Brief History of Law in India

Brief History of Law in India

Law in India has evolved from religious prescription to the current constitutional and legal system we have today, traversing through secular legal systems and the common law.

India has a recorded legal history starting from the Vedic ages and some sort of civil law system may have been in place during the Bronze Age and the Indus Valley civilization. Law as a matter of religious prescriptions and philosophical discourse has an illustrious history in India. Emanating from the Vedas, the Upanishads and other religious texts, it was a fertile field enriched by practitioners from different Hindu philosophical schools and later by Jains and Buddhists.

Secular law in India varied widely from region to region and from ruler to ruler. Court systems for civil and criminal matters were essential features of many ruling dynasties of ancient India. Excellent secular court systems existed under the Mauryas (321-185 BCE) and the Mughals (16th – 19th centuries) with the latter giving way to the current common law system.

Law in British-ruled India

The common law system – a system of law based on recorded judicial precedents- came to India with the British East India Company.  The company was granted charter by King George I in 1726 to establish “Mayor’s Courts” in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta (now Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata respectively). Judicial functions of the company expanded substantially after its victory in Battle of Plassey and by 1772 company’s courts expanded out from the three major cities. In the process, the company slowly replaced the existing Mughal legal system in those parts.

Following the First War of Independence in 1857, the control of company territories in India passed to the British Crown. Being part of the empire saw the next big shift in the Indian legal system. Supreme courts were established replacing the existing mayoral courts. These courts were converted to the first High Courts through letters of patents authorized by the Indian High Courts Act passed by the British parliament in 1862. Superintendence of lower courts and enrolment of law practitioners were deputed to the respective high courts.

During the Raj, the Privy Council acted as the highest court of appeal. Cases before the council were adjudicated by the law lords of the House of Lords. The state sued and was sued in the name of the British sovereign in her capacity as Empress of India.

During the shift from Mughal legal system, the advocates under that regimen, “vakils”, too followed suit, though they mostly continued their earlier role as client representatives. The doors of the newly created Supreme Courts were barred to Indian practitioners as right of audience was limited to members of English, Irish and Scottish professional bodies. Subsequent rules and statutes culminating in the Legal Practitioners Act of 1846 which opened up the profession regardless of nationality or religion.

Coding of law also began in earnest with the forming of the first Law Commission. Under the stewardship of its chairman, Thomas Babington Macaulay, the Indian Penal Code was drafted, enacted and brought into force by 1862. The Code of Criminal Procedure was also drafted by the same commission. Host of other statutes and codes like Evidence Act (1872) and Contracts Act (1872).

Law after Independence

At the dawn of independence, the parliament of independent India was the forge where a document that will guide the young nation was being crafted. It will fall on the keen legal mind of B. R. Ambedkar to formulate a constitution for the newly independent nation. The Indian Bar had a role in the Independence movement that can hardly be overstated – that the tallest leaders of the movement across the political spectrum were lawyers is ample proof. The new nation saw its first leader in Jawaharlal Nehru, and a paternal figure in M. K. Gandhi, both exemplary lawyers. Perhaps it is the consequent understanding of law and its relation to society that prompted the founding fathers to devote the energy required to form a Constitution of unprecedented magnitude in both scope and length.

The Constitution of India is the guiding light in all matters executive, legislative and judicial in the country. It is extensive and aims to be sensitive. The Constitution turned the direction of system originally introduced for perpetuation of colonial and imperial interests in India, firmly in the direction of social welfare. The Constitution explicitly and through judicial interpretation seeks to empower the weakest members of the society.

India has an organic law as consequence of common law system. Through judicial pronouncements and legislative action, this has been fine-tuned for Indian conditions. The Indian legal system’s move towards a social justice paradigm, though undertook independently, can be seen to mirror the changes in other territories with common law system.

From an artifice of the colonial masters, the Indian legal system has evolved as an essential ingredient of the world’s largest democracy and a crucial front in the battle to secure constitutional rights for every citizen.

Law Coaching Photo

What after LL.B.?

What after LL.B.?

Following are the opportunities waiting for a fresh law graduate.

Advocate-The Indian Advocates Act,1961[1]recognises only one generic ‘advocate’- authoritative legal professionals in the country. Advocates are the only recognised class of persons entitled to practise law.

Solicitors-Advises government on the legal matters and submits a statement of important cases to attorney general for India for his opinion or appearance in the supreme court as necessary.

Every high court from time to time conduct judicial service examination for vacancies in judiciary for metropolitan magistrates,civil judges,etc.

Most large companies need in house legal counsels and require professionals to advise on important decisions, besides the drafting of agreements and undertakings. The eligibility criteria, working conditions and pay scales vary from company to company but most do require a fair degree of experience in this profession.

In addition to basic qualifications a company secretary might ordinarily posses a law degree, companies do prefer law graduates.

A master’s degree is a must to be teacher in law subjects in the realm of academics. Moments in academia can be quite demanding, as a lot of study and academic preparedness is required.

Those with a flair for writing could think of becoming legal correspondents. This writing could well mature into writing legal texts and research articles alternatively it could mean a career in creative writing. Further The law books publishing companies, publishers of law journals and court journals require legal editors for editorial works.

A background in law would prove advantageous in tackling administrative and legal education in civil services. In addition to this law is a good option for both preliminary as well as the main examination.

The military departments appoint the judge advocate generals. They deal with the case within these departments.

Apart from this the Government departments have their own legal sections. The law officers, assistants in these institutions serve the purpose of drafting, representing in courts etc. Legal consultants occupy very prominent position in our country, they help in consultancy on legal matters to individuals and companies, corporations or government agencies.

Finally the most prestigious examination of our country- UPSC [2]. The department of legal affairs in the union ministry of law and justice has provided for the Indian legal service for its internal convenience. This is an All- India service, with candidates being recruited through UPSC on the grounds of their experience in the legal profession. The posts covered under the legal services are law officers, legal assistants, deputy legal advisors and legal advisors.

Carol meter Shanks [3] had aptly quoted “You can find all the reasons for not doing a thing, or you can find some reasons for doing it. If the reasons for doing it are good, then you have the courage to try it, and work out the problems as they come up”- With so many options available, Why would anyone be scared to join this field. Another mystery solved why youngsters so attracted towards the legal profession are. In nut shell Abundance of vacancies, head spinning money and less crowd. The answer lies in front of us.

[1]The Advocates act, 1961

[2] Reference available at

[3]Carol Meteer Shanks, Lawyer, president of Prudential Life Insurance Co., Newark, New Jersey; trustee of Johns Hopkins University


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