The Sheriff of Calcutta

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Chapter- VI
(Functions of the Sheriff of Calcutta)
Literally speaking Sheriff’s main function is to carry out the orders of the court. From 1775 to 1862 he served and executed the orders of the Supreme Court and from 1862 to till date he is serving the orders of the High Court at Calcutta. If we want to know the functions of the Sheriff at the time of Supreme Court then it is essential to discuss the social atmosphere at that time and Supreme Court’s directives. 
Social atmosphere; Life in Bengal was a gamble in which the stakes were high soldiers of all ranks from colonels to lieutenants, judges, magistrates, merchants, big and small people from all walks of life borrowed and incurred debits. They were subsequently hauled up in the court by warrants and summons & the Sheriff’s officers were employed to carry out his orders. [Few examples are: In 1832, Sheriff William Melville send his officers to seize property of Maheshchunder Roy following the directions of the court on a plea made by Dwarkanath Tagore. Dwarkanath Tagore vs Maheshchunder Roy, case court ordered the Sheriff to seize the property of Maheshchunder Roy. Sheriff send his Bailiff to John Master, Judge & Magistrate of the suburbs of Calcutta with his letter “ Sir, bearer of this, George Board, is my bailiff and has my warrant on a writ issued in the above cause to seize the property of the above named defendant within your district. I request therefore that you will be pleased to give him such protection as will enable him to seize the defendant’s property and to keep possession thereof.  William Melville, Sheriff, June8, 1832.”                                                                                      In 1849, Sheriff Robert Stopford Esq, arrested Debendranath Tagore( father of Rabindranath Tagore), and Gereendranath Tagore ( uncle of Rabindranath Tagore) following a writ of capias issued by the court. David Jardine, Charles Ghinner and John Johnstone had sued against the Tagore brothers and Ramanath Tagore( grand uncle of Rabindranath Tagore) for a large sum of money and they had to sign a bail bond worth over Rs. 20,000 for securing their release. That  bail bond was as follows; “ Know all men , by these presents that we Dabendranath Tagore and Gereendranath Tagore of Jorasanko in the town of Calcutta, Zaminders, Ramanath Tagore of Rutten Sircar’s Garden in the said town of Calcutta, Banian and Collachand Bose of Tuntuniah in the said town of Calcutta, Banian of the Bonded warehouse, are jointly and severally held and firmly bound into Robert Stopford, Esq, Sheriff of the Town of Calcutta and Factory at  Fort William in Bengal, in the sum of Company’s Rupees Twenty thousand three hundred and ten, eight annas and six pie of good and lawful money of Bengal to be paid to the said Sheriff or to his attorney, executors, administrator or assignees, for which payment will and truly be made. We do bind ourselves and each of us for himself in the whole our and every of our heirs, executors, representatives and administrators jointly and severally, firmly by these present sealed with our seals and we the said Debendranath Tagore, Ramanath Tagore and Collachand Bose….do here by for ourselves, our heirs, executors, representatives and administrators covenant consent and agree that in case of any dispute the said sum shall and may be sued for and recovered…..” ] At the end of eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century British traders carried a large business in the city. Many coopers, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, coach and shipbuilders could be found around Lall bazaar and Old Court House Street. Pubs and taverns flourished and life trotted on at a leisurely pace. The population of the city had slowly grown as more Europeans were lured into it. At the beginning of the century the Sheriff supplied the names of 400 gentlemen as justice of peace & 74 names for Jurors for the settlement of the Fort William to the Judges of the Supreme Court. The list was headed by the Most Nobel Francis, Marquis of Hestings, and included four baronets and many members of the prolific families of Barwell and Plowden. This high tempo of borrowing, lending, speculating and gambling continued till about 1840 when the great commercial crash at that period put an end to the old style of existence. The baronets and the barwells had left and Calcutta ceased to have a slow but easy life-style. 

