Privy Council Appeals Data

Privy Council Appeals From India before the Regulating Act (1774)

The First Fifty Appeals from East India Company Territories to the Privy Council 1679-1774
For nearly the past four hundred years the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has served as the highest court of appeal from Britain's colonies. For much of this history, India provided the bulk of case work for the Privy Council, yet almost all scholars tend to focus on nineteenth and twentieth century appeals. This is understandable given the nature of record keeping and the explosion of court business and population in British India over these centuries. The cases presented below in a sortable dataset below and in full detail here are a first attempt to draw greater attention to the Privy Council in the formative years of British India. Though the research that went into this project was done in person at the National Archives (UK) in Kew, thanks to the University of Houston's Anglo-American Legal Tradition project, scholars and students from around the world now have access to the original manuscript Privy Council minutes recording appeals up to 1800. I have provided the data below to help researchers sort through the raw page images posted at the AALT project and to try and recruit more people into the study of British Imperial legal history. I have chosen to focus here on the first 50 appeals from territories under the control of the East India Company (all are part of present day India except for the island of St. Helena). These first 50 line up almost perfectly with the first era in Anglo-Indian legal history, that is, the period before the Regulating Act of 1773 and Supreme Court charter of the following year.

In my complete notes linked through the chart below I have included data on most aspects of a case, the litigants involved, place of origin, a rough descriptor for the type of case,when it began, how much was at stake, what the final result was, and what lawyers are known to have been involved. I have linked throughout to sources of further information and analysis including to my dissertation which is now being revised for publication. I am committed to opening up the world of scholarly data in the humanities and want to show here how research in its raw form can be put to use outside of a dissertation/book project with an eye towards advancing a particular field. As such, this data is meant primarily as a gateway into the primary sources themselves and to bring attention to the complexity and richness of the early modern British imperial world. A fuller analysis of these cases will appear in my book project  but for ease of use I thought I would also provide a brief narrative of how these appeals worked.

There was no formal black-letter provision for appeal from India to the Privy Council until 1726. Until that year all appeals to the Privy Council from India were done on an ad-hoc basis, i.e. petitioners complaining of mistreatment at the hands of a court or the East India Company. In these years the Privy Council had provided advice on how to proceed in judicial matters in India and had even heard the complaint of Abdulla Shah from the island of Johanna (in today's Comoros islands) about his detention in Barbados in 1676 (PC2/65/381) . However, I've chosen to start with the appeal of Manuel De Lima from Madras in 1679 as his was the first to actually appeal from a court judgment. In 1726 a royal charter established new Mayors' Courts and Courts of Appeal at Bombay [Mumbai], Madras[Chennai], and Calcutta [Kolkata]and included a provision similar to those in the charters of Atlantic colonies providing for appeal to the Privy Council in cases worth around £400 (1,000 pagodas). The 1726-74 chartered court regime involved two courts on the civil side, the Mayor's Court, and the Court of Appeals with appeal lying to the Privy Council. These courts heard civil cases only and there are no appeals in the dataset after 1726 which refer to criminal appeals (outside the scope of the Privy Council the Crown only granted one pardon during this period in a criminal case from India).

I have included the names of the solicitors and attorneys who managed an appeal when such information is available. Litigants depended on a solicitor or two to manage their case, visit the Council offices periodically, submit the appropriate papers, and hound individual members of the Council to appear on the actual day of the hearing. In addition, every appeal worth pursuing required a learned brief laying out the facts in the case and offering legal arguments in favor of a given party. A litigant's solicitor usually employed eminent (and expensive) counsel, such as of the law officers of the Crown, to prepare such a document. Readers will notice such counsel as William Murray, the future Lord Mansfield, appearing as attorneys in Privy Council cases from India. Few of these briefs have survived and I note their locations where possible.

To better understand the processes at work in 18th c. Privy Council appeals see Joseph Smith's Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations (New York, Columbia University Press, 1950) and Mary Bilder, The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and Empire (Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). I would also like to draw readers' attention to the forthcoming work of Sharon O'Connor (BC-Law) and Mary Bilder on legal briefs in American Privy Council cases as well as the wonderful Privy Council Papers Online project by Nandini Chaterjee and others.

A note on names: transliteration of names into English is notoriously haphazard in extant records and I have only included modern transliterations when confident - I would be interested in reader conjectures on any names appearing here. I would also ask that a citation be included to Mitch Fraas, Anglo-Indian Legal History, "Privy Council Appeals Project" with date accessed wherever this data is used. Cites to "Fraas" refer to A.M. Fraas, "They Have Travailed Into a Wrong Latitude:" The Laws of England, Indian Settlements, and the British Imperial Constitution 1726-1773" (Duke University, Ph.D. Dissertation, 2011). These are hotlinked to the dissertation purchase page through proquest though it can also be viewed through Duke University for those without institutional access.

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Privy Council Appeals