Sunday, 27 September 2015

Justice Sir Elijah Impey, first British judge to be dismissed

British Judge.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.
                                    .........  Albert Einstein

The law should be a shield for the weak and powerless, not a club for the powerful. 
           .........   Gov. Roy Barnes, 2004 Equal Justice Conference.
Judge of Supreme court, Ft.Williams, Kolkata, British India.Sir Elijah
British judge with a white wig and
Sir Elijah Impey ( June 1732 - October 1809) was born in a poor family at his father's house, Butterwick House, Hammersmith on 13 June 1732. As a Supreme Court Judge in Calcutta he got a name for himself and for his motherland and and found a permanent place in the hall of  British judicial history.  He took the honor of being the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Calcutta (Kolkata) in Bengal, India, Chief Justice of the Sadr Diwani Adalat and MP for New Romney.  His parents were Elijah Impey and  Martha. Educated at Westminster School and later graduated from  Trinity College, Cambridge in 1752 with a  B.A and later  M.A  in 1759, his close friend was Warren Hastings, his school buddy,  and through out his life, he maintained a close contact with him. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 23 November 1756On 18 January 1768,  he married  Mary, daughter of Sir John Reade of Shipton Court, Oxfordshire  and they had five sons. In 1772,  he was counsel for the East India Company before the House of Commons.
For various reasons, the Supreme court was established in 1773 in Calcutta to handle both civil and criminal cases, involving Indians as well as Europeans. Calcutta town was growing by leaps and bounds after the take over of Bengal and other regions by the East India Company. Correspondingly, the European population was also going up gradually. Impey was appointed the first chief justice, on the recommendation, it is believed, of Thurlow, the attorney-general. He was knighted  before leaving for India in April 1774 and  landed in Calcutta on 19th October.  Impey  was also the first British  judge, in the annals of the British Empire, ever impeached by the House of Commons  for his misconduct and miscarriage of  justice in the case of Maharajah Nand Kumar, who was not in the good books of Warren Hastings.For various reasons, Nand Kumar was at loggerheads with Hastings over certain polical issues and earned his ire.  Nand Kumar was faultily accused of cheating the estate of a rich  Indian widow. Because of poor trial on the part of the defense side and biased verdict pronounced by Impey, on 5 August 1775 Nand Kumar was publicly hanged. A simple case of retaliation or revenge by Hastings in cahoots with Judge Impey and others. As for Judge Impey, without forgetting the exalted position he was holding in the highest office of judicature, without using common sense and discretion, he blindly sided with  Warren Hastings, his high school pal to save his tarnished name. These two colorful and scandalous characters sullied the sanctity of the judicature, the highest office of the justice and it became a subject of  sensational debate in the House of Commons.

This mistrial in a Calcutta Court and the callous attitude of the presiding judge, drew the attention of the British and Indian media and higher ups in England. Realizing the gravity of the situation and the enormity of  mistrial and its impact on the judiciary system in an English court in India, both Lord Macaulay and Lord Edmund Burke lost no time to bring the impeachment proceeding against Judge Impey and  Hastings, who abused their powerful positions. The former called it that it was a judicial murder. An innocent person was put to death in a hurry without a proper trial and 
there was no room for appeal.  Burke said, ''Their sanctioning the conduct  of Sir Elijah, would hold out this lesson to future
judges, ''Copy the conduct of Sir Elijah Impey, desert the strict line of  your duty, abandon your impartiality, mix political interests with your Judicial attentions, become instruments in the hands of government, and opposing power to right, instead of protecting the innocent take part with the guilty,''

Since Judge  Impey acted in collusion with Warren Hastings  by sending an innocent Indian to the gallows, both were impeached by the House of commons, London. It was a clear case of poor judgment and miscarriage of justice. A judge, who out to be a torch bearer of justice and fairness,  went completely against the norms of  judiciary system and indulged in unethical act.

In 1790 Impey was a member of  Parliament representing  New Romney constituency and spent the next seven years as an MP before retiring to New Wick Park near Brighton. He died there in 1809 and was buried in the family vault in Hammersmith, London.


 01. There are also portraits of Sir Elijah Impey in the High Court in Calcutta ( Kolkata ) and in the Queen Victoria Museum in Kolkata. There is also a plaque on the wall of the house once occupied by the Vansittart family in Kolkata, stating that he had once lived in the Vansittart Garden House.

02. In 1795 his application for a fellowship of the Royal Society was rejected.