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History of the Bombay High court

 The High Court of Bombay, which is the chartered High Court and one of the oldest High Courts

in the Country. It has Appellate Jurisdiction over the State of Maharashtra, Goa, Daman & Diu

and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. In addition to the Principal Seat at Bombay, it has benches at

Aurangabad, Nagpur, Panaji(Goa).

The Legal history of Bombay may be said to have begun in 1661, when it became a British

possession. The Town and Island of Bombay was received by the British as a part of the dowry

of the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, sister of Alphonso VI, the then Portuguese

Monarch, when she married King Charles II . Bombay then was little more than a small fishing

village consisting of a few straggling huts of Kolis, its indigenous inhabitants; and its harbour,

destined in the course of years to develop into the greatest and most important commercial

seaport in the East, sheltered only a few fishing boats. Charles II transferred it to the East India

Company in 1668 for an insignificant annual rent of 10 Pounds

The remote ancestry of the High Court, though interesting is not quite inspiring, until we come to

the Recorder's Court established under the Charter of 1798. Confining ourselves to the British

period- for there is no conceivable connection between our High Court today and such Courts of

law as existed in the Portuguese, and still earlier Muslim eras- the judicial history of Bombay

commences with the Charter of 1668 accompanying the transfer of Bombay from the Crown to

the East India Company. In 1670, the administration of Justice was in the hands of Justices who

held their sittings in the Custom Houses of Bombay and Mahim. The system of 1670 was very

elementary and suffered from several drawbacks and the judicial system was too much identified

with the executive government of the Island.

The main architect of the Judicial system during this period was Gerald Aungier, the Governor of

Surat Factory. He has been described as the "true founder" of Bombay. He was a man with

liberal ideas and believed in a impartial administration of justice without fear or favor. But he

was conscious of these defects and he was himself dissatisfied with the judicial machinery.

Aungier was advised by the Company to select someone knowing something of law from

amongst the Company's servants in India. Aungier chose George Wilcox as the Judge and the

First British Court of Justice was inaugurated in Bombay in 1672 with due pomp and ceremony.

Fawcett quotes a detailed description of the opening ceremony on 8th August 1672.

There was a ceremonial procession from the Fort through the Bazaar to the Guildhall (court-

house) in the following order :-

Fifty Bandaries in Green liveries marching two by two.

Centues (Hindus) 20 Mooremen (Muslims) 20 Christians each representing their several caste or

sect marching two by two.

His Honour's horse of State led by an Englishman.

Two trumpets and Kettledrums on horse back.

The Justice of the Peace and Council richly habited on horse back. The Governor in his

Pallankeen with fower (four) English pages on each side in rich liveries bareheaded surrounded

at distance with peons, and blacks.

The Clerke of the Papers on foot.


The flower (four) Atturneys, or Common pleaders on foot

The keeper of the prisons and the two Tipstaffs on foot, bareheaded before the Judge.

The Judge on horse back on a Velvet foot cloth.

His servants in Purple serge liveries.

Gentlemen in Coaches and Palankeens.

On this occasion, he delivered a speech full of very noble sentiments, eulogizing the impartial

execution of laws, and exhorting the court to do justice without distinction of nationality or

religion, not only in cases between private parties, by even against the government. He promised

to protect the Judge in the discharge of his duties to the best of his power and authority. In the

concluding paragraph of his speech addressed to the court he said :

"The Inhabitants of this Island consist of several nations and religions, like English, Portuguese

and other Christians, Moores and Gentoos, but you, when you sit in this seat of justice and

judgment, must look upon them with one single eye as I do, without distinction of nation or

religion, for they are all His Majesty's and the Hon'ble Company's subjects as the English are,

and have all an equal title and right to justice."

The speech does credit to the character of Aungier. He exhibited a passion for fair, impartial and

evenhanded justice. No one could have kept a higher ideal of justice than Aungier. It was a good

augury for the judicial system, but unfortunately the later Governors did no to follow Aungier's

traditions.

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