Gov. Gen. Warren Hastings, British Judge Impey and murder of Indian Maharajah

Sir Elijah Impey Chief Justice,Fort William,
Though Warren Hastings was an able administrator and negotiator of the growing East India company and its operations in India that was put on a sound foundation by Robert Clive, he did involve, on a few occasions, in certain unjustifiable and unsavoury dealings that showed  him in bad light and one particular incident earned him the ire of the British MPs back in London, besides local Indian natives. Ultimately it ended up in his impeachment. 


Maharajah Nandakumar, (also known as Nuncomar) was a collector of taxes besides being the Diwan of some areas that now fell under  Bengal state (now West Bengal), India.  After the removal of Warren Hastings, apparently over some financial irregularities Nandakumar  was  posted  as  collector of taxes for Burdwan, Nadia and Hoogly in 1764. Being a man of amiable nature and good disposition, he carried on his duty with skill and intelligence.

Hastings offering presents
As ill-luck would have it, the man who had been enjoying the trappings of his position in the revenue department fell deep into a bear-pit. Upon reinstatement of Warren Hastings as the Governor General of Bengal in 1773, Nandakumar brought certain  serious accusations of peculation - misuse of public funds, etc., against him. Sir Philip Francis and the other members of the Supreme Council of Bengal, being  impartial, supported the accusations made by Nandakumar with supporting evidence. Further, Hastings like his predecessor Clive, already got a bad name for his dishonest dealings. Hastings, being in a powerful post,  was vested with special executive powers with which he could overrule such charges. Instead, it is said, he immediately, in vigilante  style, initiated charges  of fraud against Maharajah Nanda Kumar to silence him.
Sir Elijah Impey ( June 1732 – October 1809), a British judge, being the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal, presided at the trial of Maharajah Nandakumar. The Maharajah was  accused of forging a bond in an attempt to deprive a wealthy widow of more than half of her inheritance. Incidentally the chief Justice  Sir Elijah  Impey  had been a pal of Warren Hastings from early school days and they were on excellent terms in the later years.  Forgetting his exalted judicial position in the court of law, and the repercussions that might follow after this sensational and widely watched trial, the judge pronounced that Maharajah was guilty and must face death by hanging. Accordingly  Nanda Kumar was  hanged to death in 1775 at Calcutta (Kolkata). Though a a big crime even now, under the British law in those days, this would invite death penalty. 

The trial of this case had many holes and the motto of "Fiat Justitia'' was thrown into the garbage can. The hanging of Nanda- Kumar became a serious issue and the natives were terribly upset over miscarriage of justice. The media also believed that the honorable judge, forgetting his professional ethics and the sanctity of his position, wantonly acted in a biased manner. This matter was taken up before the British Parliament and eminent people like Burke and Macaulay considered this a judicial murder - hanging a highly respectable man with biased trial without room for appeal.

Hastings, along with Sir Elijah Impey (1732 –1809), the chief justice, was  criticized  and the  British Parliament impeached the judge for abuse of judicial powers vested in him, conspiring to murder Nandakumar and tarnishing the image of  the British. Sir Elijah Impey, thus became  the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature in India, perhaps in  the entire British Empire to have been ceremoniously removed from the post through impeachment in 1787. It was simply dereliction of honorable  judicial  duty.

"If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us."             ---------     Francis Bacon

"Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status."         --------     Lewis Powell, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court of Justice

For further reading:
James Fitzjames Stephen, The Story of Nuncomar and the Impeachment of Sir Elijah Impey (1885).