Before the time of His Highness Maharaja Karm Singh, the administrative and judicial work of the State was in the hands of the thanadars( faujdars of the Ain-i-Akbari), the collectors of revenue (ugraha) being under them. There was no treasury and no court. In each pargana there was a thanadar, and in Sunam and Patiala proper there were kotwals. Their decisions in civil and criminal cases were final. Claims and offences, of whatever nature, were disposed of after verbal enquiry. No record of evidence was made and no judgement prepared. Final orders were given by word of mouth. The people acquisced in the decisions and seldom appealed to the Diwan or Wazir. There was no regular law in force; the customs and usages of the country were followed in deciding cases and had the force of law. The panchayat system was generally in vogue, and boundary disputes specially were referred to arbitration. The administering of oaths (nem) to the litigants was a great factor in bringing cases to an amicable settlement. The offenders were generally fined, but habitual and grave offenders were imprisoned without and fixed term of years and were released at the pleasure of the presiding officer. In murder cases the offender's relations were ordered to pay the price of blood to the heirs of the deceased by offering either a nata (female relative in marriage) or some culturable land or some cash, and thus to bring about an amicable settlement of the case; otherwise the perpetrator was hanged, generally on a kikkar tree, in some conspicuous place where the corpse was left hanging for many days. Barbarous punishments, such as maiming and mutilation, were in force to some extent. Sometimes the face, hands and feet, of an offender were blackened and he was proclaimed by best of drum, mounted on a donkey through the streets of the city. (for detailed account vide 'History of Patiala', by Khalifa Sayyid Muhammad Hasan, Prime Minister, Patiala State.)
Maharaja Karm Singh began the work of reform by appointing an Adalti (Judicial Minister), but no line of demarcation was drawn between his powers and those of thanadars. Orders in criminal cases were still given verbally, but in civil cases files were made and judgements written. Cases of proprietorship in land were decided by the Adalati, though they were transferred subsequently to the Diwan. During the time of Maharaja Narinder Singh five nizamats were marked off and Nazims appointed to each. One tahsil comprised two thanas, and sixteen Tahsildars were appointed, who, in addition to their revenue work, dealt with criminal and civil cases. His Highness introduced a Manual of Criminal Law, “The Law of Sambat 1916,” for the guidance of criminal courts. In most respects it was similar to the Indian Penal Code. In the reign of Maharaja Mohinder Singh, Tahsildars were deprived of their judicial and criminal powers and two Naib-Nazims were appointed in each nizamat to decide civil and criminal cases and superintend the police. A Code of Civil Procedure, compiled from the British Indian Act VII of 1859 and Act XXIII of 1861 with suitable modifications, was introduced, which is still in force. (for detailed account vide 'History of Patiala', by Khalifa Sayyid Muhammad Hasan, Prime Minister, Patiala State.)
The courts of original jurisdiction as they stand at the present day have already been described. A Tahsildar can give three months' imprisonment and Rs.25 fine, and a Nazim three years' imprisonment and Rs.1,000 fine. Appeals from the courts of Tahsildars and Naib Nazims all go to the Nazim. The Nazim is a Sessions Judge with power to pass sentence of 14 years' imprisonment and Rs.1,000 fine. From the Nazim's decisions appeals lie to the Adalati in civil and criminal and to the Diwan in revenue cases, with further appeals to the Chief Court and the Ijlas-i-Khas (the Court of the Maharaja). At the capital there is a Magistrate and a Civil Judge with Naib Nazim's powers of a Nazim. The Chief Court may pass any sentence authorised by law. Capital punishment and imprisonment for life however need the confirmation of the Ijlas-i-khas. In murder cases the opinion of the Sadr Ahlkars is taken before the sentence is confirmed. Special jurisdiction in criminal cases is also exercised by certain officials. The Foreign Minister has the powers of a Nazim in cases where one party or both are not subjects of Patiala, Jind or Nabha. Appeals lie to the Chief Court. Cases under the Telegraph and Railway Acts are decided by an officer of the Foreign Department subject to appeal to the Foreign Minister. Certain Canal and Forest Officers have magisterial powers in cases falling under Canal and Forest Acts, and the Inspector General of Police exercise similar powers in respect of cases which concern the police. During the Settlement operations the Settlement Officers are involved with powers to decide revenue cases with an appeal to the Settlement Commissioner.
Powers of revision (nigrani) can be exercised by the Adalati and the Sessions Courts; review (nazarsani) by the Chief Court and Ijlas-i-Khas only.
The Indian Penal Code is enforced without modifications. The Criminal Procedure Code (Act V of 1898) is enforced with some modifications of which the most important are given below. No court is invested with summary powers. In Sessions cases no jury or assessors are chosen. Special regulations have been made for the trial of cases of contempt of court, which offence is made to include cases falling under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code-175, 178, 179, 180, 228. The Civil Procedure Code differs in many points that of British India. There is no bar to appeals on the ground of the value of the suit. All civil suits, of whatever value, are heard in the first instance by the Naib Nazims, and in Patiala City by the Civil Judge.