Report No. 148
4.5. Fort William Act, 1881 (13 of 1881).-
The Fort William Act, 1881 was enacted to give power to the Chief-of-Army Staff to make rules for the better Government of Fort William in Bengal and to provide for the establishment of a Court within Fort William for the trial of persons charged with beaches of such rules. According to section 3 of the Act, the Chief of the Army Staff was empowered to make rules from time to time, with the sanction of the Central Government, to be in force within the Fort William in respect of matters specified in the schedule annexed thereto and other matters of a like nature and to prescribe, by such rules, penalties for the infringement thereof.
Section 4 of the Act empowered the Central. Government to invest a Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army with power to try persons charged with infringement of the rules made under section 3 of the Act. The officer so invested was called the Fort Magistrate.
The delegation to a Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army of the power to try and punish persons charged with the violation of the rules framed under the Act is contrary to the general scheme of our Constitution and is opposed to the directive principle of separation of the judiciary from the executive. Under section 6 of the Act a police office can detain any arrested person for an unlimited period until the detenue signs a bond of specific amount. This provision is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.
In our opinion, these parts of the Fort William Act, 1881 (including the Schedule to the Act) should be examined by the competent authority and may have to be replaced by provisions of a different nature that harmonise with the Constitution. However, a total (or even partial) repeal of the Act without substituting the needed provisions would create a hiatus. We are not, therefore, in a position to recommend its repeal.