P and O Steam Navigation Co. v. Secretary of State for India

Name of the casePeninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company v. Secretary of State for India
Citation(1861) 5 Bom. H.C.R. App. I,p.1
Plaintiff  Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Defendant  Secretary of State for India
BenchPeacock C.J, Jackson J, Wells J
Important sections  It’s a pre-constitution case. Section 65 of the  Government of India Act, 1858  equated the liability of the Secretary of State for India with that of the East India Company.
ActsGovernment of India Act, 1858. (Pre-constitution case, still applicable, based on Vicarious Liability, Law of Torts)  
CourtSupreme Court of Calcutta


In India the story of the birth of the doctrine of exemption begins with the selection of Peacock C.J. in Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. v. Secretary of State for India The judgment was given great distance back in 1861 when the notion “The King can do no wrong” was still prevalent under English Common Law and thus, the King wasn’t to blame for the wrongs of its servants. The classic decision on the subject is that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. v. Secretary of State for India, as this was the first case during which the excellence between sovereign functions and non-sovereign functions was made. This crucial embodiment of common law decision still has some valid crucial headings and influence most of the present times relating to vicarious liability and disputes to establish liability on a sole individual or group of the organization.


The seldom quoted authority on the development of Section 65 of the 1858 Act is that the decision of the Supreme Court of Calcutta rendered in 1861 within the case of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. v. Secretary of State for India. Section 65 of the Government of India Act, 1858 which is that the parent source of the law concerning the liability of the government provides: “All persons and political bodies will and may have and take comparable suits, for India as they may have done against the said Company.” This Provision was proceeded by Article 300(1) of the Constitution of India which peruses: “The Governor of India may sue or be sued by the name of the Union and therefore the Government of a State may sue or be sued by the name of the State and should, subject to any provisions which can be made by Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of such State enacted by virtue of powers conferred by this Constitution, sue or be sued in relevance their respective affairs within form cases because the Dominion of India and so the corresponding Provinces or the corresponding Indian States may have sued or been sued if this Constitution had not been enacted.”

Summary of Facts

A servant of the plaintiff Company was proceeding from Garden Beach of Calcutta in an exceeding carriage drawn by a pair of horses belonging to the plaintiff, and driven by the coachman in their course of employment. While the coach was passing along Kidderpore Dockyard which could be a government dockyard of which the Superintendent of Marine is that the head, certain workmen in Government employment were engaged in riveting a bit of iron funnel casing. It weighed about 300 kilos and eight or 9 feet long and about 2 feet high. The boys carrying the load were walking along the centre of the road. The coachman summoned warning to the boys who were carrying the iron. The boys attempted to induce out of the way, those ahead tried to travel to 1 side , and people behind tried to travel to the opposite. The consequence of this was the loss of your time, which brought the carriage shut down to them, before that they had left the centre of the road.

They got frightened at the closeness of the carriage and unexpectedly dropped the iron and fled. The iron fell with a decent clamour which began the offended parties ponies which immediately hurried forward brutally and fell on the iron prompting wounds to at any rate one pony. The suit was brought by the offended party Company to recoup Rs. 350/ – because of the harm, and subsequently the case against the Secretary of State was on the base that a worker of the government finished the careless demonstration.


  1. Whether or not acts of the Company come under the exercise of sovereign powers of the State?
  2. What was the degree of risk of the East India Company for the convoluted demonstrations of its workers submitted in the course of their work all things considered? 
  3. Whether the Secretary of State was responsible for the damage occasioned by the negligence of the govt. servants, assuming them to own been guilty of such negligence?

Reasons for the Court & Ratio Decidendi

1. Where a demonstration is done in exercise of sovereign forces, there would be resistance, and no activity would lie. However, since the East India Company had a double limit and were at simply the once really exchanging for their own and were that occupied with exchanges halfway for the necessities of State and somewhat for their own, they may be responsible for the unjust demonstration of any worker of theirs if such act was exhausted the course of an exchange detached with the activity of sovereign capacities.

2. Thinking about the realities of this case, the labourers utilized by the govt at the dockyard weren’t doing anything inside the activity of sovereign forces, however that the demonstration was exhausted the lead of an endeavour which could be carried on by a non-open individual without having sovereign forces assigned to him, which the archipelago Company would are obligated, and thus the Secretary of State for India was additionally to fault for the careless demonstrations of its workers.

