whose Counsel prevailed in Madras were
determined to bring order out of Chaos. Mr. Hurdis was appointed the
Collector with sweeping magisterial powers. His one fear on taking
charge was that in the state of affairs that he found he might have
to abandon the city to the jungle and transfer his head-quarters
elsewhere. Hardly there was a population to govern within the fort.
Super human efforts were made to repopulate the city and suburbs and
ridding them of their scourges by summary trails and exemplary
executions. Inducements were offered to immigrants, to create a
population. Slowly the semblance of order the basic requirement for
civil and judicial authority to function was established. Still the
suspicions of the Governor were such that while Collector was given
the powers of District Magistrate, the Civil and Sessions Courts
were just adhoc tribunals assembled and disbanded for the occasions
at the collector’s will.
The City limbed back to normalcy and stern measures in the country
side bore fruit by 1802. However the reluctance of enforcing
authority necessitated the establishment of the nascent judicial
administration as Zilla Courts at Ramnad and Dindigul in the year
1803 and 1805. They were not those all powerful tribunals with the
powers of life and death that the District Courts later became. They
were modest forums with jurisdiction over civil disputes of a
limited nature. An appeal from them lay to the Provincial court, a
tribunal with Civil and Criminal jurisdiction combining the roles of
the modern Sessions and Subordinate Courts but presided over by
three Judges touring four districts and disposing of the accumulated
arrears in a few days. The Zilla Judge had a Registrars’ Court and a
Court of Native Commissioners to deal with petty disputes, and
ultimate court of appeal was Sadr. Diwani Adalat transforming itself
into Foujdari Adalat as High Court of Criminal appeal, and presided
over by the Governor and some civilians and at one time by the
A regular Zilla Court began to function in Madurai from 1813 after
establishment in 1808 and transfer to Ramnad in 1812 and retransfer
to Madurai in 1813. With the extinction of Ramnad and Dindigul Zilla
Courts in 1808 Madurai once again became the focus . The year 1809
saw an Assistant to Zilla Judge appointed. The native commissioner
under the Zilla Judge was designated the Sadar Amin in 1809, with
enlarged powers and the first District Munsif was appointed in 1816.
Chronology of frequent changes brought in the pecuniary jurisdiction
of this multiplicity of tribunals is of little interest for the
general reader. Suffice it to say that they were all subject to
either the appellate or revisional jurisdiction of the Zilla Court
and Provincial Courts and Sadr. Adalats in Madras as ultimate forum.
Sir Thomas Munro that indefatigable administrator was alive to the
dangerous consequences of multiplicity of tribunals. Known as a
District highly litigious the majority of contestants in Madurai
courts, who had a penchant for mutual ruination by revengeful
attacks on persons of their opponents or their properties before the
advent of British, now began to do the same by subtler means in
civil and criminal forums. Realising that these tribunals had
outlived their purpose in transforming the predators into litigants
a much lesser evil the hierarchy was reorganised in 1843. The Zilla
Court became the Civil and Sessions Courts and the Assistant Judge
came to be the Subordinate Judge. The provincial circuit court Sadr
Amins were abolished their respective powers transferred to the
District Courts and District Munsifs. In 1862 when the High Court
came into existence by charter the Sadr. Diwanti and Sadr. Foujdari
Adalats were dissolved and their role absorbed by the High Court.
after 1962 is uneventful land of little interest too near to require
recounting except that Ramnad District was carved out of Madurai but
without any disturbance to the primary that the city enjoyed till
then. The bifurcation in fact added to the stature with a double set
of courts coming to function which had earned that city distinction
not enjoyed by any other District headquarters. The Courts in
Madurai were initially housed in various parts of the city. At one
time for want of accommodation some Munsifs’ Courts were shifted to
Choultries in Tirupparankundram. Mahal was an extensive ruin
sprawling the south eastern part of the fort from the present
Navabhathkana street on the west and backards of the houses in South
Masi street to the fort walls on the east and south. Jackals and
highway men sneaked through the breaches in the fort walls nearby
infested it and issued forth in the nights to harry the cattle and
citizens. Irredeemable parts were leveled by successive Collectors
and restoration was carried out by a fraction that ultimately
survived. They were sufficiently safe by 1857 when the Civil Courts
were moved into them. The nature of the Criminal jurisdiction in the
City was such that for a long time to come the Magisterial Courts
had a chequered history, of Caravan like existence, moving from
building to building which was ultimately relieved by the erection
of the present spacious buildings when the courts Civil and Criminal
moved into the habit at in 1970, which they could call their own
thus giving an emotional satisfaction for the fulfillment, which
merely six decades of efforts were made.
The procedure of
the succession of Court underwent an equally entertaining
metamorphosis starting in 1801 at the Adhoc tribunals as observance
of mere justice and equity and good conscience with Hindu law of
procedure applying to the Hindu contestants and Muslim law of
procedure among Muslims and when the two contestants differed in
religion the law of the defendant prevailing. There was little in
the regulations that can strictly be said to be an exhaustive code
of procedure. In criminal matters the procedure was based upon
Muslim law relieved by the regulations of the company in its more
primitive aspects. As regulations multiplied they came to be applied
in larger measure in the several forums for procedure. When in 1859
the Code of Civil Procedure was enacted followed by the Criminal
Procedure code in 1861 and the Penal Code in 1860 a truly Universal
law of Procedure for all the citizens irrespective of their creed
was ushered in.
NOTABLE YEARS IN THE HISTORY OF MADURAI:
rule comes to an end. Rani Meenakshi dies.
occupation of Madura Murari Rao-Governor.
Rao driven away by the combined expedition of Nizam and Nawab of
Heron the Company’s Commander Captures Madurai.
Khan becomes Governor of Madurai.
of Col. Fullerton Madurai Captured.
ceded finally to the British and occupied.
Collector Mr. Hurdis effectively in charge.
Court at Ramnad begins to function.
Court at Dindigul –do-.
Courts at Ramnad and Dindigul abolished andZilla Court at
begins to function.
Court of Madurai transferred to Ramnad.
of the Zilla Court back to Madurai.
District Munsif appointed.
and Circuit Courts abolished.
Court becomes District and Sessions Court.
Judge to the Zilla Judge becomes
Court constituted. Sadr Diwani Adalat and
Foujdari Adalat abolished.
Court - Bank Details
District Court Madurai Branch - INDIAN OVERSEAS BANK
The DISTRICT COURT MADURAI branch - INDIAN OVERSEAS BANK is
IOBA0001867. Branch code is the last six characters of the IFSC Code
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District Court Madurai
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