The impeachment trial of Warren Hastings has long been considered one of the key political trials not just in the history of England but also of the larger British empire. It was the first major discursive event of its kind in England, and arguably in Europe as a whole, in which a political governor of a state—the colonial state in Bengal—was tried publicly before the highest judicial body in Britain, the House of Lords, for committing ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ while in office. Its importance is evident in the fact that even after two centuries it continues to be resorted to as a precedent to emphasize the legal and moral accountability of heads of state, most recently in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the United States. The fact that the prosecution in the trial of Hastings was led by Edmund Burke, one of the most articulate and prescient political statesmen of modern Europe, has only added to the trial's enduring significance as a moment of critical reflection on the excesses of political power.

What is often overlooked about the Impeachment Trial of Warren Hastings is that it was also the first major public trial in which the legal and moral legitimacy of colonialism in the East itself was thrown into question. Indeed, it could be argued that it was on this occasion, and in this act of defending the rights of an alien population against an oppressive and brutal colonial regime, that some of Burke's long-held political and ethical convictions found their clearest expression.