History of Madurai District Court
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 who 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 Commander-in-chief.
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.
History 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:
1660 Tirumal Naick rule.
1734 Naick rule comes to an end. Rani Meenakshi dies.
1740 Mahratta occupation of Madura Murari Rao-Governor.
1743 Murari Rao driven away by the combined expedition
of Nizam and Nawab of Arcot.
1755 Col. Heron the Company’s Commander Captures Madurai.
1757 Usuf Khan becomes Governor of Madurai.
1764 Usuf Khan dies.
1783 Expedition of Col. Fullerton Madurai Captured.
1801 Madurai ceded finally to the British and occupied.
1802 First Collector Mr. Hurdis effectively in charge.
1803 Zilla Court at Ramnad begins to function.
1805 Zilla Court at Dindigul –do-.
1808 Zilla Courts at Ramnad and Dindigul abolished and
Zilla Court at Madurai begins to function.
1812 Zilla Court of Madurai transferred to Ramnad.
1813 Retransfer of the Zilla Court back to Madurai.
1816 First District Munsif appointed.
1843 Provincial and Circuit Courts abolished.
Zilla Court becomes District and Sessions Court.
Assistant Judge to the Zilla Judge becomes
1862 High Court constituted. Sadr Diwani Adalat and
Sadr. Foujdari Adalat abolished.