Supreme Court’s Orders; The Supreme Court  had almost unlimited powers, it was only necessary to impress the court with the urgency of the matter and the court took a sheet of paper & with his own hand directed the sheriff to arrest or release some one. Seals were few, stamps were not used and these were none of the ornaments which embellish a modern legal documents. For about forty years after the establishment of the Supreme Court, most claims were followed, not by the issue of summons, but by the issue of warrants for the arrest of the debtor or the person sued. The defendant was granted bail on the condition that he would appear to answer the claims of the plaintiff on a specified day. If he did not appear the sureties had to pay. This explains the frequency of arrests in old Calcutta and there were few Europeans who lived in Calcutta or in Bengal for that matter. whose names are not mentioned in the documents in the sheriff’s office Most of the residents in Calcutta seem to have had the distinction of being acquainted with the sheriff. Sheriff received the sessions calendar which included the names of the prisoners, the charges against them & the sentences imposed. The calendar was signed by the clerk of the crown and it empowered the Sheriff to carry the sentences into effect. But about 1798, the necessity of warrants in capital cases had been realized & from this time onwards they were regularly sent to the Sheriff. This procedure continued up to 1850. After 1850, the black bordered death warrant signed by the judge came into existence. When death warrant first began to be used they consisted of a plain sheet of paper with the seal of the Supreme Court beside which was written by hand, the crime and the sentence and the directions to the Sheriff to carry it into effect. This warrant was signed by the clerk of the Crown. But when the prisoner was tried at an Admiralty sessions, the warrant was signed by the register of the Supreme Court. At each session, a manuscript calendar of the cases was prepared for each of the presiding judges, who on the disposal of the matter, wrote the sentence passed on the prisoners or recorded his acquittal as the case might be on the sheet. Another calendar was prepared from these by the clerk of the Crown. This was also signed by the Presiding judges and it was a copy of this which sent to the Sheriff. Before 1803, one judge disposed the petty cases but sometimes two judges would sit together. During the same period if it was a murder trial, occasionally two judges would conduct the proceedings, in general, all the judges of the court would be present.  .                                                              

The functions of the sheriff, from 1862 to till date…. In relation to the matters tried by the Court, are mainly confined to the service and execution of processes as it provided under the rules of the Court. Some of them are concisely delineated here (1) All writs for the attachment of property, or the arrest of any person, in any civil suit, within the local limits of this Court, all prohibitory orders, citations, notices to respondents, and all other writs and judicial process issued by the High Court for service or exemption within the local limits aforesaid, except such as may by order XIIX, rule I of the Code of Civil Procedure or otherwise be served by the attorneys in the suits or by persons employed by them, shall be delivered to the sheriff for service or execution, unless the Court or a judge shall otherwise order ( Rule 14 of Chapter VIII of High Court Rules and Orders, Original Side ). (2) The sheriff shall receive all monies tendered to him under any warrant of arrest or attachment and upon receipt of such monies or on realization of monies by sale or otherwise from the property of the judgment debtor, shall pay the money into court less his charges etc. ( Rule 24 of Charter XVII of the said High Court Rules and Orders ).  (3) Unless otherwise ordered, the sale of property attached in execution of a decree, within the local limits of the jurisdiction of this Court shall be conducted by the sheriff for that purpose ( Rule 30 of Chapter XVII of the said High Court Rules and Orders )     (4). A copy of the lists of names and places of abode of the several persons required under the rules of the court to serve as special and common Jurors shall be annexed to a precept to the sheriff commanding him to summon such number in each list as may be directed in the precept. The sheriff shall summon the Jurors in the order in which their names appear in the lists until service has been effected on the required number and shall send his return to the Court after service ( Rule 13, 14, 16, 17 and 19, 20, 22, 24  of Chapter XXXVII of the said High Court Rules and Orders )  [14. Copy of lists to be annexed to precept to Sheriff to summon Special and Common Jurors in numerical order.—A copy of such lists shall be annexed to a precept to the Sheriff commanding him to summon such number in each list as may be directed in the precept. The Sheriff shall summon the Jurors in the order in which their names appear on the lists until service has been effected on the required number. Special Jurors may be required to attend on the dates notified to them by advertisement published in any public newspaper.
16. Jurors to be summoned ten days before the first day of the Session.—Every person named in the lists mentioned in rule 13 shall forthwith, or as soon as possible after the receipt of the precept by the Sheriff, be summoned by him to attend at the Session for which he shall have been appointed to serve as a Juror, and such summons shall be served at least ten days before the first day of the Sessions.
17.  Service of summons or process by post.—A summons to a Juror who resides out of the limits of the town of Calcutta, and to whom access at his office or place of business within such limits is denied to the Sheriff’s Officer, as also all notices, orders, or other proceedings required to be served on him, shall, unless otherwise ordered,, be addressed to him at his office or place of business aforesaid, or at his place of residence, and forwarded to him by post duly registered. The transmission by post as aforesaid of every such summons, or notice or of a copy, authenticated by the seal of the Court, of every such order or other proceeding, shall, unless good cause be shown to the contrary, be deemed sufficient service thereof.
