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British Perceptions of Ottoman Judicial Reform in the Late Nineteenth Century: Some Preliminary Insights


Avi Rubin is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Middle East Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.


In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Ottomans founded a new court system, the Nizamiye courts, as part of an empire-wide ambitious project of judicial and administrative reform, which involved legal transplantation from the French model. The institutional evolution of these courts was completed with elaborate legislation introduced in 1879. This article explores British consular and diplomatic accounts dispatched in the immediate aftermath of the 1879 reforms in an attempt to assess the value of these reports for understanding the passage of Ottoman law to modernity. Comparison of British accounts with relevant Ottoman sources and recent research reveals that British consuls and diplomats produced distorted representations of Ottoman judicial reform, exhibiting lack of faith in the effectiveness of these reforms. Misrepresentation resulted from ignorance about the nature of reformed Ottoman law, prejudice, and concerns about the effect of these reforms on the ability of British consuls to interfere with Ottoman court proceedings.