CCTL seminar - 'Perceiving Law without Colonialism: Revisiting Courts and Constitutionalism in South Asia' by Dr. Cynthia Farid

This paper argues that the colonial government in India was shaped by changes in property law, race relations, and other institutional interests that accompanied the political and economic restructuring of the colonial state. Therefore, the development of constitutionalism was the outcome of the interplay between institutional and professional interests and larger socio-economic and political forces. Against the backdrop of empire, constitutionalism in British India was defined by a specific form of allocation of powers between the executive (which also exercised legislative powers) and the high courts. The structure that developed as a result was a strong executive government, particularly in its exercise of power in local districts with formal judicial scrutiny introduced after 1861. The relationship between the executive and the judiciary in localities generated a series of conflicts and tensions, which were exacerbated by the expansion of the bureaucracy, the legal profession, and gradual inclusion of Indians in the upper strata of governance. Taken together, these factors led to the development of a hybrid model of separation of powers in the Indian subcontinent, which seems to have stood the test of time in postcolonial countries of South Asia despite political elites having invested considerable resources on constitutional reform.