HL Deb 13 August 1832 vol 14 cc1354-7
The Lord Chancellor

moved the second reading of the Bill, the object of which he explained was to authorise the appointment by the local Governments of the Presidencies of the East Indies, of persons, not being British-born subjects, to be justices of the peace, under such regulations as existed by law, and to remove the disqualification imposed on natives by the Indian Jury Bill of 1826, which prohibited any but Christians from sitting upon the trial of a Christian on petty juries; and all natives whatever, from sitting on Grand Juries, No sooner was that exception introduced than it was repented of; for what was well meant and well intended—what would have been willingly received as a very great blessing—was converted by the exception into a measure which operated as a stigma upon a very large portion of his Majesty's Indian subjects. The present Bill only gave to the local powers the right to appoint whatever persons they might think fit to be justices of the peace; and to act on juries, under such regulations as the Courts might think proper. Of the introduction of trial by jury into our Eastern settlements, it was impossible to speak too highly; it had been adopted in the Island of Ceylon, under Sir Alexander Johnstone, and there it had operated most beneficially, tending to conciliate the natives, and to give them an interest in our Government and institutions. To render this boon fully effectual in the East Indies and to remove the disqualification imposed by the Bill of 1826, was the object of the present measure.

The Duke of Wellington

from the knowledge he had of India, and from the perusal he had given to the documents on the Table, must say, that he had never seen a bill more calculated to do mischief than this. He was surprised that any Government should have thought proper to introduce such a measure into Parliament, contrary to the opinion of every person connected with that distant country, or acquainted with the administration of justice there. These Courts were originally established purposely to exempt his Majesty's British subjects from the jurisdiction of the natives of that country. Their jurisdiction was local, extending only a certain distance round the several towns in which they were established. The jurisdiction of Calcutta, for instance, was not more extensive than Hyde Park; and the natives whom it was proposed to call upon to assist in the administration of justice, generally reside outside the boundary purposely that they might not come under the jurisdiction of the court. The measure was then, useless, inasmuch as they could not be called upon to serve on juries in any one of these courts. He did not mean to say that there were not some opulent Gentlemen residing in that town; but the residents were chiefly the servants of Europeans, of clerks in the employment of the Government, and of persons who generally speaking, ought not to serve on juries. The Gentleman who brought this subject into the other House of Parliament, must know that in this country, as in all others, there were certain established qualifications for justices of the peace and for jurymen; and that no disqualification, in any part of the world, was equal to that of colour: that the white man had an influence which was not possessed by the black. This distinction prevailed most in those countries in which a liberal system of Government had been established, as in the United States of America, and the various states existing in the southern portion of that continent. Indeed, a term had been invented to designate it in Colombia, in which express laws had been made for the support and maintenance of the "albocracy." To enable the coloured natives of the East-Indies to receive from the Governor of Fort St. George or Bombay the power which this measure proposed to confer on them, appeared to him to be trifling with the administration of justice in that country. He was convinced of the utter inutility of the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor

was sure that he need only remind the noble Duke of those who supported the Bill in the other House of Parliament, in order to satisfy him that he was in error in saying no person acquainted with India supported the Bill, and that individuals well acquainted with India did not anticipate any injurious effects from it; on the contrary they considered that it would be highly beneficial. Sir Charles Forbes and Sir John Malcolm were both gentlemen possessed of an intimate knowledge of India: the former from his employment in a civil, and the latter in a military capacity in that country supported the Bill. The noble Duke had greatly overrated the influence of colour. Doubtless that ought to have its effect; but in India, natives of respectability already discharged various functions connected with the administration of justice. It was before the Zillah Court, composed partly of natives, that even Europeans, in spite of their supposed superiority of colour, were in the first instance brought, preparatory to being judged in a Court composed only of Europeans. If the disqualification at present existing were allowed to remain, natives of respectability could not but feel themselves stigmatized. The most respectable merchants, not being native British-born subjects, were excluded from sitting on juries; while inferior persons, clerks and others being British-born could so sit; and the natives, however degraded they might be, or however they might have lost caste, provided they were Christians, and so qualified, could also sit and determine questions of property affecting their masters, while those masters were entirely excluded from sitting on juries.

The Earl of Rosslyn

thought it his duty to state, that a very considerable number of the servants of the India Company, resident in these jurisdictions, as well as a large number of persons still servants of the Company, and who were formerly residents there, had expressed themselves strongly opposed to this measure. He took blame to himself because he had a petition which he ought to have presented against this Bill; but he had no suspicion, that it would proceed further during the present Session. The opinion expressed in that petition, which was signed by both the civil and military servants of the Company, was, that this Bill ought not to pass at present; especially when the whole of the affairs of India were the subject of pending inquiry, and in respect of which, some arrangement must be made forthwith upon one general system. They therefore considered it to be extremely desirable that this partial alteration should not take place.

Bill read a second time.