19.  Sheriff to return precept with two panels, one of Special Jurors, the other of Common Jurors, showing in tabular form names and particulars of service and accounting for non-service.—
The Sheriff shall, as soon as possible after service of the summons, and not later than one week before the commencement of the Session, return the precept to the Clerk of the State, with two panels annexed thereto, one of the Special Jurors and one of the Common Jurors, which panels shall show in a tabular form the names of the persons summoned and the particulars of service upon each; and if any person or persons named in the list annexed to the precept shall not have been served, the panel shall state that fact, and the reason why such person or persons has or have not been summoned, and in every case the reason why such service has not been effected shall be verified by the affidavit of the Officer whose duty it was to effect such service, and such affidavit shall be filed with the Clerk of the State, with the return to the precept.
20.  Sheriff’s return to be immediately laid before a Judge for
orders.—On the receipt of such return the Clerk of the State shall, without delay, bring the same before one of the Judges of the Court. The said Judge may, if necessary, examine the Sheriff’s Officer or Officers as to the truth of such return and as to the circumstances of the service or of the absence of service on any person and may direct service to be made upon the person or persons not already served in such manner as to him shall seem fit. The Judge, if he thinks fit, may cause the name of any person returned by the Sheriff as not summoned to be entered on the lists of Jurors, either Special or Common, as the case may be, for any subsequent Session to be fixed by the Judge.
22.  Copy of Supplementary Lists to be annexed to additional precept to Sheriff, Sheriff’s return.—Such lists shall be called the Supplemental Lists of Special or Common Jurors, as the case may be, and shall be prepared and signed in the manner hereinbefore provided with respect to the original lists, and copies thereof shall be sent to the Sheriff with an additional precept and the Sheriff shall, as soon as possible after the receipt of such additional precept, cause the persons named therein to be summoned to attend at the Session, and shall return the precept to the Court not later than one clear day before the first day of the Sessions, with a panel similar to that provided by rule 19 in respect of the original lists and. precept. 
24. Proceedings in case of deficient Jurors.—Where, by reason of absence, or disallowance on challenge, or any other cause, there is a deficiency of Jurors, the Court may command the Sheriff or other officer to name or summon a sufficient number of persons to make up a full Jury, and the Sheriff, or other Officer shall at such command of the Court, return such men duly qualified to serve as shall be then present, or can be found to serve on such Jury and the course of proceeding shall be the same as if their names had been returned in the panel and drawn by ballot under rule 23; provided that, in case of a Special Jury, the additional Jurors may be taken from the list of Common Jurors summoned to serve at the same Session if a sufficient number of Jurors qualified to serve as Special Jurors shall not be present in Court.]   
(5) By virtue of longstanding practice, the sheriff and deputy sheriff are required to sit with the Judge presiding over every criminal session of the High Court. The sheriff has also to perform various other functions besides the duties required to be done by him by order of the High Court. He convenes requisition meetings, [Apart from acting as an arm of the Court, the Sheriff was also responsible for organizing public meetings and conferences. Famous personalities and important members of the socity often wrote to the Sheriff for holding meetings and conferences to discusses issues of the public importance. Few examples are ; 1) On 24th march,1832, David Here, Dwarkanath Tagore and many important personalities of that time were sent a petition to the Sheriff William Melville for convening a public meeting for legislative enactment to enable parties in civil action at law to have their cases tried by a jury at the option of either plantiff or defendant.                                                                                                                  
2) In 1905, Asutosh Mukherjee, Gagendranath Tagore and Samarendranath Tagore requested the Sheriff Sir Ernest Cable Kt, to hold a meeting to consider the steps that had to be taken to welcome the Prince and Princes of Wales to the city.                                                                                                                               
3) In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore, Bipinbehari Ghosh, Rashbehary Ghosh, Surendranath Banerjee and many important citizen of Calcutta wrote a letter to the Sheriff to hold a meeting in protest against exploitation of Indians in South Africa.                                                                                                                                
4) In 1922, Surendranath Banerjee, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee AK Fazlul Haque, Gaganendranath Tagore requested Sheriff to hold a mourn the death of Rai Dadha Charan Pal.] receives foreign dignitaries on arrival in the city, entertains delegation, foreign or otherwise and makes donations for charities etc. All proclamations during the British days were made by the sheriff.