 3. Mishaps like this whenever brought about by the carelessness of workers utilized by the govt, the Malay Archipelago Company, would be subject and a similar risk is appended to the Secretary of State.

Significance of the case

  1. The observations which were made while deciding this case- whether the Secretary of the State was personally liable, influenced the courts for years to come back, both before coming into force of the Constitution and thereafter.
  2. Even after the Constitution came into force, there was no substantial departure from the road of thought enunciated within the P & 0 Steamship case.
  3. The excellence between sovereign and non-sovereign functions within the context of vicarious liability of the State in tort originated as a result of the reading of this judgment by various courts.
  4. It absolutely was a judgment of far-reaching importance and has always been cited because of the leading case on the topic.
  5. No doubt, in the course of your time, the scope of the expression “sovereign functions” came to be considerably narrowed down and there was greater readiness, on the part of various courts, to take many Governmental acts as “non-sovereign”. This has considerably reduced the sensible importance of this distinction, which, however, still continues to survive, theoretically.
  6. The Courts approved the excellence made by Peacock C J between Sovereign and Non-sovereign functions, but they also mentioned that it’s difficult to think about the judgment to be relevant today because the scope of sovereign function of the State has widened.

Proceedings before the Court

  • The case was proceeded by a Full Bench, comprising of Peacock, C.J., and Jackson and Wells of the Supreme Court of Calcutta.
  •  That the injuries to the horse were because of the negligence of the defendant’s servants wasn’t disputed before the learned judge, and also the case proceeded on this basis.
  •  Sir Barnes Peacock, a jurist, held that the govt of India through the Secretary of State, were susceptible to the identical extent because the archipelago Company would are liable before the Constitution Act of 1858 by which the Crown took over the govt of India from the Malay Archipelago Company.
  • One objection raised against the suggested liability was that the East Indies Company was a sovereign power and, just like the Crown in England not chargeable for the tortuous acts of their servants.
  • During this connection, the learned judge observed as follows: “The East India Company was a corporation to whom sovereign powers were delegated and who traded on their account and for his or her benefit and were engaged in transaction partly for the aim of State and partly on their account which with none delegation of sovereign rights can be carried on by private individuals. There’s a good and clear distinction between acts tired exercise of what are usually termed sovereign powers, and acts exhausted the conducts of undertakings which could be carried on by private people without having such powers designated to them.”
  •  The educated law specialist overruled that complaint holding that the East India Company wasn’t the sovereign albeit certain sovereign forces had been appointed to them and that they couldn’t guarantee resistance for each situation.


The plaintiffs claim that the Secretary of State was allowed to succeed. Also, the East India Company wasn’t the sovereign although certain sovereign powers had been delegated to them and that they couldn’t, therefore, claim immunity in every case.


If a demonstration is finished inside the course of an ordinary endeavour, not including the activity of sovereign powers, the business or the ace, regardless of whether it’s the State, would be subject. Be that as it may, where a demonstration is finished, or an agreement is gone into, inside the activity of sovereign forces, by which infers power which can’t be legally practised aside from by a sovereign or private individual consigned by a sovereign to practice them, no activity will lie.


  • Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Law of Torts, Revised by G.P. Singh ( Wadhwa and Co Nagpur,29” edition,2008 )
  • S.K.Kapoor, The Law of Torts along with the Consumer Protection Act ( Central Law Agency, Allahabad, 5th edition,1999)
  • Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. v. Secretary of State for India, (1868-1869) 5 Bom HC Rep App 1 [Decided in 1861 and reported within the Newspaper Englishman of October 23, 1861, and republished in Appendix’ A’ to the Bombay court Reports, Vol. V, of the year 1868-69.]


  • Aman Hingorani, State Liability in Tort – Need for a Fresh Look, (1994) 2 SCC (Jour) 7 Rakesh Kumar, Doctrine of the constitutional law: Evolution and Evaluation, www.legalservicesindia.com/articles/dct.htm


  • Law Commission of India, First Report: Liability of the State in Tort ( Government of India, 1956 ) • National Commission to Review the Washing of the Constitution, A consultation Paper On: Liability of the State in Tort


  • www.legalserviceindia.com
  • www.mannpatra corn

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