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

Description of the Subordinate Components

   Judicial.

The "Raad van Justitie".
As stated earlier, three (originally four) courts of justice operated in that part of Ceylon which was controlled by the Dutch. The courts of Colombo, Jaffna, and Galle dealt with both criminal and civil cases, and acted, within certain limitations, as courts of appeal from the "civiele raad" and the "landraden" under their jurisdiction. The court at Batticaloa seems to have been abolished (it was functioning in 1679) when Batticaloa ceased to be a "commandement", from which time there was a right of direct appeal from the "landraad" of Batticaloa to the "raad van justitie" at Colombo and not to that at Jaffna or Galle. Apart from these functions the Colombo court was also the highest judicial authority in this Island. An appeal against a judgment of the Colombo court lay only to Batavia. Within the limits of the fort, the Colombo court dealt with cases involving sums of 120 rijksdaalders" in the first instance.
The court of justice is certainly one of the earliest Dutch institutions in this Island. Although its instructions has not survived, it is clear that it worked on the same lines as the court in Batavia, the rules and regulations of which are fully set out in the "Nieuwe Statuten" [1]It is not within the scope of this catalogue to give an account of these rules and regulations [2]Some rules of procedure for local use are contained in the "memoriaal", in which extracts of council minutes as well as court rules and regulations have been entered. This volume has been preserved among the court records [3]
Some of the officers of the court were members of the Council. The chairman was the "hoofd-administrateur". The "fiscaal" or public prosecutor, sometimes designated "independent fiscaal", who was one of the highest officials in the Island, played a very prominent part in the proceedings of the court of justice. The basis of his instructions is also to be found in the "Nieuwe Statuten" of Batavia. Special instructions for the fiscaal of Colombo have not yet been traced; those for the person who held that office in Tuticorin is dated 2nd March 1713 [4].
From rules and regulations it would appear that the "fiscaal" had a far-reaching influence. Within the town limits, he acted in petty cases in the same manner as the dessave acted in his dessavony [5]. He had a hand in all matters pertaining to the maintenance of order; he took action in all cases of infringement of the V.O.C. monopoly, as well as in criminal cases. Nos. 17, 18, and 19 of the "Nieuwe Statuten" were entitled:
"regarding the office held by the Public Prosecutor", and they dealt with the court of justice as a subject only [6].
The court of justice at Colombo was in the same building as that in which the Governor's palace was situated, but at the opposite end, and it is perhaps due to this fact that a large part of its records has been saved from destruction. This remark may give the impression that these records furnish much information regarding the court of justice at Colombo. This however, is not the case. The records of many court cases have certainly survived, but in the early part of the 19th century no regard seems to have been paid to the order in which they were kept. Small bundles, sometimes of a few pages only, were taken out and bound separately and then the approximately 600 volumes were indiscriminately filed. As a result of this, a fair number of judicial documents were separated from their original order. Criminal and civil cases have been as badly mixed as the cases of first instance with those of appeal. In a way this section could no longer be differentiated.
The preliminary work for the court sessions was done by the commissioners. In the Company's administration they play an important role: they were also asked to assist in all matters of verification. The limited number of competent officers available, who moreover, were employed for all sorts of other work, was a real hindrance to the smooth working of matters of justice in this Island during the entire period of the Dutch administration.
The court of justice was entitled to use a seal, a design of which has been found in the council minutes. In the records however, there is no indication of its having been used as such.
The "procureurs" were a special semi-official group of people - the link between the judicial officers of the V.O.C. and the public. They were strictly bound by ordinances, and have only a vague resemblance to the modern Ceylonese proctor.
Two series of records, the protocols of "justitieele kennisse" and the protocols of the emancipation of slaves, kept by the commissioners of the court of justice, have been placed here as "volontaire jurisdictie". The first series shows to what extent the influence of Batavia was reflected here. Up to the year 1760, the name "schepenkennis rol" was in general use. Then the court decided that the name by which this series was "baptized" was improper, as Ceylon never had any judicial officials of the particular class designated "schepenen". The word, which may still be found on some old covers, was officially abolished in that year.