Humble Petition of the British Subjects

Description

In 1773 the British government established the Supreme Court of Judicature for Bengal. Controversially, the court limited the use of juries to criminal cases, while at the same time it effectively extended English law to Indians in the region by admitting their lawsuits. As this petition shows, the Supreme Court was resented by many British expatriates, who felt that it weakened their authority and undermined ‘the Great Charter of British Liberties’. Ill-feeling reached its peak in the 1779 civil trial of James Creassy, Superintendent of Public Works in Calcutta, who was denied the right to trial by jury for the assault, battery and false imprisonment of two Hindu carpenters. Creassy’s case was the catalyst for this petition, bearing 647 signatures, to the House of Commons in London. It called for the restriction of legal actions by Indians and the re-establishment of the ‘inherent, unalienable and indefeasible’ rights granted to Englishmen in Magna Carta.

Full title:
To the honourable the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the British subjects residing in the provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa, and their several dependancies
Created:
26 February 1779
Format:
Report
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
IOR/H/144

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Empire and after

Article by:
Zoë Laidlaw
Theme:
Legacy

The British Empire lasted more than 300 years and spanned the globe. During this time, Magna Carta was used by imperialists to justify global ambition and by indigenous people to demand liberty and justice. Dr Zoe Laidlaw considers the significance of Magna Carta in relation to imperialism.

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