Justice Sir Elijah Impey of Ft. William, Calcutta - first British judge impeached in British history!!

British Judge. 123rf.com


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, Sir E.Impey Ft.Williams, Kolkata, British India.en.wikipedia.org

Above image: Sir Elijah Impey,  Justice of the supreme court of Ft. William, Kolkata (Calcutta), East India company

British judge with a white wig and gavel. property118.com

Sir Elijah Impey (June 1732 - October 1809) was born in a poor family at his father's house, Butter wick 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 buddy was Warren Hastings, and throughout his life, he maintained a close contact with Hastings.  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.
Justice Elijah Empey. britishmuseum.org

Above image: Justice Elijah Impey, published in 1787 in London; print made in 1850s.  Chief justice from 1774 to 1783 on his recall to England for impeachment.

Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, c. 1786 en.wikipedia.org

Above image:  Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, c. 1786, Calcutta;  established in Oct. 1774, dissolved in 1862. Its jurisdiction was over any person residing in Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. It was pulled down 1792  and in its place came up the present building in 1832. (Wikipedia) ......................

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.  He  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.  

Warren Hastings of EIC, Kolkata. .telegraphindia.com

Above image: Warren Hastings, first Governor general of India under the East India company, Calcutta (Kolkata)........

For various reasons, Nand Kumar was at loggerheads with Hastings over certain political issues and earned his ire.  Nandakumar boldly  brought grave charges of corruption against Hastings before the Board of Directors of the East India Company.  To avoid facing a nasty situation and to save his face  before the board could investigate them,  Nandakumar was arrested in a whiff on a ridiculous charge of forgery.   It so happened he was falsely accused of cheating the estate of a rich  Indian widow. It is said he had forged  a bond in an attempt to deprive a widow of more than half her inheritance.  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 in London. It gained sensationalism among the british lawyers in England.

Nand Kumar nextfuture.aurosociety.org

Above image:  Nandkumar was falsely hanged to death by Elijah Impey in the court of judicature, ft. William, Calcutta. Without  either  appeal or proper retrial he was sent to the gallows to be hanged to death. 

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 
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.


                                               (Minor revision done on: 21 December 2021)