gavel, auction, hammer


Before the advent of the Britishers into India and even after for a considerable period of time, the Indian penal system was heavily based on religion. Persons were penalised based on the religious practices which they were a part of and which they followed. For governing the Hindus there was the criminal law of the Hindu system likewise; Mohammedan criminal law governed the followers of Islam. Therefore, the criminal law at that time was not uniform, and hence the need for a general “Indian Penal Code”, that would be applicable for the all the Indians in a uniform manner, was felt.


Before the British rule in India, the major law that was prevailing at that time was the Mohammedan law. It continued to exist even after India came under the administration of the East India Company; though with some necessary modifications. After the passing of the Regulating Act, 1773 certain reforms were brought in the justice system. They are as follows-

  • Foujdaree Adalat (a criminal court, a session court nowadays) was set up in each district. It composed of a kazi, a mufti and two maulavis. All the criminal cases were tried in presence of a collector who was basically a European supervisor. Later on, these courts started having a European Judge assisted by a Hindu and a Mohammedan law expert.
  • Nizamat Sadar Adalat (superior court of revision) consisting of a daroga, the chief kazi, the chief mufti and three maulavi Its function was similar to revision courts i.e. to approve or disapprove a conviction given by the faujdari adalat.
  • The Regulating Act, 1773 also authorised the Crown to establish a Supreme Court in Calcutta which was later also established in Madras and Bombay provinces too. This Supreme Court had all the authorities that were given to the Kings’ Bench in England.

This authority created a problem in terms of administration of justice. The judges started taking heavy references from the English law of crime and started applying the same reasoning in solving the disputes and this led to ununiformed law of crimes.




In 1827, the province of Bombay introduced the Bombay Regulation of 1827 and became the first province to enact a brief penal code. In 1833, for the first time the Governor-General of India was made responsible for the promulgation of laws on the land under the British rule. The Charter Act of 1833 tried to introduce uniformity of laws and judicial system through put the British India by enacting a single legislature. A law member without the power to vote was added to the executive council of the governor-general being Lord Macaulay the first member of the law commission. This commission was instituted for the codification of laws. Under the guidance of Lord Macaulay, who was the main architect of the Code, the first draft of the Indian Penal Code was prepared and on 2 May, 1837, it was submitted to the Governor-General-in-Council who was Lord Auckland. Before 1856, the draft went through many revisions so that it could be made well suited for the people of India and in December 1856, the revised Penal Code was first time read in the legislative council. Later on it went through a number of readings and on May 1, 1861 it came into force.

As a result of decades of laborious effort, the Indian Penal Code is in the operation as the major substantive law of India for more than 161 years.



  • RATANLAL & DHIRAJLAL, The Indian Penal Code, 2006
  • P S A Pillai’s Criminal Law, LexisNexis, 2019

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *