Report No. 83
VIII. Age of Majority
History of legislation on majority.- History of the legislation relating to majority in India is also a fascinating topic.1 The Hindu and Muslim laws current in Bengal with reference to the age of majority were recognised in Bengal by the Bengal Regulation 10 of 1973,2 which declared that minority with respect to both Hindus and Muslims was limited to the expiration of the fifteenth year. That section was, however, rescinded by Bengal Regulation 26 of 1793, by which3 the minority of Hindu and Muslim proprietors of estates paying revenue to Government, was declared to extend to the end of the eighteenth year.
The next enactment, affecting the age of majority of Hindus and Mohammedans in Bengal was Act 40 of 1858 (the Bengal Minors Act), which provided for the care by the Civil Court of the persons and property of minors (not being European British subjects), who had not been brought under the superintendence of the Court of Wards. For the purposes of that Act the age of majority was fixed at eighteen years.4 Act 40 of 1858 has since been repealed.5
By the Bengal Court of Wards Act6, which placed under the superintendence of the Court of Wards all minor proprietors of entire estate (other than proprietors who were subject to the jurisdiction as respects infants of a High Court), the word "minor" was defined7 as a person under the age of eighteen years.
This Act was repealed in 1879, and the repealing Act8 defined a "minor" as a person who had not completed his age of twenty-one years.
Madras Regulation of 1804.- Madras Regulation 5 of 1804, which inter alia constituted a Court of Wards9 for the Madras Presidency, provided10 that "where minors may succeed to heritable property, they shall not, in any case, be competent to take charge of, or to administer their own affairs during the period of their minority, and for the better understanding thereof the duration of minority shall, without exception, continue until the completion of the eighteenth year of age."
Bombay law and Madras law.- The Bombay Minors Act (20 of 1864) which was in force in the Bombay Presidency contained provisions similar to those of Act 40 of 1858. The Madras Minors Act (14 of 1858) contained somewhat similar provisions.
Age of majority for special purpose.- To add to the complications of the law as to the age of majority before the passing of the Indian Majority Act 9 of 1875, there were several other enactments fixing the age of majority for the special purposes of such Acts.11 The enactments pointed in different directions for different purposes.
Controversy as to Bengal Minors Act.- In the Bengal Minors Act (40 of 1858), the definition of the word "minor"12 was contained in section 26, which laid down, "for the purposes of this Act, every person shall be held to be a minor who has not attained the age of 18 years". This section had been the subject of conflicting interpretations in Calcutta. According to one view, 18 was the age of majority only in cases where the estate of the minor had been brought under the charge of the Civil Court. According to another view, whether or not the intervention of the Civil Court be invoked, 18 was the limit of minority.
For example, Mr. Justice Phear held that the expression "for the purposes" in section 26 "meant relative to all that forms the subject of this Act," i.e., the protection of the person and property of infants. He thus made 18 years the limit of minority for all purposes of contract. Mr. Justice Jackson carried this even further, holding that the age of minority was for all purposes extended to 18 years. The discussion on this point is contained in the undermentioned rulings:
1 WRCR 75 3 WRCR 50
10 WRFB 36. 13 WRCR 452. 5 BLR 81.
11 WRCR 561.
7 BLR 607.
8 BLR 379. 10 BLR 240.
Indian Majority Act, 1875.- The law respecting majority thus remained in an unsettled state until the Indian Majority Act of 1875 was passed. That Act (as its preamble states) was passed for prolonging the period of non-age and attaining more uniformity and certainty respecting the age of majority in case of persons domiciled in British India.
The Act of 1890 adopted a uniform age for all purposes for appointing a guardian. This was achieved by adopting, by reference, the definition of "minor", as given in the Majority Act, 1875. The age as given in that Act was 18 years. Once a guardian was appointed, the age of majority was extended to 21 years. The latter result was achieved by amending the Indian Majority Act, 1875-an amendment effected by the Act of 1890.
1. Trevelyan The Law relating to Minors, (1912), pp. 4-5.
2. Section 28, Bengal Regulation 10 of 1793 (which established the Court of Wards).
3. Section 2, The unrepealed portions of Regulation 26 of 1793, were repealed by Act 29 of 1871, save as therein provided.
4. Section 26, Act 40 of 1858.
5. Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.
6. Act 4 of 1870 (Bengal Court of Wards Act).
7. Section 2, Bengal Court of Wards Act (4 of 1870).
8. Section 3, Bengal Court of Wards Act, 1879 (Act 9, Bengal Code of 1879).
9. That Regulation was repealed by section 2, Madras Act 1 of 1902.
10. Section 4, Madras Regulation 5 of 1804 (Court of Wards).
(a) The India Succession Act (10 of 1865), section 3, applied to Hindus by the Hindu Wills Act (21 of 1870), section 6;
(b) The Limitation Act (9 of 1871), section 3;
(c) The Government Saving Bank Act (5 of 1973);
(d) Indian Christian Marriage Act (16 of 1872), section 3;
(e) The N.W.P. Land Revenue Act (19 of 1873), section 3(12).
12. National Archives, File relating to Act 8 o f1890, p. 91 (correspondence).