Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640-1796

Description of the Subordinate Components

In the dispensing of justice, the procedure adopted in Batavia in Dutch times was followed in every branch of the Ceylon judiciary. Some remarks will have to be made, but a special study of the procedure typical of the development in Ceylon in this respect must be left to the future research worker.
In the preface something has been said about the standard of the colonial administrators, the officers of the V.O.C. More so, perhaps, than in any other part of the administration, the judicial part of it will react on the quality of its officers, because justice provides the backbone of public morality.
Three types of courts operated in this Island during the days of the V.O.C. administration:
the "civiele raad" (civil court)
the "landraad" (land court)
the "raad van justitie" (court of justice).
The first two dealt only with civil cases. The "raad van justitie" had many functions. In its criminal jurisdiction, the country ruled by the Dutch was divided under the three "raden van justitie" of Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. Batticaloa came under the jurisdiction of the "raad van justitie" of Colombo, and not under that of Jaffna or Galle [1]. The "raad van justitie" had, in addition, an original civil jurisdiction within the towns in matters involving sums over certain prescribed limits.
The "raad van justitie" of Colombo further functioned as a court of appeal in all civil cases involving sums over certain prescribed limits, and in criminal cases from the "raad van justitie" of Jaffna and Galle, subject to certain limitations.
The records of the "raad van justitie" in appeal cases, however, cannot now be distinguished from the rest, and this unfortunate circumstance makes it impossible to reconstruct the archives of the court of justice as a court of appeal.
As many of the records, especially the rolls of the "civiele raad" and " landraad" are copies, it is not quite possible to say whether they belonged to the archives of the court in which they are included now or whether they had been forwarded to the court of justice.
From the "raad van justitie" of Colombo, there was a right of appeal to Batavia in civil cases involving sums over certain prescribed limits, and in criminal cases within certain limitations.
Different types of justice can be distinguished. Registration of certain acts which had to be done before members of the court is called in Dutch "volontaire" justice, which is the opposite of "contentieuse" justice by which one party is forced into a case. The series of documents belonging to this type of justice have always been placed before the documents by which civil and criminal justice were involved.
The documents catalogued below have never been scrutinised before. Therefore a brief account of the main sources of information for this part is appropriate. They were:
Professor Mr. J. van Kan, Uit de rechtsgeschiedenis der Compagnie, bundels I en II.
Dr. F.W. Stapel, Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis der rechtspraak bij de Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, II (Bijdragen tot de taal- land- en volkenkunde van Nederlandsch Indie, deel 89, 1932, afl. II).
Sir Richard Otley's Report to H.M. Commissioners of Inquiry, 1830.
Sir Charles Marshall's report to H. M. Commissioners of Inquiry, 1830 (printed in the Ceylon Literary Register I, 1886, p. 126).
Governor North's despatches to the directors of the East India Company and to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Above all, however, the Dutch archives themselves provided both direct and indirect information. Regarding the English sources, they have the advantage of being contemporaneous with the Dutch administration. As the British were foreign to this country, they could not be burdened with codes and collections of regulations, orders, "plakkaten" and instructions [2] used by the Dutch; they required a brief comprehensive account of the methods of justice followed up to the time of their taking over. This source of information, however valuable it may be, must therefore be used with caution, as the new government was naturally prejudiced in its criticism by a certain amount of bias.
As further detailed information regarding the Colombo courts was obtained during the process of cataloguing, it is useful to record the same, although there is no pretence whatever to completeness in this respect.