Quaid-i-Azam as Magistrate

By Dr. Ahmed S. Khan


Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was not only a dynamic leader, but also a world-class statesman, a witty politician, a compassionate humanitarian, a man of character and integrity, and a very astute lawyer. Many attributes of his leadership have been acknowledged in books and films during the past six decades. But the one attribute that did not get much coverage is his role as a judge.

In May 1900, Mr. Jinnah at age 24 was appointed as a Presidency Magistrate in Bombay. Professor Riaz Ahmed, through his research at Quaid-i-Azam University, has put together a book titled Quaid-i-Azam as Magistrate that provides insights into Mr. Jinnah’s acumen as a judge.

Mr. Jinnah served for only six months in this capacity, but his insight into justice for ordinary people has been preserved in 73 cases he presided over as presiding Magistrate over Esplanade Police Court between May and November 1900. The details of these cases were published in the Bombay Gazette. Professor Riaz Ahmed had collected all the information for 73 cases as a part of his PhD thesis titled “Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah: the formative Years 1892-1920” at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. These 73 cases covered a wide array of offenses: theft, robbery, traveling without tickets, absence without leave, army desertion, claims of conveyance, gambling, cheating, disorderly drinking, breach of trust, cheating and misrepresentation , assault, stabbing, creating a nuisance, resisting policemen on duty, importing forbidden alcohol, endangering public health, extortion, importing Ganja without permit, impersonation, disobedience, brokerage enticement of a married woman, intimidation, accidental negligence, charges of a false nature, service matters, illegal possession of pearls, appointment of “approvers”, suicide, complaint against hairdresser, kidnapping, broaching cargo, lost property, etc.

The author has used the Bombay Gazette as the primary source for the details of all cases and has kept the same titles used by the newspapers. The author points out that in the early 1900s newspapers used the spelling “Mohamed Ali Jinnah’ or “M.A. Jinnah,” but towards the later part of his career his name was spelled as “Mohammed Ali Jinnah.”

The details of 73 cases provide an opportunity for readers to observe the legal acumen, high sense of integrity, responsibility and sound character displayed by young Jinnah, and also to travel back in time to explore various aspects of Bombay society. The author mentions that in Bombay criminal cases increased from 13,880 in 1899 to 23,948 in 1900 in the whole of Bombay Presidency.

The first case Mr. Jinnah heard and decided on May 2, 1900 was of a thief who stole a purse belonging to a European lady. The thief was awarded punishment of six months’ rigorous punishment. The author points out an interesting fact that when Mr. Jinnah left the service in November his own over-coat worth Rs.90 was stolen by a thief from his house at Eldon Road. It was the time when Bombay was passing through the plague epidemic that claimed numerous lives.

In some cases Mr. Jinnah’s judgment reflected his concern for the dignity of individuals. Two men and women accused of disorderly conduct were locked up by police and denied bail. The next day when they were presented before Mr. Jinnah, they were fined Rs. 5 each. However, Mr. Jinnah observed with regret that police should have bailed them out as the offense involved was bail-able.

The author mentions another case in which a sailor assaulted a policeman when the latter refused to salute him. When the accused appeared in court and expressed his profound regrets for his offense and promised not to do it again, Mr. Jinnah remarked, “Every one will say that he is sorry after he had done a wrong thing.” In passing the judgment on the case Mr. Jinnah observed that the practice of ordering police sephoys to salaam (salute) members of the armed forces, and failing which to assault them, should be stopped. Considering the statement of the accused, Mr. Jinnah fined him Rs. 15.

In a case of kidnapping there was a disagreement between the Victoria Company and the Parsee Theater company, each party claiming a boy as theirs. This case received a lot of publicity in the press as the evidence involved was of a complicated nature. Disregarding the unreliable evidence Mr. Jinnah decided the case by considering the boy’s wishes as to which company he wanted to join.

Mr. Jinnah also believed in the social reform of criminals, especially if the offenders were women. An eight-year girl, Dwarkabai, was charged for stealing a sari valued Rs. 1-4-0 (one rupee and four annas). The police told Mr. Jinnah that the girl was a habitual offender. Mr. Jinnah was convinced of the truth of the charge, but he disagreed with the view of sending her to jail where she would live in the company of hardened criminals, and where she would not get an opportunity to improve her moral character. Mr. Jinnah considered it necessary that there should be some institution for reforming the young offenders. Since no such institution existed, Mr. Jinnah ordered her detention for one day which had already passed and so the girl was released.

Mr. Jinnah showed extreme concern about public health and hygiene. In a case that dealt with storing and pressing raw hides by Ismail Hajji Essac, which affected public health , Mr. Jinnah personally inspected the premises located in the thickly populated areas of the city, and considered the storing and pressing of raw hides in the locality a risk to public health. The court ordered the trade most injurious to public health: the accused was fined Rs. 100 and ordered to discontinue his business within twenty-four hours.

Professor Riaz Ahmed has compiled this important historic document, but the book did not explore the reasons Mr. Jinnah employed for reaching his decisions. The book contains a foreword written by Justice Dr. Nasim Hasan Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The book also contains three appendices: the first contains Mr. Jinnah’s private confidential letter dated 5 June 1900 addressed to Mr. Justice Badruddin Tyabee, Bombay High Court. The second appendix exhibits a news item from the Bombay Gazette ( 16 July 1900) regarding a reception given in honor of Mr. Jinnah on his appointment as Presidency Magistrate. And the third appendix presents Mr. Jinnah’s written answers before the Royal Commission on the Public Services in India.

After he left the Magistracy, Mr. Jinnah went back to his law practice and became one of the most prominent lawyers of British India, and as they say the rest is history. Mr. Jinnah emerged as a dynamic leader who transformed the aspirations of Muslims into concrete designs for the creation of Pakistan. Explaining the true genesis of Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah had said, “ Pakistan is not the product of the conduct and misconduct of Hindus. It had always been there, only they were not conscious of it. Hindus and Muslims, though living in the same towns and villages, had never blended into one nation, they were always two separate entities…Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but the Muslim ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and treasure and which we hope, others will share with us.”

Quaid-i-Azam as Magistrate is a fascinating read.It provides insights into young Jinnah’s potential as the great leader. It is a must read for all who believe in the supremacy of the rule of law.(Dr. Ahmed S. Khan(, a Professor in the College of Engineering and Information Sciences, at DeVry University, Addison, Illinois, is the author of The Telecommunications Fact Book and the co-author of Technology and Society: Issues for the 21 st Century and Beyond)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.